Roses Are Plants Too!

Autumn is coming!

My arbor of climbing roses covered in snow last winter.
Photo/Illustration: Paul Zimmerman Roses
My arbor of climbing roses covered in snow last winter.
Photo/Illustration: Paul Zimmerman Roses

I don’t know about you, but here in the Southeast we are having summer like weather.  Yet, our trusty local weatherperson is telling us tomorrow if the first day of autumn.  I would suggest said person take a break from the maps on the wall and stick their head out the window.  It’s hot!

But, this too shall pass and autumn will indeed be here.  So let’s start thinking about what we should, and shouldn’t, be doing for our roses this time of year. 

First, fertilizing.  Around here our peak fall bloom is usually mid-October.  For that reason it’s sometimes nice to give the roses a little fall boost to maximize that bloom-o-rama.  Use a good organic fertilizer but make very sure it is not a time release fertilizer!


Because the last thing we want to be doing is pushing tender new growth when autumn changes into winter.  For that reason you also want to use a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen – the first number on the NPK scale.

Watering.  I know I talked a while back about irrigating less and I still stand by that.  However, if you have younger plants or ones that are really suffering from drought (like some of mine are right now) go ahead and give them a deep soaking.  We want our roses to be at their peak health entering winter so they can better survive it.  Water is an important part of that.  A stressed out rose has less chance of surviving a cold northeaster.

Deadheading and trimming.  I advise you begin to slow down on these.  Doing so stimulates new growth and we don’t want that right now.  Plus roses left un-deadheaded develop hips, which are those bright berries you see.  They are a great source of nutrition for all kinds of animals and birds during the winter so leave them on.  Plus they look great against a fresh snowfall.

Continue to enjoy your roses all during fall for as long as they bloom.  In the meantime simply build up their strength and then allow them to naturally shut down as winter comes in.

Happy Roseing!

View Comments


  1. snollygaster 09/25/2010

    Paul, Barbara from Victoria here. Thanks for the heads-up regarding fall care for our roses. We seem to be having a problem though with our newly planted roses, including the Mary Rose. Strong new canes seem to be snapping off at the base of the plant. We've had 3 months of drought followed by about 60mm. of rain in the last 3 weeks. Any advice? Thanks and best wishes for a lovely autumn of enjoying your peak rose season.

  2. PFZimmerman 09/27/2010

    Hi Barbara,

    My guess is they are growing too quickly and getting tall before they harden off. Cut them back a bit and don't let them flower for a while. You want the bottom of the cane to stiffen up before it has to support all those flowers. Particularly wet flowers!

  3. oldroselover 09/28/2010

    Perennial Blue,White,Blush,and Pink are finally repeating nicely in Tampa Bay. As is Malvern Hills,so nice show. Please send Autumn our way. Great to see you are working on another blog.Always nice to read about roses, and to get some ideas from others on how to show them off!

    Andrew Grover
    St. Pete Fl

  4. PFZimmerman 09/29/2010

    Hi Andrew.

    I'm glad to hear they are doing well for you. They take a little time to settle in but once they repeat nicely.


  5. ProfessorRoush 10/04/2010

    For snollygaster; the rain wasn't accompanied by much wind, was it? Here on the Kansas prairie I find that I lose a lot of promising new vigorous spring canes unless I "tip" them when they reach 2-3 feet the first time. The delay in geting going again does seem to give them time to "harden off" and strengthen up as Mr. Zimmerman suggested. As an added benefit, of course, they get bushier and I get more blooms the next cycle.

  6. FAWNANNETTE 10/04/2010

    Westmoreland County, tidewater VA zone 7b. My question is this: Do I let the longest canes on my four climbing roses--Don Juan/??, James Galway/grafted, A Shropshire Lad/grafted & Jude the Obscure/grafted--stay that long? I have a pergola that they are being trained on. Being only yet two years into this project the climbing roses are not tall, six feet at the longest. I am worried. Are these long canes will be vulnerable to breakage from wind movements as well as suffer from the drying effect of the cold winter winds? The pergola is on a knoll with exposure on all sides to sun but also on all sides to wind. The rose canes are tied loosely with plastic-coated, twisty-tie wires onto the pergola trellis-work. Should I cut them back to three feet and hill with pine needle mulch for winter?

    Our first frost will be at the very earliest the last week in October, early November if last year is any indication.

    Paul, thanks for advice on using a low nitrogen fertilizer for roots and general plant health. I understand the advice about ceasing to deadhead and 'summer-prune' so new growth is kept to minimum and current canes can harden up for upcoming winter. FawnAnnette

  7. alf_hanna 10/04/2010

    How about container roses? I have one that is not doing all that well, would now be the time to plant it? Or late winter? I'm not far from Victoria, so our winters only freeze a few days a year, normally.

    also, have a great but leggy rugosa rose that probably could/should be moved from where it is. thoughts on timing?

  8. PFZimmerman 10/04/2010

    FAWNANNETTE. Since the roses are tied to a structure I would not worry about the canes breaking. You might tie them in a little tighter for the winter and they loosen them up in the spring.

    You don't want to cut the main canes on climbing roses back. The reason is climbing roses take a while to grow before they flower. It's only after they reach a mature size that they begin to flower regularly. So, if you keep cutting the canes back you will simply hinder them from flowering.

    alf_hanna. Go ahead and plant the container rose now. I am planting lots of roses now and like you get some freezes but not the hard, long ones of up north. I'd try moving the rugosa rose in January when you are sure it is dormant.

    Thanks for the questions!

  9. gardenergabe 10/07/2010

    Paul- Thanks for the great info. I have an arbor planted with 2 each of Zephirine Drouhin and Cecile Brunner. They are 2 years old now and have grown across the arbor but the problem is I have lots of foliage and blooms on the top of the arbor and bare branches up the sides. How can I get foliage to grow on the sides?

  10. PFZimmerman 10/08/2010

    gardenergabe. Thanks for asking and believe it or not there is a video for that!


  11. oroszc 10/17/2010

    I have a rose bush in a container that's currently in bloom. We've already had a light frost (zone 4/5 borerline). I recently bought a house and would like to plant the bush in the ground, but am concerned since the bush still has buds on it. Should I prune it back first??


  12. PFZimmerman 10/18/2010

    How big is the plant now? If it is in a larger (3-gallon or more) container with a good full rootball I would go ahead and plant it now even in your zone. I assume the rose has been outside all this time? A light frost is often not enough to stop a rose from blooming. Just let it bloom itself out and it will shut itself down.

    When the forecast calls for a hard freeze mound mulch up about 6"-8" around the base of the plant and leave it there all winter. You may see some dieback on the top of the plant but the base should be fine.

    If it's a smaller plant you may want to think about leaving it in the pot and planting in spring. To do this just leave it outside until it either shuts itself down or a hard freeze is coming. At that point leave it in the garage overwinter and plant in spring.

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