Roses Are Plants Too!

Getting Ready For The Fall Bloom

The rose garden at Butchart Gardens just outside Vancouver.
Photo/Illustration: Paul Zimmerman Roses
The rose garden at Butchart Gardens just outside Vancouver.
Photo/Illustration: Paul Zimmerman Roses

I can feel a hint of fall in the air here on our farm in the upstate of South Carolina. By the feed store a few of the dogwoods are showing signs of the leaves beginning to turn, the air has a crisper feel and the nights are turning cooler. The latter is the sure sign our roses, and all our plants, are going to start actively growing again after the dog days of summer. Around here September is one of our most active growing months, and I’ll often have roses well into Thanksgiving providing we dont’ get an early frost.

So here are some things you can do to make sure your fall bloom is as good as it gets.


Now is the time to spread that late summer application of fall granular fertilizer. I use organics and make sure the nitrogen is low. Nitrogen is the first number on the NPK scale, which are the numbers you see on all fertilizer packages. Mine is a 4-4-2 as opposed to my spring organic fertilizer, which is a 7-2-12.

Whatever you do, don’t use a time release fertilizer this time of year. We don’t want to be pushing new growth in late fall that could be zapped by a sudden freeze. That can severely damage a plant because new growth will be tender.

If you use foliar feeds it’s okay to go on for a little while, but when the roses have set up their fall bloom display stop. For me this is early October because I know I could have a frost by early November. At that point they need to start shutting down on their own to get ready for winter.


Trimming and Deadheading

Any shaping of the plants I want to do, I’ll do now. After this I stop trimming them outside of broken canes or dead wood.

I also stop deadheading. I do this because as mentioned before we want the roses to start shutting down for winter after their fall flowering. Part of this natural shut down process is to set seeds. Rose seeds are contained in rose hips, which are those berries you see where a flower used to be. Deadheading spurs new growth and flowers because the rose’s instinct is to reproduce itself via seed. When you cut off the old flowers that the rose is trying to turn into seeds, it sets new flowers to fulfill that reproducing instinct. By not deadheading in fall the rose can set rose hips (seeds) and then go to sleep instead of trying to keep blooming.

The other nice thing about leaving the hips on is many will turn nice shades of orange, red or yellow that provide some winter color in the garden. They are also an excellent food source for many birds. Any left over will simply be cut away when you prune.



Roses, like all plants, need water most when they are actively growing – like spring and fall. If you do have to irrigate keep an eye on your roses and be ready to ramp up the watering if they show signs of drooping.

Proper watering is also important to winter survival. If a rose is strong going into winter, it has a much better chance of surviving than one that is weak. Water is a major factor in building that strength.



If you spray for disease (I hope you are using organics!) you can keep right on going. Just be aware as winter approaches and the roses start to drop the leaves you will likely see more blackspot and mildew than normal. As the roses shut down, so do their natural defense systems against diseases.


Fall is a great season for roses. You get the big bloom show followed by hips and even in some roses a touch of fall color. Doing just a few simple things will get the most out of your fall bloom as well as get your roses ready for winter.

Happy Roseing



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