Pink shrub rose in full bloom.
image by S.F. Heron
Caring for roses differs based on each type of plant. Individual rose plants and more delicate varieties require careful preparation for the winter. Shrub roses are one of the hardiest roses available for the home gardener. These bush-like roses can handle winter temperatures with minimal care and preparation. However, a sickly and ignored rose bush has less chance of surviving the winter than one that has been properly maintained. Care throughout the year helps any plant survive the cold air and soil temperatures of the winter. Let's look at winter care for shrub roses.
Treat your shrub rose as the hardy, cool-weather tolerant plant that it is. Unlike other rose varieties, shrub roses can handle being ignored as long as you provide good organic soil and plenty of water. Healthy plants can survive extreme temperatures much better than those under stress.
Fertilize throughout the summer to keep the plant strong and healthy. Stop fertilizing towards the end of the growing season (mid to late August) to limit the period of rampant growth. Encourage the plant to stop flowering and prepare for the winter.
Fertilize and water regularly during the summer blooming season. Clip back blooms as necessary with a 45-degree angle after each round of blooming. Do not cut back any dead blooms or prune the plant after early September. The plant will drop its flower petals and leave a dried bud center on the branches. This relays a signal to the plant that it's time to prepare for winter and encourages a slowdown in growth.
Clean up fallen leaves from the garden soil. Molds and pests thrive in this decomposing environment, especially black spot mold. If you don't remove the leaves, the blight can overwinter in the decaying leaves of your garden and infect your roses again the following year.
Winterize your shrub roses after Thanksgiving. Apply a thick layer (4 to 6 inches) of mulch or compost over the plant after all leaves have dropped. This step is completely optional since many hardy shrub roses can tolerate winter temperatures while dormant. This simple precautionary measure can help if you aren't certain of the type of shrub rose growing in your garden.