How to Take Care of Knockout Roses During Winter


Rose fanciers, who tend to fuss over every aspect of rose care, will be disappointed by the Knockout rose; winter care for these easy-to-grow shrub roses is as uncomplicated as for any other garden perennial. "Knock Out" roses were bred by William Radler, a pragmatic Wisconsinite landscape architect who set out to breed a carefree rose that he wouldn't have to fuss over after he retired as director of the Boerner Botanical Gardens in Milwaukee. In his "Knock Out" roses, first introduced in 2000, he accomplished his objective.

Step 1

Remove summer mulch. Clean out any dead or broken branches when the shrub stops blooming and drops its leaves.

Step 2

Allow plants to go dormant naturally. Stop fertilizing in late August. Continue watering Knock Outs just like any other perennials, until the first hard freeze.

Step 3

Mulch plants loosely with leaves, or a mixture of clean compost and leaves, in a chicken-wire cage, or wrap in burlap with twine, to protect them from drying out where winter winds are strong or wind chills are frequently below zero. Insulate plants by mounding clean compost and leaves about 4 inches over the crown of the rose bush. Plants should not need winter protection south of USDA zone 4.

Step 4

Clean off any winter mulch in late winter before the ground begins to warm. Cut back any branches that cross others and branches that have broken or died back during the winter.

Step 5

Prune after the last hard frost; choose four or five healthy-looking main branches that will form the basic shape of the shrub, and prune them back to between 8 and 12 inches long. Remove other branches.

Tips and Warnings

  • Rodents and insects overwinter in dead foliage and old mulch. Make sure that the ground around roses is completely clean until after the ground freezes. Late fertilization encourages tender growth which is easily killed by freezes. Since the plant is actively growing instead of entering dormancy when the first hard freeze ends the season, the plant is weakened by the "die-back."

Things You'll Need

  • Hand pruners
  • Mulch
  • Burlap
  • Twine
  • Garden gloves


  • The Garden Lady: Winter Care of Knockout Roses
  • University of Vermont Extension: Fall Care of Roses

Who Can Help

  • Conard-Pyle Company: The Knock-Out Family of Roses
  • Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet: Fertilizing, Pruning and Winterizing Roses
Keywords: Knockout roses, winter care, rose care, garden perennial, Knock Out

About this Author

Chicago native Laura Reynolds has been writing for 40 years. She attended American University (D.C.), Northern Illinois University and University of Illinois Chicago and has a B.S. in communications (theater). Originally a secondary school communications and history teacher, she's written one book and edited several others. She has 30 years of experience as a local official, including service as a municipal judge.