single pink rose blossom in front of bushes1

I thought a rose would be a nice addition to my beginning garden, so I purchased a light pink rose to climb around the front window. That rose kicked the bucket before I even got it planted. I don’t chicken out easily, so I redoubled my efforts. Now, with many dead roses under my belt, I feel it’s time to share my care and knowledge with rose lovers around the world.

I see lovely roses all the time in books. Those roses are big, bushy, green and covered with popping big blooms. You can almost smell the gorgeous pictures! After three years of mollycoddling my roses, I am wondering when my sickly plants will just grow a little.

spindly yellow leaved pink rose bush ifo trellis2

No one in polite society talks about these stunted, yellowish, beetle-infested, defoliated sticks. After a lot of paparazzi-style garden snooping, I am secretly glad to know that so many other rose growers have gardens full of scrawny bushes. I hear gardeners exclaiming over the beauty and productiveness of a particular rose, but I have seen these so-called magnificent rose bushes, and they are as malnourished and knock-kneed as mine are.

I learned I needed to protect my shriveled stems over the winter. If you live in the South, don't water your roses or feed them during January and February. Let 'em beg. Then in March, you can wave a handful of plant food in front of them and that will perk those Southern beauties up. In the North we have snow to protect our roses. We also have to cover, spray, mulch and mound our plants. To accomplish this, you might need to bring in a truckload of new soil, which will cost you a good bit of money to place a 6-inch mound around the base of each rose bush. Try not to smack them too hard with the shovel while creating these protective mounds.

illustration of mounded and tied rose bush3

I recommend cutting any excessively long stems, then flood the sticks that are left with a dormant oil. This toxic mix is stinky and sticky, guaranteed to clog your spray nozzle and cause untold frustration, but don't give up. You're spraying to prevent and kill any buglets on the rose stems.

container of neem oil for plants4

Neem is an organic oil, but please speak to your hardware store clerk for the precautions you need. You will need to crawl upside down under the plant to spray the bottoms of the stems and these will drip, so be sure to wear some goggles. I would also suggest nose plugs, remember those from camp? Wear some kitchen dish gloves and perhaps a shower cap too. I want you to be as ridiculous safe as possible.

has mat spray down of protective gear garbed worker5

Another way to protect your spoiled plants is to buy some rose cones.

drawing of rose cone with rock on top6

I saw these at a home improvement store. They are made of Styrofoam, measuring 24 inches high and 15 inches wide. They have a lip around the bottom so you can pile dirt or rocks on it and keep it from blowing away. Here in the Midwest, we have trouble keeping the doors on our house due to the winds, so I don't think the rose cones would last too long with only a few rocks to hold it in place. The rose cones cost about $6.75 per cone, and if you have a lot of roses, the cost will add up quickly. I decided to go the chicken wire and straw method this year, becuase I have straw and I have chicken wire. (We also have chickens and their motivation is to dig up and destroy the roses, but that's another story.) In December, after the ground was frozen, I made a cage around the rose bush and filled it with straw. The trick here is not to keep your roses warm, but to prevent them from windburn. I wonder if a lightweight jacket would work...

straw filled 8' cage with girl working at it7
You know it's winter time when the snow is falling but your roses decided to keep their leaves and blossoms as long as possible. You can almost hear the branches snapping as you sleep.

spring snow on roses8

This would be a perfect time to gather boughs from evergreen trees, and mound them over your plants to protect the still-blooming branches.

pine boughs cut and ready for laying over garden9

Cold is okay, but alternate freezing and thawing temperatures are sure to kill your roses. Spray your roses for the last time with some fungicide. Make sure you get under those leaves again!

bottle of spray oil for plants10
After all this is done, I am sure you will be anxiously watching your roses for any sign of new life in the springtime. Fat chance.

little mouse black and white photo11

The moles, voles, ground squirrels, and mice have been feasting and celebrating their wintertime under the nice, snug home you provided for the roses. You will probably be left with a browned, shriveled stick that falls over the minute you unpack it for the springtime. I heard that mice cook the rose roots in stir-fry.

If you are a rose lover, this is your signal to go and spend spend spend to buy more of these delicate, exasperating, time-consuming, mentally challenging plants. You have both my sympathy and my respect!

Picture Credits:

1. Photobucket snow on rose

2. Photobucket - yellowing leaves in fall.

3. MI State University Extension Service Method of mounding up rose bush

4.70% Neem Oil

5. U.S. Dept of Agriculture Testing Spray Gear Precautionary Methods

6. MI State University Extension Service Method of Plant Cone Winter Barrier Protection

7. UK Methods of Straw Protection for a Banana plant

8. swilliams photo

9. Evergreen boughs courtesy of garden journal rose

10. Bonide courtesy of BestNest Garden

11. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, a typical vole