As the last fragrant petals fall and lush green foliage fades, our roses and garden shrubbery prepare for dormancy during the cold months to come. Understanding winter plant care will ensure that they return healthy and full in the spring to provide us another season of beauty and enjoyment.
Why Winter Proof?
While many varieties of roses and other shrubs are fairly cold-hardy, some are more susceptible to damage from freezes. Nearly all can be damaged by extreme and prolonged winter cold. Indiana is in plant hardiness zone 5 and 6. This means that winter temperatures regularly drop below 20 degrees for extended periods of time with temperatures falling at times to five to fifteen degrees below zero.
That’s cold enough to damage the hardiest rose shrubs. Without a winter plant care plan, more delicate varieties like hybrid tea roses, Grandifloras and Floribundas and may not survive.
Winter proofing trees and shrubs
Native shrubs will survive even the coldest winters if properly cared for. Remember that a manicured yard does not typically offer the same winter protection and windbreaks that are generally found in nature. Follow these general steps to care for shrubs:
Water until the ground freezes, especially young and newly planted shrubs.
Apply three or four inches of insulating mulch around the plant base to insulate the roots. This will actually help the ground stay frozen, a good thing, on days when the sun peaks out. Thaw and refreezing cause ground heave which is not good for root systems.
If necessary, protect young shrubs and trees from chewing by rabbits and other rodents. Wire or plastic tree guards work well for this.
It is important that roses remain dormant during the winter months. Winter growth spurts during short-term thaws can seriously damage young, vulnerable shoots and stems. Proper winter plant care will prevent this and will protect root systems near ground level from freezing. Here’s how to protect your roses:
- Treat for disease, pests and fungus before beginning the winterizing process.
- Roses love pruning. It encourages new growth in the spring. To winter-proof roses, cut the canes back from eighteen to twenty-four inches above the ground, removing dead or damaged canes, keeping the healthiest.
- If the wind is a problem in your yard, tie the canes together with twine to prevent wind damage.
- Mound with soil or mulch about one foot high and wide around the plant. If you use soil, bring it from another part of the yard and do not dig it from around the root base, exposing the root system to the cold.
- If possible cover fragile varieties with winter shrub covers or structure available from lawn and garden stores.
A little winter plant care now will pay dividends in the spring. New growth and flowering buds will reward you for the time spent winter-proofing your garden.