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What Is the Best Way to Protect Your Roses from Harsh Winters

Updated on May 17, 2017
Titia profile image

I love critter friendly gardens, old roses and trees. Sometimes even dangerous plants like the Giant Hogweed. My garden is a biotope.

Red and white rose
Red and white rose | Source

I have sweet memories of my Rose Garden

Once upon a time I had this beautiful Rose Garden, covering most part of the grounds around our old little farmhouse. I enjoyed the buying, the nursing and the trimming of roses.

The winter of 2011 was an awful winter, where the temps stayed way too high for the time of year, only to drop almost overnight to minus 18 degrees C. Some roses were thinking it was spring and began to show their green already. The result was that from most of my roses everything above ground froze and died. Spring 2012 showed the devastating damage loud and clear. Some roses developed new stems, but they were thin and didn't look very healthy.

Well, long story short: winter 2012 they got another frost blow and the roses that had used so much of their energy to grow again, couldn't hold on and died that winter. Remarkably, some of the old breed roses survived and I'm glad they're still there, although they are rather scattered all over the place, leaving empty spaces in between.

This article is more about my sweet memories of the roses that once lived in my garden, tan it is about what to do in winter, because there's not much to do in my critter friendly garden anymore until I have replaced some roses that once filled the air with their fragrance.

Sweet Memories indeed.

Don't Prune the Roses Too Short Before Winter

roses growing wild
roses growing wild

I Let My Roses Grow Wild

I've let them grow real wild sometimes,

the way a rose would want to grow,

I clipped their wings only a bit,

so that their beauty in full would show.

Photos of Red - Pink - Salmon Roses

Click thumbnail to view full-size

When Is the Best Time to Prune a Rose

When winter comes and all rose bushes are bold, I just let them be. If you prune your roses too soon and the temperature will drop below freezing point, chances are that part of the top of the rose stems will be frozen. If you have pruned them already short, chances are that the remaining stem will freeze to death. That's what I read in the books about roses I bought during past years.

So I used to leave the roses alone during the winter.


The winter of 2011 wasn't a normal winter. Up to the midst of January temps were way too high for the time of the year. Normally it's around or below freezing point, but now temps were more like they are in spring. That caused the roses and other plants to think spring had come early, so they started to sprout way too soon. Then all of a sudden temps dropped way below zero up to -18C and that was just too much. The tender sprouts had lost their winter protection and all leaf buds froze, leaving behind black stems.

Photos of White and Yellow Roses

Click thumbnail to view full-size

This Rose Had Found a Home in Old and Sick Apple Tree


Normally We Don't Have Very Harsh Winters in the Netherlands

Alas, in the winter of 2011 it was too hot for a long time, even in January and some of the roses were already sprouting, when suddenly we ended up with a terrible cold frost period. Below -18C (-4 F) is not normal for the area where I live. Though the snow and ice were gorgeous to see and everybody was enjoying skating, it was a deadly disaster for many plants, rose bushes and hedges. At least from more then half of all my rose bushes, the above ground parts froze to death and their branches turned black. Some of them I see new life coming from below, including the beautiful white rose above who lives in my apple tree, but it will take many years, before they will be again what they were before the winter of 2011.

What Can You Do to Protect Your Roses from Freezing

snow garden
snow garden | Source

Today I'm a Bit More Careful with My Roses in Winter

When there is snow, it's not so bad for your roses, because they will be covered and the harsh frost can't get to them. Worse is when there's no snow or late severe frost

In my country there are a lot of fruit farmers and the method they use in those cases is to sprinkle their fruit trees with water. The water will freeze and will capture the tender buds inside. That way the layer of ice will protect the buds from freezing. If they wouldn't do that the frost will go too deep into the buds and that will be the end, no fruits or much damaged fruits will be the result.

You can use this method too for rose bushes. I never did though, because normally winters are not that cold over here, but I sure will keep it in mind next time.

You can also cover the bottom of your roses with a thick layer of straw or other mulch material. I do that sometimes, but not always. The sudden deep frost in the winter of 2011 came rather unexpected, so my mind wasn't really thinking about protecting my roses.

However this year might go the same way as in 2011. It's January and we haven't had any frost yet. Temps are still around +5 to 10 degrees C. with lots of rain. Nothing much I can do anyway, as I'm recovering from a hip operation at the moment, so no gardening for me this winter. I just have to hope and pray that the remaining roses will survive.

The last time we had some significant snow was in 2010 as you can see in the photo above.

How to Protect Roses for Winter - They Pretty Much All Say the Same Thing

Photos of Red and Pink Roses

Click thumbnail to view full-size

A Rose Is Just a Rose Until It Blooms into Love

How to Winterize Your Roses

Photos of White and Yellow Roses

Click thumbnail to view full-size

I Have to Wait Until Spring to See Which Roses Survived the Cold

When you trim old rose bushes way back to the ground, the plant has little chance to survive, because it has to use just too much energy to form healthy stems again. Oh sure, stems will grow, but they will be thin and not strong and healthy. Then when they have to endure another winter with severe frost after temps too high, most of them won't have any energy left to survive.

You only can tell when spring comes, what's left of the plant. It's a sad sight when all you see are black stems with a spare green one among them. The climate is definitely changing. This will be the third winter in a row when temps are staying too high for too long. It confuses nature. This winter some of the leftover roses formed new branches with new buds as late as December, when they should have been in their winter sleep already and they bloomed too.

Some of my roses might forget to go in winter sleep and might lay off their autumn outfit and change into their spring outfit while skipping their winter sleep. Not a good thing. I can tell them a 100 times, but they won't listen to me. They only listen to what nature tells them to do and nature is confused pretty badly.

I'll just have to wait and see what spring will bring me.

Not much Roses left in my Garden

Abraham Darby Rose
Abraham Darby Rose | Source

My Fear Became Truth, I Lost a Lot of Roses

In Spring 2011, my fear became truth. A lot of frozen rose bushes had not survived that severe drop in temperature in January. Some made an effort to produce new stems, but they were thin and weak stems which didn't survive the next winter. Only about a third came through rather unharmed and the interesting thing was that mainly the 'old' roses appeared to be the strongest.

How to Choose the Best Rose Bush for Your Garden

soft pink rose
soft pink rose | Source

Take Your Time to Choose the Best Rose

Take your time to choose the best rose for the spot you have in mind. It is important to know how tall and wide a rose will grow and whether it should be a bush rose or a climbing rose.
There are lots of books about roses available.

Good and healthy rose bushes are not cheap, don't make the mistake to buy them at your local Walmart or stores like that.

Ordering them online is a bit hazardous too, because you'll never know what you'll get. It might just be a pathetic one with only one or two branches. But could be lucky.

A healthy rose bush should have at least three, but preferable 5 branches in good standing positions, will it ever grow into a healthy and strong rose bush.

You can either choose one of the books below, or you can click through to to look for more books on Roses.

You just can't plant every rose where you would like them. It depends on the climate you're living in and the soil they have to grow in. Visit a local rose breeder, because they know best and they can advice you properly. I learned it the hard way and lost lots of roses in the process.

White Rose

white rose
white rose | Source

Frosted Rose

frosted rose
frosted rose | Source

I Leave My Garden at Rest in Winter

Well one thing that I learned from the past winters is that I have been too careless as far as it comes to my roses. There never had been the need to protect them from freezing. Where I live in The Netherlands, we hardly ever get temps as low as -18C. But I've learned my lesson. The remaining roses will be covered before the real frost is coming.

As I'm a breeder of sheep, I always have enough straw available. Nature is not going to take more roses away.

For the rest I leave my garden at rest for the winter. I don't clean out the fallen leaves, because they will protect the plants that go underground in wintertime. My work starts in Spring, when the plants and roses come to life again.

80% of the roses displayed in this article didn't survive the two harsh winters of 2011 and 2012.

Are you a bit like me or are you a clean gardener

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    • LauraHofman profile image

      Laura Hofman 3 years ago from Naperville, IL

      Love your photos! I'm more of a laid back gardener... I love roses too, but don't prune them too severely. My favorites are coral and yellow roses.

    • Titia profile image

      Titia Geertman 3 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      @takkhisa: Mostly soft pink, soft yellow and white and a single red old fashioned smelling roses.

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 3 years ago

      Amazing photographs! I usually grow only pink roses, what about you? :)

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 3 years ago

      We used to grow roses. Like you, we do not generally have really cold winters but being by the sea, we have VERY strong winds and the roses have to be pruned in November, to prevent root rock. You have some really beautiful photographs of roses - so lovely!

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 3 years ago from New Zealand

      Very nice lens loved your photos. I am like you I do very little pruning of my roses, the winter is too harsh on them.

    • Titia profile image

      Titia Geertman 3 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      @OhMe: Yeah, thanks, most of my roses were old single petal smelling ones. I didn't have many of the modern roses. Modern roses might flower year 'round, but they don't smell.

    • Titia profile image

      Titia Geertman 3 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      @Brite-Ideas: Normally I don't do anything in my garden in winter, only in spring. I hardly ever cut back my roses other than snap branches away where I don't want them.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 3 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Beautiful photography of some very pretty roses.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      I've never fussed with my roses very much over the last 10 years and they've done pretty well - but I noticed they don't flower as long into the summer, so maybe I should prepare them better for our cold winters - by the way, beautiful photos :)

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