Winter is rose season in the gardening calendar! They may not be in flower now, but this is the time when you plant new bushes and prune older ones. Both procedures take a little know-how, but neither are too complicated, and as roses are such tough, long-living plants, it’s well worth getting it right.
Roses are bought these days in much the same way they’ve always been — as bare-root plants that are dug, packaged and sold in winter. They might look a little unimpressive right now – like a cluster of bare thorny sticks – but they will go on to produce the most beautiful flowers in just a couple of months’ time. You can also find roses available as potted plants in nurseries throughout the year, but bare-root plants are generally cheaper and offer you a much wider selection of varieties.
Note: There’s no need to add fertiliser in winter, as the plant is dormant. Wait until you see signs of leaf growth in spring, at which stage you can sprinkle on some rose fertiliser and top it with a layer of mulch.
Roses have the very handy habit of bearing their flowers on their new growth. So when they’re cut back in winter, they respond by pushing out vigorous new stems in spring, which quickly go on to produce flower buds. Rose pruning is all about rejuvenating the plant and – essentially – keeping it young. Here are the basic rules for pruning established bush and shrub roses.
Timing: In frost-free areas, pruning is usually done from mid to late winter. However, if you live in a frost-prone area, delay it until all danger of frosts has passed, so that you won’t risk the new growth getting burnt off.
Climbing roses that only bloom in spring – which includes the popular banksia rose and many old-fashioned varieties – should be left alone in winter. Instead, only prune them back after their flowering has finished in late spring, trimming back to create a manageable framework. Plants that are two to three years old may need no pruning at all.
Repeat-flowering climbing roses on the other hand, can be pruned back in winter by trimming back the side shoots, which produce the flowers (known as laterals), along with any dead canes. If your climbing rose has become altogether too large and you want to reduce its spread, then use the winter months to trim it back to the dimensions you want.
If you want to know how to pick the right rose for your garden, read Roger Fox’s guide here.