When Roses Go Dormant

By Kristen Smith

Why do Roses go Dormant?

Dormancy is an essential part of the life cycle of a rose.  It is part of the natural cycle whereby the rose drops any foliage that could be damaged by freezing temperatures.  In a way, the plant begins to create its own antifreeze.  The cell sap begins to thicken, helping to prevent the stems from freezing during the cold winter months. The rose itself goes into an almost hibernation like state where its metabolic systems slow and the nutrients are reserved deep within the core of the rose to aid in bud formation. knockout roses

You will know when you rose is going dormant when you notice the leaves beginning to yellow and fall to the ground.  The foliage of some rose cultivars will turn brilliant red or burgundy in color.  Most shrub roses will go completely dormant depending on what part of the country you are in.  In the deep South, much of the foliage may be retained over the winter months.  You can aid the rose in preparation for going into dormancy by not fertilizing beginning in late summer and stop supplemental irrigation in late summer/early fall.  Certain cultivars of roses will produce large ornamental clusters of hips that ripen into a range of bright colors in the fall.  Sometimes they will persist into the winter.   The hips are basically the fruit of the rose which houses the seeds.

What do I do While my Rose is Dormant?

In general –nothing!  This is the time of the year to let them just be.  In the coldest parts of the country, you may want to mulch heavily around the base of the plant depending on how cold hardy the rose is.  As much as possible, do your research before purchasing a new rose.   If you want to see you rose again after the winter, purchase a rose that is rated hardy to your zone.

You don’t need to water or fertilize while the rose is in its dormant state.  Hopefully, you’ve taken good care of the rose during last season.  The best way for a rose to make it though winter is if it went into dormancy a strong and healthy plant.  The more stressed the rose bush was going into dormancy, the more damage you may expect it to experience over the winter.

Large, bright orange hips of the climbing rose Winners Circle™

Large, bright orange hips of the climbing rose Winners Circle™

Signs of Life – What to plan for in Early Spring

Sometime in early spring, you will begin to see signs of new life as the leaf buds begin to swell.    Early spring is the best time to prune your roses before they leaf out.  Trim out any dead canes that may be present and in general trim the entire bush back by two-thirds to promote an intense first flush of blooms in late spring.

4 responses

  1. I live in central Oklahoma. For the second year in a row, it looks like we won’t have a “traditional” delineation between Winter and Spring. I didn’t prune my roses last Spring, because everything started budding in January!!! That’s not Spring! All the branches are turning a nice wine color and there are little tips of leaves showing. Our temps are high 50’s today and low 60’s tomorrow with mid-50’s all next week. Then, who knows…it could be in the 20’s for a while after that. I can’t skip another year. Everyone got spindly (except for one gorgeous tree rose!). Someone help me decided when to prune. Please?

    • This is a tough one as it does seem like the past few winters have become more mild depending on where you live in the world.

      If the roses you are describing are shrub roses, I would say go for it and prune now. If it looks like the 10 day forecast is going to be mild, do it. So long as your rose is well established and otherwise healthy, it should be just fine.

      If the roses you are describing are hybrid tea roses, I would try to hold off if you can. If you don’t get a chance to prune them back this spring for fear of unpredictable weather, you could always try giving them a good cut back after they finish their first flush in late spring/early summer.

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