by Bill George

Well, the last summer holiday is behind us now and its time to start thinking about things we need to do to get our rose garden ready for winter. I know, I know, we still have plenty of time left for some terrific blooms. Maybe the best for the whole season but yet, winter is coming and we don't want to be caught ill prepared. The only good thing about winter for me is that spring is the following season and another growing session can begin. Time sure flies when we're having fun in our gardens.

Back to the subject at hand, WINTER! First off, as our fall season approaches we want to keep our roses as healthy as possible. We accomplish this by keeping our rose garden well watered and free from any diseases, pests or funguses. Roses have a habit of making it thru the long winter months in better shape when they have been well watered and well fed. Assuming that we have kept up with our responsibilties in the garden, its time to give winter protection some serious thought. There are all sorts of techniques and suggestions as to how best to prepare our plants for the cold onslaught, They range from no preparation at all to some very elaborate and expensive methods. I consider the styrafoam rose cones a very expensive proposition when we are trying to winterize 10 or more roses. Many of us growers usually have a considerable amount more than this and at $3.50 per cone at some of the larger retailers, that gets mighty expensive real quick.

So how can we go about getting our gardens ready for winter that's not going to cost us an arm and a leg. The things we want to accomplish is to insulate our plants from the ultra cold temperatures (20 degrees F and below) and protect our gardens from the winds that dry out our plants.

In my larger garden first I'm going to bury all my bud unions with a combination of soil, compost and wood chips. Probably heap about a foot of this material on each plant. I'll prune back my plants so there are no tall canes sticking up for the winter winds to beat to death. Then I'm going to create a wind break made from burlap and 2X2-4ft. stakes, making sure I get my stakes in the ground before the frost has set in. Last year an early freeze caught me napping and I was unable to get my stakes in the ground. I buy my burlap at Eastern Market in Detroit from Rocky Peanut Company in the form of used peanut bags which have been a half a buck a piece in the past and then I cut the stitching out of them. This makes a nice hunk of burlap I can use in fabricating my wind break fence. After I have set my stakes in the ground completely surrounding the garden, I will staple the burlap to them to create a windbreak. Then I go around my neighborhood and beg borrow and steal all the oak leaves I can get my hands on and fill them into the garden. Oak leaves are a great insulator because they repell water and they do not break down quickly like maple or willow. Now my garden will be ready for just about anything Mother Nature has in mind for the winter months.

If you think you may want to keep your winterization a little more tidy, you can stop by your local Dollar Discount Store and pick up a plastic laundry clothes basket ($1.00 each) for each rose you want to winterize. Cut a hole in the bottom of the basket and slice it up the side so you can slip it around the plant and reattach the cut side with nylon tie wraps sold at your local hardware store. Sometimes these are called electrical tie wraps used for holding wire together in automotive uses and such. You should now have a rose sitting in the basket. Fill the bottom of the basket with soil and compost and the remainder with your oak leaves. Now you have a nicely contained winterized rose that will clean up neatly and easily in the spring with very few leaves strewn about the yard.

One final word about winterizing your roses. There are very few wrong ways to winterize. There are only different ways and what may work for one rosarian may not be what another wants. Some years I have only piled snow from my driveway on my garden which seemed to do quite well. Anything you can do to keep your plants from being exposed to the elements may mean the difference between seeing your plants return in the spring or shovel pruning them for a new model. Good luck on whatever technique you should decide to use.

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