Fertilizing, Pruning and Winterizing Roses
By: Cindy Welyczkowsky and Jane Martin
Posted on: October 11, 02
Throughout history roses have captivated the hearts and minds of
gardeners and non-gardeners alike, inspiring the creation of numerous
poems, legends, and books on their uses and care. They are one of the
most popular garden flowers grown on the face of the earth as
evidenced by the several garden clubs, societies, organizations, and
businesses devoted to them. There are countless species and cultivars
available in a wide range of colors and forms, with new cultivars
being introduced each year to improve on the previous year's
With the abundance of information available on roses and rose care,
there is still some mystery about their proper care and maintenance.
For every different type of rose available, there is probably a
gardener with a different approach to caring for roses. It is as much
of an art as it is a science to growing beautiful roses, but the
following information will give you some important basics to help
demystify the process. This fact sheet will discuss fertilizing,
pruning and winterizing roses.
Because roses are heavy feeders, a routine fertilization program is
important for plant health and vigor. To provide the proper nutrients
for your roses in the amounts needed for optimum growth, it is
important to first test your soil to determine its pH, texture (i.e.,
clay loam, sandy loam), and existing mineral nutrient content before
adding fertilizer. A soil test kit can be obtained by calling your
county Extension office. The amount of fertilizer and types of
amendments you apply will be determined by the results of the soil
test. Following the recommendations will assure you will neither over
nor under fertilize your roses. A soil test should be done prior to
planting and every two to three years thereafter.
Roses grow best in the pH range of 5.5 to 7.0. Soils testing below 5.5
will need an amendment of dolomitic lime, 7 to 8 pounds per 100 square
feet, to raise the pH into the desired range. Powdered sulfur can be
used to lower the pH. For soils with a pH between 7 and 7.5, add one
pound of sulfur per 100 square feet; for a pH between 8 and 8.5, add
two pounds of sulfur per 100 square feet; and for soil with a pH over
8.5, add three pounds of sulfur per 100 square feet. Ohio soils are
often deficient in iron when the pH is above 6.5. Iron sulfate can be
used instead of powdered sulfur to decrease the pH and provide the
needed nutrient. Also, chelated iron products are available for foliar
feeding or soil application.
Soil texture, which is the relative percentage of sand, silt and clay
composing soil, will influence the amount and frequency of fertilizer
application. Sandy loams, for instance, will require more frequent
applications because they drain rapidly, leaching essential nutrients.
They contain little clay (and possibly organic matter) that would
normally hold nutrients.
It is always a good idea to amend your soil with organic matter, such
as humus, peat moss, manure or composted sewage sludge for an added
source of slow release nutrients. The addition of organic matter will
also improve the soil's drainage and nutrient holding capacity. It is
recommended that two to four inches of organic matter be added and
worked into new beds to a depth of 12 inches. Many gardeners find the
combination of organic materials and a fast release, complete,
inorganic fertilizer, such as a 5-10-5, 10-10-10 or 12-12-12, works
best to produce beautiful roses.
In general, roses do well with an application of 3 pounds of actual
nitrogen per 1000 square feet (or 0.3 pounds of actual nitrogen per
100 square feet), divided into three applications per year. To
calculate how much fertilizer to apply depending on the formulation,
use the following example.
Using 5-10-5 fertilizer at the rate of 3 pounds actual nitrogen/1000
3.0 pounds actual nitrogen divided by 0.05 (5% nitrogen in 5-10-5) =
60.60 pounds divided by 10 (1000 square feet to 100 square feet) = 6.0
pounds of 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet.
Using the above example, a total of 6 pounds of 5-10-5 fertilizer will
be applied to a 100-square-foot rose bed per year. The 6 pounds will
be divided into three applications (2 pounds each); the first in mid
to late May (for spring planted roses the fertilizer should be applied
after new green vegetative growth begins), the second in mid-July, and
the third in the autumn after a killing frost, or very early in the
spring before new growth begins.
An area of concern for many gardeners new to growing roses is pruning.
Why do you have to prune roses? What kind of tools do you need? When
is the best time to prune? How do you prune? Does it matter what type
of rose it is?
Basically, pruning is done to improve the appearance of the plant, to
remove dead or diseased wood, to let in sunlight and air to the center
of the plant and to control the quantity and quality of the flowers
produced. Deadheading, or the removal of spent blooms during the
season, encourages more blooms (on continuous blooming varieties),
improves the appearance of the plant, and removes potential harboring
sites for disease organisms.
Prune rose bushes to a uniform height, between 12 and 24 inches;
remove suckers below the soil line.
The tools essential for pruning roses are pruning shears, long handled
lopping shears and a fine toothed curved saw. All should be sharp to
produce clean cuts and to avoid tearing or crushing the stems. When
buying pruning shears, look for the hook and blade type, which have
two cutting edges like a pair of scissors. The anvil type pruners,
with one cutting edge, will crush the stem. Long handled lopping
shears are best used on thick canes or ones difficult to reach with
pruning shears. A fine toothed curved saw is used for larger climbing
roses. You might also want to invest in a pair of heavy duty gloves to
protect your hands from sharp thorns.
In general, roses should be pruned just before growth begins in March
or early April. The exceptions are old (heirloom) roses and some
climbers that produce blooms on the previous year's wood. They should
be pruned after they bloom.
Pruning Bush Roses
Following a logical sequence of steps while pruning will help make the
job seem less complicated. The first step is to remove any dead,
diseased or damaged wood. Cut the stems one inch below darkened areas,
making sure you are cutting back to green wood. Make the cut at a 45
degree angle about 1/4 inch above an outward facing bud. Inspect the
pith (center of the stem). It should be white. If tan colored,
continue pruning sections of the stem until the pith appears white.
The second step is to remove branches that grow toward the center of
the plant. This opens up the plant for better air circulation and
allows sunlight to penetrate the inner portion of the plant.
The third step is to locate crossing branches and remove the weakest
one. Crossing branches may rub against each other, causing abrasions
that may serve as openings for disease organisms to enter the plant.
Remove sucker growth, which is growth coming from below the bud union.
Sucker growth is from the root stock and is a different rose variety;
if not removed, sucker growth will crowd out the desired variety.
Finally, prune to shape the plant. Hybrid teas, grandifloras and
floribundas can be pruned 12 to 24 inches in height, leaving up to 9
to 12 large (1/2 inch diameter), healthy canes. Old, shrub and species
roses should be pruned lightly, removing no more than 1/3 of the
growth. Miniature roses need only minimal pruning.
Many rosarians add one extra step to their pruning routine. After
pruning, a water soluble, white glue (i.e., Elmer's) can be applied to
the cut surfaces of the stems to prevent rose cane borers from
Pruning Rambling and Climbing Roses
The procedures for pruning Rambling and Climbing roses will vary
depending on the type of rose it is. A pruning basic that remains
constant, though, is removing dead, diseased or damaged wood whenever
noticed. This improves the appearance of the rose and removes places
for disease organisms or insects to overwinter.
The characteristic that distinguishes a Rambling and a Climbing rose
is their pattern of flowering. The Climbing rose blooms continuously
throughout the summer, while the Rambling rose blooms once. The
Rambling roses can be subdivided into three groups, all of which are
It is important to note that the shoots of all Ramblers and Climbers
should be tied to a support in a near horizontal position. These
shoots will produce flowering laterals along their length and provide
a generous display of flowers. Vertical shoots will tend to produce
flowers only at their tips.
Rambling Rose: Group 1
Ramblers in the first group are derived from Rosa wichuraiana,
including the cultivars 'American Pillar,' 'Dorothy Perkins,' and
'Excelsa.' They flower on one year old shoots produced from the base
of the plant. When planting new bare root plants, prune the canes to 9
to 15 inches. Train the vigorous new growth horizontally on a support.
There will be no flowers the first season, but profuse flowering the
next. Strong young basal shoots will develop, too. In late summer or
early autumn cut the stems that flowered at their base and tie the new
growth horizontally. A few old canes can be retained, if pruning all
would leave the plant looking too sparse.
Rambling Rose: Group 2
Group 2 differs from Group 1 only in the position of the new canes.
The new canes for Group 2 grow half way up the old canes, not at
ground level. Like Group 1, flowers appear on one year old wood. The
plant is pruned after flowering by removing old wood up to the new
growth then securing the new growth horizontally to the support.
Examples of cultivars in Group 2 are 'Alberic Barbier,' 'Albertine,'
'New Dawn,' 'Paul's Scarlet Climber' and 'Veilchenblau.'
Rambling Rose: Group 3
Included in this group are roses that are extremely vigorous, capable
of growing 20 feet in one season. Examples are Rosa filipes
'Kiftsgate,' 'Francis E. Lester,' 'Wedding Day' and 'Paul's Himalayan
Musk.' These roses are best used as a ground cover or to grow up into
trees. Very little pruning is necessary, except when a plant begins to
overwhelm a tree. Pruning can be done to reduce the size of the canes
or whole branches can be removed at the base.
Climbing roses bloom continuously on the current season's growth. They
are moderately vigorous and their flexuous stems lend themselves to
supports, such as, fences, pergolas, arbors, and walls. Examples are
'Handel,' 'Iceberg,' 'Meg,' Rosa banksiae 'Lutea' and Rosa 'Mermaid.'
When planting new bare root plants, trim the roots only, not the
shoots. Tie the shoots to a support system to train. Early the
following spring, while the plant is still dormant, shorten flowered
laterals to four or five buds. If pruning an established climber,
prune the flowered laterals in the spring, the same way you would a
new plant. Remember to remove any dead or diseased wood or stems
arising from below the bud union. For climbers that are several years
old, some of the oldest wood can be removed at the base to encourage
Removal of spent blooms, called "deadheading," is an important summer
maintenance practice for roses, especially the continuous blooming
varieties. Removing the spent blooms conserves the energy the plant
would normally use for seed production, encourages repeat flowering,
and removes potential disease harboring sites. Spent flowers may not
be removed from species such as Rosa moyesii and R. rugosa because
their large colored hips add another ornamental feature to the plant
in the autumn.
To deadhead, remove the flower by cutting back, at a 45 degree angle,
to the first outward facing bud in the axil of a leaf with five
The continuous blooming climbing rose is deadheaded a little
differently. Remove the spent blooms just above the foliage, making
sure not to remove any of the foliage since new blooms will be
produced from the leaves immediately below old flower clusters.
Winterizing roses is a very important maintenance practice to ensure
vigorous growth from year to year. There are several things you can do
to make sure your roses survive Ohio winters long before the cold
winds blow. First, choose the most winter hardy roses available to
plant in your rose bed. Next, make sure your roses are healthy and not
under stress because they have a better chance of surviving winter
than weak plants. Reduce stress on roses going into the dormant season
by irrigating adequately in late autumn and discontinuing nitrogen
application in late summer or early autumn.
For minimum winter protection, tie canes of bush roses together, then
mound soil 8 to 10 inches high around canes.
Hybrid Teas, grandifloras and floribundas should be protected from
winter damage after a killing frost but before the soil freezes. In
Ohio, that would be late November or early December. Reduce breakage
of tall canes by winter winds by cutting them back to 30 to 36 inches
and tying tips together. Remove dead and fallen leaves around the
plants. Hill soil over the center of the plants in broad rounded
mounds at least 12 inches high and 12 inches wide. Cover the soil
mounds with a mulch of leaves, straw, boughs, or some similiar
Another method includes using all mulch, such as, wood chips, sawdust,
shredded hardwood, or pine bark, instead of soil, mounded to 15 to 18
inches. Some gardeners prefer to construct wire mesh cylinders to
surround each plant, which they fill with mulch. Still others use rose
cones, baskets with bottoms cut out or burlap to wrap the plants.
For maximum winter protection, cover the rose bush with a protective
cylinder. Use straw, leaves or similar material to insulate the bush
inside the cone. Puncture several one inch holes around the top of the
cone for air circulation.
To winterize climbers, remove them from their support. Lay them on the
ground and cover with 3 to 4 inches of soil. If this cannot be done,
gather the tips of the stems together, tie them, and wrap in straw
with a wrapping of burlap over that. The base of the climber should be
covered with 10 inches of soil.
When severe winter weather conditions have subsided, which is
typically mid-March or early April in Ohio, remove most of the mulch
and soil from around the bases of plants. You may leave a 2-inch layer
of mulch in the bed.
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