Rose Care for Winter

Find the best plant nursery or garden center near me for expert advice on caring for roses during winter.

Written by David S.

Roses offer a beautiful season of blooms, but you have to care for the rose bushes to get the most blooms. In this blog, we discuss how to care for your roses during the winter. 

Roses are deciduous, and once they lose their leaves, they will sleep for the winter. That’s a perfect time to prune and care for your roses. It is also the perfect time to care for the rose bush parts that are still active — the roots and soil. 

Winter Care for the Soil 

As roses begin to go dormant, the roots remain somewhat active, but the soil remains very much alive. Thus, winter is a fantastic time to focus on soil health around your entire yard. 

Start with a quality organic fertilizer. A time-release feature is good in wet environments. In Southern California, you can use liquid fertilizers if not expecting rains. First, add a thick layer of organic compost to the top layer of soil. As you water or when it rains, the added nutrients from the compost will seep into the ground, where the roots of the roses will uptake it as they need it. Next, follow the compost with a layer of mulch. Mulch will help keep the soil warmer and the organisms that live there happier.

Products for Soil Health 

1. EB Stone Rose & Flower Food – Non-burn formula, slow-release nitrogen, NPK – 5-6-3, and fully loaded with soil microbes. A perfect way to care for both roses and soil. 

2. Black Gold Natural & Organic Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss – The natural ability of peat moss to lower soil pH is awesome as roses like soil pH around 6.5. You can mix in Black Gold Organic Compost as a top dressing blend for your roses. The added nutrients will seep into the root ball as you water. 

3. Mulch – There is a wide range of mulches available. If you like something exotic, try the cocoa bagged chips which give off a chocolate-like aroma. Be sure to check out the Green Thumb Nursery stock of mulches to find one that fits your landscaping goals. If you need help, our garden experts are available to help answer questions, discuss products, and keep you on track with your gardening and landscaping projects. 

Pruning Your Roses 

Rose pruning occurs in winter and early spring before the new growth occurs. For those of you who like a visual, we have a video of how to prune roses. 

Some products that will help make your job much easier include:

  1. Hand pruners – Quality hand pruners or sheers are essential for trimming roses. The cuts made by the sheers need to be clean. Also, before you start pruning, be sure to sterilize any tools you use, as pruning with dirty sheers can spread disease from one plant to the next. 
  2. Loppers – Loppers are handy for pruning roses and especially for reaching through the thorny branches to the root ball to remove suckers. They also work well for thick branches. 
  3. Garden tape or wire – for climbing roses, you will want to train the branches after you prune them back. Doing so will produce a more aesthetic shape in the late spring and early summer. 

Adding New Roses to Your Collection

Late December and into January is the time to find bare root roses at Green Thumb Nursery. Adding new roses to your garden is part of the winter care for the garden. If you plan to extend the varieties of roses, now is an excellent time to think about which roses you want and what type of roses would fit your landscape. 

Planting Bare Root Roses

It is a good idea to soak the rose bush before you plant it. At Green Thumb Nursery, many of our roses are bagged in the soil, so they are not true bare root roses. We like this method because it keeps some soil biota with the rose. It also prevents the roots from air pruning, which is a big step in keeping the plant healthy. 

The hole should be around 18-inches deep, and the rose should sit in it so that the graft is just above the soil line. The hole should also be wide enough so that the walls do not compress the roots of the rose bush. Instead, give the roots plenty of room to expand. Generally, the width should be about 2-feet. 

Filling the hole 

Many people make the mistake of filling the hole for bare root roses with potting soil. A better way is to fill the bottom section of the hole with backfill dirt – the dirt that came out of the hole, and then add a mixture of backfill and bagged soil, such as compost. You can add rose food at this time or wait. 

Rose’s like soil that drains well but also holds moisture. Setting the soil up for spring and summer as you plant makes for healthier roses during the most challenging parts of the year. Summer in Southern California is hot. Quality soil allows plants to thrive in unfavorable conditions. 

Watering for Winter Roses

In winter, roses must continue to receive water. You can water them less frequently, but their roots are still working even though the rest of the plant is slumbering through winter. Adequate water helps roses fight off cold conditions. Plan to water your roses this winter anytime the top 1-inch of soil becomes dry. A good goal is to keep the soil consistently moist. 

Another chore to add to your winter care list for your roses and other landscaping is to check any automatic watering systems that you have in place. Cold weather can damage timers and cause rigid hoses to split. If you have outdoor timers, you may consider bringing them inside and watering them by hand with a garden hose or sprinkler. For drip hoses and lines, covering them with mulch will do two things. First, it will help stop the damage from UV exposure. Second, it will help insulate the lines from the cold weather. 

Roses are a lovely addition to any landscape. But, if you are new to growing roses, we can help make that process successful. Stop into any of our five Southern California locations and chat with our plant experts about rose care, specialty roses, and products that promote rose health. 


Do you like what you see? Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get content like this every week!