WITHSTANDING WINTRY WINDS
By: Ted Mills, Master Rosarian and Judge
Unless you live in tropical-type areas of the Country and never experience snow or icy conditions, there will come a time when arctic-type winds will prevail. For all others I recommend that you not be lulled to sleep by a few balmy days occurring in winter. Just as surely as mallard ducks migrate southward each year, the wintry winds will visit most areas with wrath. Global warming advocates will try to dispel this belief, but history tells us that we have always had a measure of frigid conditions with which to cope. We may escape snow (a virtue to rose gardens) but the howling cold winds will surely return.
Just as bears prepare for hibernation by devouring extra food, so must the wise rosarian ready rose plants for the icy conditions that will surely come. And if not already completed, now is the last call for insulation work to be performed. With most geographical areas having experienced at least two subfreezing temperatures already, it is imperative that winterizing be done.
Just how is winterizing accomplished? Which method is the simplest way to protect the plants? In mild-winter areas, usually a 12-inch mounding of clean top soil, covered with pine needles, applied around the bud union, is sufficient. Not only do pine needles provide extra insulation, they prevent the soil mound from eroding. Also, they allow water and air passage to the root system. These two items are essential to plant health, even in plant dormancy. This mounding action provides the rosarian with the simplest method of insulating rose plants. Additional winterizing can be accomplished by spraying the bushes with a product called Cloud Cover. This helps prevent damage caused by winter winds as it seals the entire bush with a protective coating.
Before any winter protection is applied, the crafty rosarian will spray the bushes with a product called Lime Sulfur. This will eradicate any disease spores that are lingering on the plants. Apply this product again just after major spring pruning is performed. Use of a highly refined oily product called Volck Oil, will control any insects that may be wintering over. The use of a hose-end sprayer works best. It allows a heavy drenching of the soil at the base of the plant where hidden leaves that have fallen may be harboring disease spores. The entire plant should be sprayed generously. Once the spraying is completed, winter protection can be applied or placed back if it has been temporarily removed to allow spraying.
Once dormancy is prevalent, it is my recommendation that remaining leaves be stripped from the bush. There is debate among rosarians as to the wisdom of leaf removal. However, since the leaves have performed their work for the year, it makes for easier overall-care to remove them. In fact, their removal eliminates the possibility of disease laden leaves being strewn on the garden. A rose bed should always be hospital clean.
There are several other winter protection methods such as shredded leaves in collars, rose cones, Styrofoam boxes, etc. It depends on the harshness of the winter as to which material is used. In far northern areas the insulating procedure is more complex. Whichever method is used, it is imperative to proceed if two hard freezes (28 degrees F.) have occurred.
Some rosarians have questioned the various materials used for insulation. Several forms of mulch are advisable. However, it is my recommendation that hardwood mulch not be used. I have found that this type mulch often harbors harmful bacteria that can cause injury to the plants. The malady appears as parasitic or extraneous growth on the canes. One can view this condition on fallen oak trees that are decaying in forest areas.
As to my own rose garden, I use mushroom compost that is mixed with ground pine bark. This gives me adequate protection against the cold and furnishes a degree of fertilization as well. When spring arrives and all danger of frost and freeze is passed, I spread the mulch over the rose bed. A word of caution is advisable. Do not be too hasty in removal of winter protection. If it is raked away, leave it near the plant so that it can be hastily applied again. Remember- the weather man often makes mistakes in forecasting.
Once the rose bush indicates it is leaving dormancy, the rosarian must commence major pruning. If the removal of twiggy growth has been performed on a regular basis during the growing season, the rosarian’s pruning duty is lessened as to difficulty. The wise rosarian has already cropped the bushes to waist high, especially those that are extra tall. Leaving tall bushes to waft in the wind often loosens the root system, thereby making them vulnerable to injury.
Although I am not a weather prophet, for the past 84 winters it has been my lot to experience freezing weather. That is proof enough to me that balmy weather will not favor me year-long. Frigid weather will surely come. If I am wrong in my prediction I will confess that forecasting is not my expertise. However, don’t bet the farm on my being wrong. Be wise – go ahead and treat your bushes with protective insulating material.