Easy ways to protect roses, tender perennials

By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

If you just don’t want to go though all the labor of tipping your roses into a trench, there is an easier way to protect them and your other tender perennials.

For roses, plant the bud union or crown of the plant about 2 to 3 inches below the soil line. This ensures there will be more buds available in case of a regular Minnesota winter not the wimpy ones we have had the last few years. Adding those inches of soil increases the chance of at least some of the buds surviving if severely damaged. If the rose is quite large, like climbers, make a large wire cage and bend the canes down below the top of the cage. Fill the enclosure with mulch. This can be oak leaves, straw or chopped corn cobs. These mulches won’t get waterlogged like maple leaves or grass clippings. The air pockets between the more porous mulch materials aid in insulation. The root system isn’t disturbed either. You may have more cane dieback but this method is much easier on your back.

Tying long canes as you would do for the Minnesota tip method can be useful here too as it will be easier to get the mulch tucked all around the plant. Exposed canes will probably die so cut those off after summer growth stops. Or you can leave them sticking up for bird perches in the garden. This will encourage the birds to snack on the dead seed heads you deliberately left in the garden for them.

For more protection, mound 6 to 12 inches of soil around the base of the rose then cover with mulch in October to early November depending on the fall temperatures. We do occasionally have a very warm fall. You want to enjoy your flowers as long as possible as the winters seem 10 months long some years.  Just mulch is easier as you don’t have to find and transport soil in fall then remove it in spring. Add a bar of rat poison to each cage so the critters, mice, chipmunks and their like don’t spend the winter holed up in the mulch snacking on the canes.

If you have tree roses, a cultivar grafted to the top of a tree with the trunk being a different rose, you have a real job protecting it. You need to protect both the rose and the trunk. The Minnesota tip method is the best protection for this type of rose. That is, unless it is Polar Joy, a tree rose developed by Baily Nurseries in St. Paul. This rose isn’t grafted like other tree roses. A single stem of the rose is trained to be the trunk then allowed to branch. It was introduced in 2006 and was hardy for the next 2 years so may be an option if you must have a tree rose and they are still available.

Roses in pots, or your other deck plants can be saved if they are typically hardy planted in the soil. If left in the pot on the deck, the pot will freeze solid and kill the plant. To keep them for next year, bury them sideways, pot and all in the garden. your neighbors may wonder about your sanity when they see you digging holes and sticking pots in them. You can gloat next spring when all you have to do is dig the pots out, wash them off and done. No money spent, no time plodding though the green house looking for just the right plant. You already have them.