Sometimes a habit becomes so ingrained it’s hard to shake it. That seems to be the case with the winter protection of roses. For generations gardeners in temperate climates have learned to protect their hybrid tea and grandiflora roses in the winter by cutting them back severely, mounding soil around their base, and covering them with a rose cone. And many rose aficionados seem reluctant to change this practice, as each fall, I always get a surprising number of questions from people wanting to know whether they should be protecting their hardy roses.
The answer is, of course, no! In this context, the word hardy means “resistant to cold.” As long as the hardy rose in question is of your hardiness zone or lower (and many are hardy to zone 3, even 2), no protection – none at all! – is necessary. No pruning, no mounding, no rose cone. Nada!
When I say this, it always seems to surprise many gardeners. Surely you have to do something! The concept that a plant can survive without their help is hard for them to swallow. But if this is your case, look around you. In the wild, there are many plants that survive extremely cold winters without a human being intervening, and that even includes many wild roses. I don’t want to harm your self-esteem, but… you really aren’t that necessary that in the life of a hardy rose.
A Few Popular Hardy Roses
Most of the hardiest roses were developed in Canada. This includes the Explorer, Parkland, and Canadian Artist series. All are hardy to at least zone 3. Others with exceptional hardiness include the Pavement series and such shrub roses as ‘F. J. Grootendurst’, ‘Pink Grootendurst’, ‘Schneezwerg’ (‘Snow Dwarf’), and ‘Thérèse Bugnet’ plus pretty much any hybrid rugosa rose (‘Blanc de Coubert’, ‘Hansa’, etc.).
If you live in USDA zone 4 (AgCan zone 5) or warmer, you can add Carefree, Meidiland and David Austin’s English roses to the list as well as a few polyantha roses like ‘The Fairy’.
If you live in USDA zone 5 (AgCan zone 6) or warmer, things get even easier: all the roses above will be hardy, as will most any shrub rose.
Finally, gardeners in USDA zone 6 (AgCan zone 7) or warmer don’t have to give much thought to winter protection except maybe to apply a thick mulch to roses planted in more exposed areas. Most roses will be hardy in their area.
Now the Most Popular
Hardy roses gain in popularity year after year, at least in colder climates. Where once nurseries were full of frost-tender hybrid tea and grandiflora roses that required a lot of winter protection to survive the winter, hardy roses now actually dominate. Generally they are shrub roses, although a few can be used as climbing roses, and the best hardy roses bloom all through the summer, going dormant on their own with the arrival of cold fall nights. Then they patiently wait for the return of warmer spring weather to start to grow and bloom again.
So there is never any winter damage at all? I wouldn’t go that far, but when it does occur, it’s usually minor: maybe a blackened stem tip or two. That’s easy to fix: just prune off any dead wood in the spring. Of course, if the winter is unusually severe, even a hardy rose may lose an entire branch or two. If so, again, just prune them off. Hardy roses have inherited the ability to produce replacements all on their own.
Hardy roses: just as many flowers, less work. What’s not to like?