Almost everyone loves roses, and with today’s easy-care modern varieties, it’s easy to care for the things you love. Besides the huge number of different varieties, divided into different types – landscape roses, floribunda, miniature, etc. – there are different ways of creating rose plants, to give different looks. Most roses are grown by slipping a bud of the rose you want under the bark of a different rose that has a vigorous root-system. This ‘root-stock’ is chosen to give the best results where the rose will be grown, but it doesn’t add to the look, as it is almost completely underground.
Some roses, though, don’t look like a bush sitting on the ground, they have a trunk like a small tree holding that bushy rose up in the air. That way you can see it better, enjoy its beauty and fragrance without bending down, and use it for height in your beds – or in a tub or planter box. Many people buy these gorgeous plants for their garden or patio, but as winter arrives, if you are in colder zones, you might wonder what to do with it during the cold winter months. Let’s find out more about tree roses, and how to make sure they come back next year to brighten your garden all over again.
Creating Tree Roses
You might think your tree rose was made by carefully growing a single stem up in the air and then letting it bush out, like a regular tree is grown, but that isn’t the way at all. Your tree rose could be made of three different roses, although it can also just be two. How does that work? The roots are probably a traditional root-stock variety called ‘Dr. Huey’. This rose has super-vigorous roots, and helps your bush make all those flowers. A traditional grower will take a stem of another rose, usually an old French variety called ‘De La Grifferaie’ to make the trunk. This rose makes thick, sturdy stems quickly, and these are cut into lengths. The bottom is attached to the root-stock rose, and then two buds of the actual rose being grown are attached at the top. After caring for the rose properly after it’s surgery (that’s the hard part), the buds sprout and make the bushy crown, of your tree rose, covered in blooms.
Other nurseries let ‘Dr. Huey’, which is a climbing rose, send up a thick stem and then use that for the trunk. Either way you end up with a vigorous bush with a straight and sturdy stem to hold all the branches of the rose that has flowers.
You can see from this that any branches that grow from the ground or from the trunk are NOT the rose you are growing, so remove them as soon as you see them – rub off any buds you see fattening on that trunk!
Winter Protection of Your Tree Rose
Because the flowering parts of your rose are 2 or 3 feet up in the air, they are exposed to lots of cold, without any of the snow cover or contact with the ground that a regular rose bush would have. So only in zone 8 will your tree rose pass through the winter unharmed if you don’t give it protection. Let’s look at this zone by zone, but first, consider growing your tree rose in a pot – it could be the best way to go.
Dormant Oil Spraying
No matter how you are going to protect your rose, the first step is to deal with any pests, so it comes through the winter healthy and problem-free. There are lots of products on the market, but we recommend using our Neem Oil Spray for this job. You can also make your own, mixing 2 tablespoons of canola oil with 2 tablespoons of dishwashing liquid and 1 tablespoon of baking soda, all shaken in a gallon of water. Spray thoroughly, squirting it into all the crevices and cracks on the stem, and all over every part of your bush.
Your Tree Rose is in a Pot
Since plants in pots are more likely to be killed in winter, it might seem counter-intuitive to tell you to grow your tree rose this way. If you have a place to store it, then it is going to be a lot less work getting it through the winter. So, do you have a shed, garage or basement where winter temperatures are below 45 degrees, and preferably closer to freezing (32 degrees)? It doesn’t have to have any light. Is that a ‘yes’ I hear? Great! So here is what to do. Leave your potted tree outside until it has had a few nights of light frost, just a degree or two. All the leaves should have fallen off – if not, gently pull off the remaining ones. Once real cold is forecast, wrap the pot in an old blanket and put it into your cold area. That’s it. Don’t water unless the soil has become almost completely dry – check it every few weeks. Once the risk of a hard frost is over, bring it out, prune, fertilizer and away you go!
If you don’t have a suitable storage area that is cold, then dig a hole, bury the pot and protect it as we are going to describe, depending on your zone.
In these areas the risk of cold is great enough to make it unlikely your rose will make it if unprotected. For this job you need plumber’s insulated pipe wrap; 3 or 4 sturdy stakes; some chicken wire wide enough to surround your rose; burlap; and some DRY sphagnum peat moss (the brown stuff), DRY shredded leaves, or straw.
- wrap the trunk from top to bottom with the foam pipe wrap, using some duct tape to secure it.
- Now make a box with the stakes, driving them into the ground firmly (they will have to resist winter storms, remember).
- Attach the chicken wire, and fill the cage with the peat moss, leaves or straw, pressing it down a bit as you go. It should be dry to protect the tree from rotting. Completely cover the whole rose, including the upper branches.
- Now wrap the burlap around the whole thing.
- You are done until early spring, when you can unwrap it, prune and get set for another rose season. Don’t leave it covered once the days begin to warm up, as it will start to sprout in the dark – always a bad thing.
Your Tree Rose is in the Ground – zones 4 and 5
This is the most extreme method for storage, sometimes called the ‘Minnesota Tip’. When first planting your rose tree, place it somewhere that will be a long clear space next to it in winter.
- Once it has had that bit of frost, and been sprayed with oil, dig a trench beside it, long enough to hold the rose.
- Take your spade to the opposite side, and cut through the roots so you can tilt it over – be careful not to snap the stem.
- Use the foam pipe wrap to protect the trunk, and lay the rose in the trench.
- Lots of people use the dirt to fill it, but I recommend instead using the peat or leaves of the previous method – lying branches in soil can lead to fungal diseases killing it over the winter.
- Once you have filled the trench, lay a piece of burlap over it, and secure it with some pieces of bent wire. If you live in an area with winter thaws, consider piling some extra snow over the top.
- Again, once the weather warms a little, dig up the tree, firm it back in the ground, prune, and you are off again for a great season.
Enjoy your tree rose for years, by following these methods to help it get through the winter. Happy gardening!