When Roses Go Dormant

Why do Roses go Dormant?

Dormancy is an essential part of the life cycle of a rose.  It is part of the natural cycle whereby the rose drops any foliage that could be damaged by freezing temperatures.  In a way, the plant begins to create its own antifreeze.  The cell sap begins to thicken, helping to prevent the stems from freezing during the cold winter months. The rose itself goes into an almost hibernation like state where its metabolic systems slow and the nutrients are reserved deep within the core of the rose to aid in bud formation.

You will know when you rose is going dormant when you notice the leaves beginning to yellow and fall to the ground.  The foliage of some rose cultivars will turn brilliant red or burgundy in color.  Most shrub roses will go completely dormant depending on what part of the country you are in.  In the deep South, much of the foliage may be retained over the winter months.  You can aid the rose in preparation for going into dormancy by not fertilizing beginning in late summer and stop supplemental irrigation in late summer/early fall.  Certain cultivars of roses will produce large ornamental clusters of hips that ripen into a range of bright colors in the fall.  Sometimes they will persist into the winter.  The hips are basically the fruit of the rose which houses the seeds.

Winners Circle Rose Hips

Large, bright orange hips of the climbing rose Winners Circle™

What do I do While my Rose is Dormant?

In general – nothing!  This is the time of the year to let them just be.  In the coldest parts of the country, you may want to mulch heavily around the base of the plant depending on how cold hardy the rose is.  As much as possible, do your research before purchasing a new rose.   If you want to see you rose again after the winter, purchase a rose that is rated hardy to your zone. You don’t need to water or fertilize while the rose is in its dormant state.  Hopefully, you’ve taken good care of the rose during last season.  The best way for a rose to make it though winter is if it went into dormancy a strong and healthy plant.  The more stressed the rose bush was going into dormancy, the more damage you may expect it to experience over the winter.

Signs of Life – What to plan for in Early Spring

Sometime in early spring, you will begin to see signs of new life as the leaf buds begin to swell.  Early spring is the best time to prune your roses before they leaf out.  Trim out any dead canes that may be present and in general trim the entire bush back by two-thirds to promote an intense first flush of blooms in late spring.


New Plant Coordinator at Star® Roses and Plants

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