Jane McLeod: More to know about hardy roses

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Anything planted anywhere, let alone here, needs all the advantages a gardener can provide. The word “hardy” certainly tells you how tough this particular rose classification is, but they still need to be nurtured correctly to thrive. It never fails to astonish me when the garden bursts into life every year, but it isn’t magic; it’s knowing what to do and how to do it that makes it all happen.

The first thing to tick off the list before purchasing a rose bush is to pay attention to its recommended grow zone (3 or 4 for our area). Most rose producers consider Zone 3 as minus 40 to minus 30 degrees and Zone 4 as minus 30 to minus 20 degrees. Just to be safe, I like Zone 3 grading best.

Right now, at the beginning of April, my hardy roses that are up against the south-facing side of the house have little to no snow cover left. Throughout the next several months, they potentially will face above and below freezing temperatures at day and night and might or might not have a protective blanket of snow — quite a roller coaster of temperature swings and not for the faint of heart. If the bushes were wrapped within an inch of their life, it soon would grow too hot inside any protection, and they would start to break out of dormancy far too early for our fickle spring temperatures. The opposite could be true in the fall: That protection could keep them too warm to slide into dormancy and any new and tender growth would suffer winter kill. Besides, it all sounds like too much work with potentially no upside, so I like the rugged, hardy roses that are bred for cold.

The next consideration is to buy only hardy rose bushes that are on their own rootstock and not grafted onto a different rootstock. Roses grown on their own roots are not only hardier, but their regrowth also will stay true to its original specifications if there is a lot of winter dieback. If the rootstock is not as hardy as the above-ground plant, no amount of protection will work for ground that freezes to untold depths during our winters.

Now, pick the actual site. Think sun and more sun. Roses need lots of it from dawn to dusk, if possible. The amount of sunlight will affect plant vigor and flower production. Other considerations are some protection from strong, prevailing winds that can injure through dehydration and, more importantly, a spot that drains well. Roses do not like sitting in water, which causes their roots to die from the decrease in oxygen.

And finally, roses will grow in just about any kind of soil, but in order to thrive and because they are heavy feeders, they need nutritious-rich soil for sustenance. Very few areas have ideal garden soil, so it is the gardener’s job to improve things, and it is not that hard to do by working in organic matter like compost and replenishing it every year.

Now proceed to research which distinctive hardy rose bush you want to plant. It’s particularly delightful to do this when the snow is blowing sideways outside.

Jane McLeod is a volunteer master gardener with the CSU Extension Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 or email csumgprogram@co.routt.co.us with questions.

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