Roses for Cold Climates

– Posted in: Book reviews, Plant info

One of the first gardening things I did when we moved here over fifteen years ago was to dig up the rose bushes and get rid of them. I didn’t want to have anything to do with plants that needed to be babied to get through the winter and perpetually sprayed to get them through the growing season. Since then I’ve learned that there are hardy roses out there if you know where to look. And I don’t just mean winter hardy; I mean roses hardy enough to take what diseases and insects dish out in stride. I’ve also learned that many roses that are not winter hardy can live through northern winters to bloom again if certain procedures are followed.

Both of the books pictured here contributed to my education, but Tender Roses in Tough Climates by Douglas Green is the book I’d recommend to you. Why? He’s more my kind of gardener, or at least, rose grower:

None of our roses get special treatment. There is no hilling, no wrapping, no insulating. A normal fall pruning and we wish our roses good night for their winter’s nap.

On the other hand, Jerry Olson and John Whitman, the authors of Growing Roses in Cold Climates, are rose fanatics who believe that no trouble is too much trouble to help your roses make it. They advocate the Minnesota Tip method to protect tender roses from the vagaries of winter. This involves half-digging up the shrub, tipping it over into a trench, and burying it. Then you have undo everything come spring. Ugh.

Apparently there is some debate in rose circles about these two methods. Olson and Whitman state:

We do not agree that planting the bud union 6 inches deep [as Green advocates] is a good way to protect most tender roses . . . Almost all experienced growers are now using the Minnesota Tip Method or slight variations of it to protect their tender roses in cold climates. (p. 187)

Green is aware of the tip method and concedes it is the only way to get a tender climbing rose through a tough winter (because it blooms on old wood), but hardly finds the method foolproof:

If your efforts have been successful, buds will begin to swell as the weather warms. If not, hardy roses will seem a very attractive option. (p. 52)

To be fair, Olson and Whitman also admit that

. . . the principle of deeper planting is effective with specific types or varieties of budded and own-root roses. (p. 187)

I guess it’s all a matter of emphasis. Certainly, Growing Roses in Cold Climates has the same depth of information that I’ve really appreciated in the other two books in this series that I’ve reviewed. It’s a very good book; I’d just make it my second rose book. Or, if you’ve experience growing roses in more moderate climates, read them both and make up your own mind. And Olson and Whitman’s book discusses many more roses, so if you’re determined to grow the rose in your grandmother’s garden, try looking there first.

But if you’re like me, and you don’t already have your heart set on growing a particular rose, go with Doug Green’s book. If you click on the Amazon link you’ll discover that it’s quite a wait to get that book new. However, Doug has revised it himself and now offers it as an e-book, which means when you buy it, you receive a .pdf file that you can either read on your computer or print on your printer using your own ink and paper. Also, he has information at his website on growing roses here and here.

'Wanderin' Wind' - photo taken by Justin on May 15, 2006I actually didn’t dig up all the roses when I moved here. I left one rose on the northwest side of the house, mostly because I didn’t realize it was a rose–no thorns that I could see. It turns out it is a native rose, either Rosa virginiana or Rosa palustris, and it is growing in other, untamed areas of our property with no help from anyone. I confess I just bought my first rose this year (pictured at left, past its prime), a Griffith Buck hybrid called ‘Wanderin’ Wind.’ While visiting Der Rosenmeister in Ithaca I fell in love with this pink-blooming rose that has perfect hybrid-tea-shaped blossoms on vigorous, shrubby foliage. I had planned to get ‘Country Dancer,’ but ‘Wanderin’ Wind’ was in bloom and persuaded me to forsake my first choice. So, I’ve just reviewed two books on roses, telling you they have good advice, but my own rose, planted according to Doug Green’s advice, is only now about to face its first winter. So what do I know?

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

When dealing with frost it is always best to be paranoid. In the spring never think it is too late for one more frost to come. And in the fall never think it too early.

~Rundy in Frost

Comments on this entry are closed.

Kathy Purdy December 5, 2006, 7:26 am

This is an interesting example of how climate is affected by the features of the land. My sister Ro, who just commented above, lives over a hundred miles north of me, yet every fall she is still harvesting basil when mine is a blackened mess. The reason is she lives on the shore of Lake Ontario, which moderates the climate similar to how an ocean would moderate it. She had to move them all because they were growing where the garage needed to be built. I guess that’s why she talks about them in the past tense. Did you relocate any, Ro, or give them all away?

Rosemarie December 3, 2006, 9:22 pm

I do nothing to protect my roses, and they die back every year, and grow back six feet every year. I do nothing but prune away dead wood in the spring. I really need to do something about those rose slugs. I bought mine at Pickering Nurseries, and some at Hortico. I am probably a full zone more temperate than you, and in retrospect, I would have bought own root roses, because I do suspect that one of my roses is rootstock now. But they gave me joy with no fuss. Mine were all once blooming old garden roses, though.

Melinda November 30, 2006, 12:47 pm

Yes, Cleveland. Zone 5 officially but I do ok with zone 6 and even have a crepe myrtle that dies back to the roots every year or so. Which I imagine might be pushing it for even colder climates but might be a nice exotic to try if you could get one inexpensively.

Kathy Purdy November 29, 2006, 7:38 pm

Melinda, you’re in Cleveland, right? We’re talking colder yet in these rose books, but anyone in your approximate zone should keep Golden Showers in mind.

Bill, I think tough roses can be found for all climates, you just need to do some research first.

Kathy Purdy November 29, 2006, 7:32 pm

Doug, thanks for stopping by and providing that clarification.

Doug November 29, 2006, 7:27 pm

Kathy – Your Buck roses will be fine with the deep planting. I have several new ones myself this year and am looking forward to next year’s main flush. They’re a particularly hardy series in any case.

And thanks for the comments about the rose book.

For the record, I do not plant own-root roses deeply – I’m only growing hardy roses on their own roots. All deep-planted roses are tender ones that bloom on new wood. Roses that bloom on old wood need to have those top canes protected.

And although both of these books are older – I still don’t garden the way that “almost all experienced gardeners” do. πŸ™‚ I garden the way that works for me. To heck with all that work of digging and trenching – I prefer my lazy way that keeps my tender roses alive over the winter with no protection. πŸ™‚

All the best


Melinda November 29, 2006, 10:29 am

I am a low maintainence type of gardener and have had great luck with the Golden Showers climber. It’s an old one but it blooms all season and doesn’t seem to mind the cold a bit. Right now it has beautiful orange hips for added fall color.

bill November 29, 2006, 8:46 am

I have never used any kind of sprays or chemicals on my roses. I don’t know how they would do in a colder climate. They all came from the Antique Rose Emporium.