How to Overwinter Tree Roses

Roses are among the most beloved plants.  Matchless for their variety of colors and fragrance and forms, roses have a beauty that makes their persnickety nature part of their charm.  Roses need special pruning and fertilizing and insect prevention, but they also need strict attention to their fall and winter care. (Please note update at the end 5.3.2013)

Last year, I took some photos as I was preparing to overwinter my rose.  My ‘Double Delight’ tree rose is even more demanding with regard to its care than bush roses I also grow in pots.

Here is how I overwinter my tree rose:

Step 1:  Cease fertilizing roses 2 months before overwintering.  The first killing frosts in my area are mid-October so an August 15th deadline gives two full months for my roses to wind down and become convinced that it’s really OK with me for them to go dormant for the winter.

Roses, for all their complicated care, have a strong desire to grow even into the frosts.  No fertilizer, no pruning, and full exposure to cold temperatures/frosts tell them that they need to rest now.  While they’re in their two-month cool down, I dig a trench in my compost pile (which is more like a pile of leaves than a true compost pile).  The trench will need to be big enough to accommodate the tree rose laying on its side and whatever other roses I’ve been growing in pots.

Step 2:  Once the hard frosts have hit a time or two, I can safely prune them.  The leaves and flowers often have a dull purplish tone to them showing that they have been exposed to sufficient cold.  Roses already know it’s time to shut down for the season, so when I prune them for the winter’s covering, they just accept it and don’t rebel against it by trying to grow some more.  They are obedient roses.  Tree roses get pruned differently than a bush rose so my photos will demonstrate their winter care.

All non-landscape roses have a “graft union” (place where the pretty rose variety was plugged into the sturdy root stock).  For bush roses, it is located at the ground level and this graft union can be covered with soil or mulch.  I’m particular to pine bark mini-nuggets because they still pour when frozen and stay put during the winter.  The added benefit is the way they become part of the spring/summer mulch when I wash them away from the graft union.

Tree roses are different.  A standard form or tree rose has a root zone, a tall stalk that’s part of the rootstock, and the graft union is at the top of the root stock.  Since the graft union is what needs protecting, covering the roots with mulch does no good whatsoever for preserving the graft union.

The knotty looking section with stems coming out is called the graft union.  With bush roses, I’m content to leave the canes about 12-18 inches long.  Not so with tree roses.  I clip them back to about 3 inches from the graft union.  Otherwise the new growth in the spring will be long and so heavy that the weak juncture will break off easily.  So I try to keep the spring growth compact.  It begins in the fall as I cut away the dead canes completely and the green canes get clipped to approximately 3 inches in length.  I use sharp pruning shears that have been treated with bleach so I don’t contaminate the rose for its winter rest.


Step 3:  Once it is pruned, it looks very naked, I know.  But it will have less to try to maintain through the winter.  It may sound strange, but plants stay alive through the winter even as they are dormant.  If you have a large plant to try to keep alive, it will expend more of its stored food trying to keep it all alive…and it may end up killing the whole plant in the process.

You’ll notice I removed all the leaves which–at this point–will only be a source of disease inoculum for next year.  Even so, there may be some organisms on the canes, so I usually do one last spray of insecticide before wrapping it up.





Step 4:  Wrapping the rose for winter storage (left).

While I could just bury the rose in its pot, I prefer to take it out of the pot so rain and melting snow can keep the root zone hydrated.  Both the roots and the graft union need to be protected and with a long stalk, it risks being broken in addition to frozen.  Therefore, I take the extra step of wrapping it in frost cloth.  Both air and water can permeate it, but the rose will stay substantially cleaner and will make it less attractive for mice than if it were just buried among all the leaves.  Furthermore, wrapping the whole rose in frost cloth helps to make its removal in the spring less likely to break anything, whether the stalk or the graft union/new buds.


Step 5: Cover the wrapped tree rose in the trench with leaves.  Of course, the trench I’ve already prepared in the back and the neatly wrapped rose don’t look too good in the photo with both roots and graft union ready to be covered.  Should the police wonder what I’m burying, we could always open it to reveal nothing but the rose inside.  Last year my son had a few laughs at my expense as we went out and buried it.  But, I got the last laugh this spring when I unearthed it.



Step 6:  In the early spring, I unearth my tree rose and place it in a sheltered spot.  If it’s too cold outside still, I’ll put it in the garage.  I don’t want to leave it in the compost pile and have the leaf buds begin to “break” in the dark.  But I also don’t want to have gone through significant effort to overwinter it only to have it zapped by a late winter cold snap.  Unearthing it while it’s still dormant will allow it to develop naturally as the weather improves.  I pot it up, water it, and as the daylengths increase and the buds swell and break, I begin to fertilize it again.

My “Double Delight” tree rose began to experience bud break soon after unearthing/repotting it and it produced blossoms that were absolutely stunning this year.  By way of note, the stalk will not get taller.  The height you buy it is the height the standard (stalk portion) will remain.  The growth will be in the canes that arise from the graft union.  Bush roses can be grown in pots and overwintered the same way or planted in the ground (in their frost-proof pots) for the winter.  Landscape roses such as “Carefree Wonder”, many rugosa roses, “The Fairy”, drift or “Knockout” roses do not need this special care since they are hardier and not grown as grafted plants.  If you love roses but hate the maintenance, these “own root roses” are good options to try.

But for those of us who desire tree roses, we don’t mind that they are higher maintenance plants.  These jewels among jewels of the garden are well worth the extra care they require.   There is something marvelous about a reward of such beauty after a long labor of love.  It’s kind of a nice reflection in nature of the same beauty and reward of the Christian life well-lived. 


==== Important update (5.3.2013) For the first time in the decade I’ve been overwintering my roses this way, this year my roses were eaten by voles (a type of mouse).  Each of them looked like they had been put in an electric pencil sharpener and gnawed to a point.  I am attempting to root them (since there was remaining root stock below the graft union).  I’m not sure how well that will work since the bark appears to have been stripped all the way to the cambial layer, but I’ll keep you updated.

(2013) So this year when I overwinter my roses, it will include using hardware cloth (wire mesh with 1/4″ holes) to keep the voles from breaking my heart again next year.   As I wrap them in hardware cloth, I’ll include photos of that too.

That was ineffective as the voles found their way in, so last winter (2016-2017) I kept it in the garage.  I watered it periodically with cold water and kept the lights on in the garage to provide a little heat on the coldest of nights.  The result was a resounding success.  Cutting it back just as shown in the earlier photos, I placed it outside after danger of frost (putting it on the front porch tucked next to the house, if frost threatens).  Here is how it turned out.  It will be spectacular when it blooms.  I also did some containerized bush roses that way and they’re every bit as ready to burst into bloom! 


Categories In the Garden, Inspiration | Tags: | Posted on October 22, 2012

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  1. by Patty Colón

    On January 19, 2015

    I bought my first tree rose last year before spring. I planted it in a container and it did great all summer long. Now it’s winter here in NYC and I brought it indoors, unheated basement hallway where I keep all my other plants. I cut it back and it kept growing new shoots, I kept cutting until no more grew. My concern is that, the canes I cut back are green but one is half yellow. The original canes are brown and have been like that ever since the I first potted it and pruned (when I first received the plant) I’m scared for her dying. Please HELP!!

  2. by seminarygal

    On January 20, 2015

    I understand how we develop attachments to our roses and want to do what’s best for them! I wouldn’t worry about the green canes which sound like it is just the more recent year’s growth. Is the half-yellow one, yellow near the tip or near the knotty part of the stalk called the graft union? If it’s near the tip, that’s pretty normal and you will cut it in the spring just into the good part where the yellow part meets the green or brown (green underneath the bark) parts. I’m wondering if your unheated hallway is cold enough to keep it completely dormant. If there’s lots of light and very cold, that’s not so much a problem as it seems like spring to the rose (or like it’s growing in a different zone with mild winters) and any shoots are being produced in response to day length which at this point is increasing. But if it’s dark and not cold enough to keep it dormant, it’s chewing through its food supply to try to continue growing pale green soft shoots that aren’t going to be productive.

    The main thing with dormancy is that we want roses to gradually decide to give it a rest for a chunk of the year and not come in and out of it. It’s kind of like a human waking up every 2 hours with a new baby’s crying vs. the kind of sleep you get when the baby sleeps through the night. We want roses to go completely dormant in cold climates like ours and to go into that period of rest without subjecting it to the killing point of cold.

    So here’s what I’d suggest, if you have a thermometer, take the temperature of the hallway in the early morning and in the late afternoon to get an idea of day and night temperatures and to think about how much light these plants receive. I’d stop pruning any shoots that arise since that brings out the fighter instinct in roses that makes them want to keep growing. If it’s not cold enough, try to find a place where the air temperature doesn’t go below 28 degrees F, but is less than 37 degrees. That will slow the rose metabolism down so that it won’t chew through its stored food during the rest of the winter. If it is cold enough, reduce the water to the barest minimum and try to keep it dormant. In the spring you will prune away anything that’s dead and that’s when you’ll deal with the half-yellow one. Make sense? Feel free to write back with questions or for clarification. Hopefully this helps.

  3. by cheryle kelly

    On May 8, 2016

    i have two rose tree’s that i planted last spring. they were beautiful all summer. i put leaves around them and wrapped them in burlap. my question is its middle of may and it just looks like brown branchs with thorns on them when does new growth start ? i have rose bush’s and new green shoots are coming on them. are these rose tree’s alive? thanks

  4. by seminarygal

    On May 8, 2016

    If your rose trees were in the garden upright and you’re in a colder zone, the graft union (where the pretty part grows as a knob out of the long stem/rootstock) may have frozen. It’s the graft union that needs protection even more than the roots. Many people dig halfway around their tree roses and then lay them horizontally before covering the whole thing with leaves &/or burlap. But, one way to tell if it’s dead or alive is to carefully scratch a tiny bit of the brown/greenish bark on a stem or two near the knotty graft union. If there’s green underneath, then it’s alive and I’d keep it humidified (like misting regularly, or with moist sheet moss or an old coco-liner shredded and moistened) to keep it from drying out while it sends forth buds. That’s actually the best way to handle bare root roses as well. My newest tree rose which arrived with bare roots is just now beginning to send out buds and I’m in zone 5. So there may be hope depending on your zone and how sheltered it might have been. I hope this helps and good luck! 🙂

  5. by Chris Thiessen

    On December 7, 2016

    I live in zone 6. We are expecting temps down to 8-9 degrees in a few days.

    I have a beautiful tree rose that I don’t want to lose. I have a small heated green house. Is it okay to put the tree rose in the greenhouse for the winter and treat it like any other plant or do roses NEED the dormant period?

    I can also wrap it and place it in a corner of our deck that is protected from the wind. I don’t know which is the best.

    Thank you for any assistance.

  6. by seminarygal

    On December 7, 2016

    Hi Chris, thanks for your question. Technically roses don’t “have to” go dormant in order to bloom and be happy during the summer. But roses do it for survival. If they don’t go dormant and the temperature drops rapidly below freezing or jumps rapidly, it’s the wild changes in temperature that cause the plant to be stressed. Signs of stress would be cane death, disease, insects, or deformity of flowers. Much is dehydration related. If you’re talking 8-9 degrees Celsius that’s way different than 8-9 degrees F which would be enough to kill the root zone and the buds/graft union. If you have a small heated greenhouse with room to place it, I’d acclimate it to the greenhouse for the winter. Maybe you could snuggle it next to the side for a day or two to get it accustomed to being a bit warmer gradually instead of just plopping it from cold to hot. Once you’ve moved it, keep it there until you can gradually move it back outdoors. Remember, it’s the fluctuations that present the greatest problem. I’m overwintering mine in the garage this winter since our temps were mild until just last weekend. Still can’t bury it because it’s still blooming and never went dormant so it will spend the winter in the garage. Cold, some light, and I will water it periodically to make sure it doesn’t dehydrate, using cold water so I don’t shock it with temperature increases. The reason I’d avoid the corner of the deck is that sunlight can still heat up the environment, even through the burlap. Hope that helps. Good luck! 🙂

  7. by Jackie

    On December 21, 2017

    I had voles eat all the bark off the bottom branches of my Juliet cherry bush. The top of the bush subsequently died, but it was able to put forth new shoots from the base. I have learned that using Scoot is very effective for keeping mice away. It is a very bitter-tasting substance that you spray on the bottom stems. The mice will not eat bark that tastes horrible. Since I have been spraying Scoot on the bottom stems, the mice have never chewed my trees again. It is a white liquid concentrate. The white color does go away by the time the plant starts growing again so don’t worry about the white staying on your plants.

  8. by seminarygal

    On December 21, 2017

    Thank you, Jackie! I am afraid I’ve adopted the “Kill the nasty vermin!” approach. After they decided to nest in my car’s cabin air filter, I decided it was all out war. But yours is good advice to keep mice from girdling trees (chewing the bark all the way around and killing the trees.) With the roses, my major problem was that they devoured the entire root stock and much of the grafted part. Sad to say there was no coming back from that. So now, my tree roses live in my unheated garage, are quite happy, and there are locked and loaded mouse traps all around the perimeter of the garage to create a sense of fear and awe in the mouse population and make them move back to the woods and fields where they belong. 😀

  9. by Lovey

    On May 10, 2018

    Hi! This is such a helpful article. Did you overwinter the tree rose and the container roses in the garage in pots or were they taken out and wrapped in frost cloth for this location as well? I’m a new to roses so apologies if the answer is obvious.

  10. by seminarygal

    On May 10, 2018

    No apologies necessary! I’m happy to help other people with a special love of mine: gardening! 🙂
    My tree rose and container roses remained in their pots in the garage. (I have mouse traps in the garage to keep them from going after my roses in there.) The temperature in my garage doesn’t get below 27 degrees F. If it seems like it’s getting dangerously close to falling below that, I turn on the incandescent lights in the garage for just a tiny bit of heat until the cold snap ends. I keep the pots from becoming bone dry, but don’t want to water them so much that the roses come out of dormancy. I use either snow for a slow melt, ice cubes, or cold water to let them be periodically watered. Then in the spring (for me that’s now) I ease them from the garage into the shade of the North side. Then to the edge of shade/sun. Then to full sun. It takes approximately 3 weeks to fully acclimate them to a full sun arrangement. I fertilize them when I take them out of the garage, keep them well-watered, and prune back anything that doesn’t look healthy or shapely so that it has a nice form with no crisscross branching. And one final note, this past winter was exceedingly cold and my Knockout roses were knocked back to the ground level. They’re coming up now, and the watering and fertilizing are helping them too. By midsummer, I’ll never know they were hit so hard this winter. But it’s a good reminder to keep from getting discouraged when I see all the dead canes. Hope this helps! 🙂

  11. by Tacio

    On June 6, 2018

    Can I put my rose tree container inside my garage.?.zone 3 Calgary

  12. by seminarygal

    On June 7, 2018

    Is your garage attached to your home and is it heated in any way? Ultimately it comes down to the interior temperature of your garage. My tree rose and container floribundas have lived the past several winters in my garage along with my Crape Myrtle but I’m careful not to let the temperature drop below 27 degrees F (-2.7 degrees C). You’re 2 zones colder than I am. It needs to be cold enough to allow for dormancy but not so cold as to freeze everything beyond the point of no return. In my experience, 27 degrees F is that threshold. Hope that helps.

  13. by Cindy

    On September 27, 2018

    We planted our rose tree in the ground; we live in Zone 5. Should I trim back according to your instructions and then cover the top to protect from the elements this weinter?

  14. by seminarygal

    On September 27, 2018

    Thank you, Cindy. In Zone 5, a simple covering on the top won’t keep it warm enough. But go ahead and trim the tops after the first hard frost. Then, it’s usually recommended to dig half way around the root zone (like from 12 to 6 on a clock face) and deep enough to tilt the entire plant down to be parallel to the ground. Once it’s laying flat on the ground, cover the entire plant with bark, mulch, straw, or a soil mound. It needs to be in contact with the soil to keep it warm enough and also mulched. Then in the spring, uncover it, tilt it back up and get the 12-6 section replanted even with the undisturbed portion. I hope this makes sense.

  15. by Pawel Cichon

    On October 7, 2018

    My tree roses are huge – can not dig them out . How to protect graft union ? Should I cover entire crown
    of the rose / can I use burlap?/
    Thanks for your tips

  16. by seminarygal

    On October 7, 2018

    Hi Pawel, if you are in USDA hardiness zone 8 or colder, the air temperatures will drop below 20 degrees F (-6.7 degrees C) and the graft union will freeze to a killing temperature. While the tree rose might be huge in height, the root balls are still not so big as to be unmanageable. I have a 36″ height Double Delight and its root ball is no more than 2.5 ft in diameter. Digging 14 inches from the center stalk in a half-circle would allow me to tilt half the root ball so the stalk is horizontal with the ground. The knobby part at the TOP of the 36 in cane is the part needing special protection (graft union) but for in-ground tree roses, I’d do the entire plant beneath a thick layer of bark/straw/oak leaf/or pine needle mulch. If you are Zone 9 and warmer, then burlap will work to shield it from the drying sun/wind combination that can desiccate (dry out) the graft enough to kill it. In some zones like 10-11, no winter protection is needed at all since they never need to enter dormancy. It really is zone-dependent since light frosts, even hard frosts don’t kill the graft union, but prolonged cold and frozen ground can kill the rose by either air temperature or desiccation from an inability to absorb water from frozen ground. Hope this helps.

  17. by Jackie

    On December 4, 2018

    I live in central Alberta, Canada, AGR zone 2. I have five 36″ tree roses I planted in spring 2018. I did not dig them up or lay them down for this winter. They are standing where I planted them. I won’t know until next spring whether they survived or not, but here is what I did to protect them this winter;

    -Sprayed the stems with “No Bite” to deter mice/voles. (Other products like Skoot will work fine too).
    -Sprayed the entire trees with Lime Sulphur to kill diseases, and I also sprayed the ground around the tree roses (I read that sulphur deters rodents). This is to prevent rodents from digging in the ground and chewing on roots.
    -I did some mild pruning to compact the head so that it will fit in my shrub cover (last step).
    -I wrapped the stem and head with frost cloth. (This is mostly for spring un-wrapping, to slowly expose the tree to daylight and warmer temperatures next spring).
    -I wrapped the stem in a pool noodle (cut a slit down the length). Pipe insulation would work too but pool noodles are very cheap.
    -I inserted a tall, metal stake beside the stem to hold up the entire ensemble (2 feet taller than the head).
    -I have soil heat cables with thermostat….I wrapped the sensing bulb wire around the stem (pool noodle) and the bulb is nestled at the graft/bud union.
    -I wrapped both the stem and head with a layer of pink insulation (this was awkward, next time I will find an insulation material that is easier to work with).
    -I wrapped the heat cable around the stem and head, secured in place with electrical tape.
    -I wrapped another layer of pink insulation around the cable, ran out of electrical tape so finished with duct tape.
    -I filled the centre of the head (open at top) with a dry, peat-based mix. I added enough to bury the sensing bulb and most of the tree rose head.
    -I put a plastic bag around the head…open at top to allow air circulation.
    -I put a shrub cover over the entire tree rose (allows some air flow). it has a zipper so I zipped it so the zipper heads meet about head level so it’s easy to check inside.
    -Thermostats set (about 5C) and plugged in.

    It can easily get to -40C here, so let’s see if my tree roses survive the winter. This was a lot of work but I am expecting success.

  18. by seminarygal

    On December 4, 2018

    Be sure to let me know if it works! I get many people looking for how to overwinter tree roses and any solutions are welcome! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  19. by Wendy

    On March 12, 2019

    I need help. I am i Zone 9b, southern California. I bought a rose tree two years ago. It is in a planter on my porch. I have been trying to maintain it as best as I could. My problem is that I regret buying it, because I would rather have it be the same height as my regular rose bushes. Will cutting down the tree trunk to a more desireable height kill the rose tree. It is very tall now, but I would like to cut it down and encourage a normal rose bush shape and height.

  20. by seminarygal

    On March 12, 2019

    That’s actually a great question, Wendy! Since rose trees are a nice variety grafted onto the top of a root stock of no particular beauty, if you were to cut the top to make it a more suitable height, the growth that would occur from the stalk would likely be just vegetative (leaves) or if flowers were ever to form, they probably wouldn’t be very pretty.

    That said, I do have a couple of potential solutions. First would be: Can you plant it in the ground? It would not be a problem in your hardiness zone and would reduce the height simply by eliminating the height of the planter if it is a portable container. Second, related to that, is there a place you could put the planter so it would be less offensive in height? In another spot it could be part of the height variation in a garden that is more pleasing to the eye and less likely to get in the way. Another option would be to arrange for a swap/trade. Many local communities have buy-sell-trade groups on Facebook (for example) or garden clubs and you could offer your rose tree (with or without the container) as a swap for a rose bush that would grow to the height you like. Since rose trees are considered desirable (even if too tall for some locations) you might find someone who would LOVE to trade a rose bush for a rose tree. And finally, you could sell it like on eBay or let-go or at a garage sale and use the proceeds to buy a rose that you won’t regret and is more suitable to your liking.

    I understand the problem of buying something that no longer fits your lifestyle or that was amazing at the store and less amazing at home. Our needs change too. So, for example, when we move from our home to downsize, I’m already thinking about having to get rid of containerized plants that have been wonderful and show-stopping beauties but not worth moving. My rose tree, lantana tree, and crape myrtle will have to go. It’ll be a sad day because particularly the lantana and crape myrtle have been part of my family for over a decade. But I try to remember that I can start again, take a photo to keep the memory, and bless someone else with decades of love and care at a fraction of what it would cost if they bought it new and know that my heart doesn’t stay attached to things the way it does to people. 🙂 Hope this helps!

  21. by Linda

    On May 21, 2019

    I just bought two rose trees and live in zone 6, looks like planting in a pot will be the best for them so I can move them in for winter protection. What size pot should I use for them? Thanks 🙂

  22. by seminarygal

    On May 21, 2019

    Great question! Thank you for asking it, Linda! A few considerations for potted roses are that the pot needs to be big enough to accommodate the root system and enough soil to keep it from drying out. At least 15″ diameter is important. Three other considerations with potted roses are (1) for it to look proportional in size to your rose tree since your tree will not grow taller only somewhat wider, (2) IMPORTANTLY the pot’s weight. It has to be heavy enough to keep your rose from blowing over. I have one pot that is ceramic (practically requires a crane to get it in the garage…ok, a dolly but it’s too heavy to lift) and 3 other roses that have rocks in the bottom for weight inside their decorative fiberglass that I bought for appearance which brings me to (3) ceramic conducts heat and will make the pot dry out faster and create heat in a root zone which can be oppressive to a tree rose (particularly on the south or west side of a home or bordering an asphalt driveway which is dark and also conducts heat). Mine are all on concrete which is not as bad and I tuck other smaller pots of heat/drought tolerant plants around it to shield the ceramic one from absorbing sunlight and heat. Good luck and happy gardening! 🙂

  23. by Debra Taylor

    On October 6, 2019

    Hi ! This was my first year planting tree roses. I live in zone 6 and would really love to keep the two I have alive throughout the often harsh winters here. Both roses were planted in the ground and I am really wishing that I hadn’t done that now. One is a knockout and the other one is a beautiful yellow floribunda. While I’m not quite a complete novice but still not certain that I can correctly do the bending them over on their sides to bury part, so I would love to dig them both out of the ground, repot them, and then store them in my basement where it stays fairly warm in some places and barely cool in others. Would this be possible without damaging the roots or do you think it might be too much of a shock to the roses ? Also if you would be so kind as to let me know how much light and water should I provide ? Any suggestions you could offer would be greatly appreciated. Thanks !

  24. by seminarygal

    On October 6, 2019

    Thank you for your question! I don’t think it’s a problem to dig them both out and repot them. The basement might be an issue because it won’t be light enough to maintain the vigor, and not cold enough to let them stay dormant. If I were to try this, I’d wait to dig them until we had at least one frost, nights regularly in the mid-30s, but BEFORE the ground freezes. My reasoning is that a rose entering dormancy will be less shocked than one still actively growing. (Incidentally using dormancy to our advantage is also why the best time to transplant and divide perennials is the fall or early spring. If you’ve ever wondered about commercial bare-root roses, they’re dug during dormancy.) Anyway, I’d probably use a combination spade and turning fork to gently ease it up, slowly out of the ground. I would think it’s less important to have a major ball than to avoid breaking the larger roots or breaking the upright cane/stalk from a more forceful digging. If you’ve ever bought a bare root tree rose, it comes without soil, but it usually has several larger roots in peat moss. Once it’s out of the ground, I would pot it up in a large pot with “garden soil” (yours or commercial) rather than a light potting mix. I’d water it sparingly with cold water since the goal isn’t for it to adjust and grow, but to enter full dormancy for the winter. Don’t fertilize it, but if you choose to buy a garden soil, it’s kind of unavoidable since most all the garden soils have a bit of fertilizer. Don’t use “top-soil” which is substandard for planting. If you have an unheated, attached garage, that’s probably better than a basement. I keep mine in our attached garage and the temperatures in it (even on the very coldest below-zeros of Illinois winters) doesn’t drop below 27. I have two incandescent lights in the garage because they also give off a bit of heat, so they stay on 24/7 if we’re in one of the polar apocalypses where I’m worried about the temps. I bring my tree roses into the garage after a hard frost or two and by that time most of the leaves have dropped. I remove the ones that didn’t when I cut the tops back for storage. I water mine sparingly with cold water throughout the winter…enough to keep it alive but not enough to make it want to wake up mid-winter. Hope this helps. 🙂

  25. by Neelufar

    On October 19, 2019

    Hi, I live in Toronto, Canada and have planted a rose tree on the ground this year. Winter is approaching and worried about protecting my rose tree. Do I have to uproot the plant or I can just trim and wrap the top with burlap and keep it on the ground.

  26. by seminarygal

    On October 19, 2019

    Unfortunately, the top–even with burlap–will undoubtedly freeze. If you dig around in a semi-circle in order to “fold” the root-ball down to make the rose tree in parallel contact with the ground and mulch it heavily, you won’t have to dig the whole plant up. That’s the challenge of tree roses: the graft union is typically several feet off the ground and subject to air temperatures which get too cold for the graft union to survive. If you want to dig it up, you can pot it in garden soil in a pot and winter it (protected temp-wise)in a garage. Then to make your life easier next winter, plant the whole pot (tree and pot) in your garden and simply dig it out for winter storage. I hope this helps even if it makes your life more difficult for now.

  27. by jerry fleener

    On October 30, 2019

    I have Knock-out rose trees how do I protect them lost them all last winter

  28. by seminarygal

    On October 30, 2019

    Hi Jerry, Sorry you lot all yours last winter. Bummer! Ironically, the same knockout roses that don’t need special protection planted in the ground, need the very same protection as hybrid teas, floribundas, etc. when they are grafted onto a root stock to make a tree. The graft union is what needs to be protected. The care requirements in the post, therefore, apply to knockouts too. They either need to be prone in contact with the ground and mulched heavily or brought into a garage where they can remain dormant but not frozen. Hope this helps!

  29. by sarah getch

    On July 22, 2020

    I have a question I have read all the information on rose trees and there are many ideas etc.
    the question I have is when you placed them in the garage for winter you said you watered them and a light on when got cold
    I have a attached garage to the house that stays 0 to 40 degrees in the winter I live in zone 4 area. I know you said you pruned them but did you wrap them in frost cloth as well?
    What would be a good suggestion for my zone area?

  30. by seminarygal

    On July 25, 2020

    Hi Sarah,
    Thank you for your question which is a very good one! I’ve been thinking about it and I’m not sure that frost cloth will make a difference either way. Here’s my reasoning: if the temperature in your garage gets down to 0 that’s enough to kill the graft union and no amount of frost cloth will keep heat in if it’s 0 degrees. Perhaps the best thing would be to find a way of introducing some mitigating warmth into your garage and limiting the introduction of cold that happens through keeping garage doors open (or frequent opening) when the weather is in the teens and below. I have found that the incandescent light bulbs as our garage lighting introduce a bit of heat without posing a problem. Everything else (landscape-quality heating cables which would break dormancy, space heaters which are unsafe for a garage, using decaying plant matter which would smell horrible, etc.) seems rather unsuitable or unsafe. If you were able to nestle it close to your adjacent/interior wall and put frost cloth from the wall surrounding your rose (top-to-bottom), that might keep the interior wall’s heat radiating within the plant zone. If I think of anything else, I’ll be back to add to my comments. It’s imperative that whatever you choose will keep your family safe from fire or injury. No rose, no matter how beautiful, can replace our families and our homes. Stay safe and thank you for reading!

  31. by Maureen Chin

    On August 10, 2020

    Just wondering if Jackie from Alberta, had good results. Her Zone gets down to -40C.
    She posted in Dec. 2018. She did not remove from the ground.

  32. by seminarygal

    On August 10, 2020

    Hi Maureen! I just wrote to find out. If I hear back, I’ll post…or better yet, maybe she will! There’s nothing like the voice of people who tried new ways. Thanks for asking! 🙂

  33. by seminarygal

    On August 11, 2020

    Heard back from Jackie who writes, “I have bad news. When I took the shrub covers off the tree roses in the spring, they were all dead. They did not freeze…..I know that for a fact. But the ground they were planted in certainly DID freeze and it appears they dried up, and maybe they could not suck up any water from the frozen ground. I could see some wrinkly bark and the stems were dry. I really don’t know why they dried up when shrub roses can survive in the same frozen ground. I really don’t exactly know what happened, but I was successful in keeping them from freezing….from the ground up anyway, lol. Too bad.”
    My reply to her:
    “Your theory sounds about right. If the ground was frozen but the roses continued to transpire water, despite the shrub cover and anti-desiccant, it may still have been not enough water to keep them alive. The other thought is that perhaps it’s like the “straw” collapsed and even if the soil had enough water to deliver, the stem–being dead–couldn’t deliver on its role.”

    Mystery solved, even if it was not good news or new helpful ways of doing things. I love hearing from my readers.

  34. by Gayle Myers

    On November 11, 2020

    Can I winter our tree rose in The garage at 38 degrees covered lightly with frost cloth or is that too warm. Do you need to keep an opening at the top for circulation? Hoping to hear an answer. Thanks!

  35. by seminarygal

    On November 12, 2020

    If it stays 38 degrees F then you don’t even need the frost cloth. You will want to keep it watered with cold/ice water to make sure the root system doesn’t dry out. My concern about the frost cloth in a fairly warm garage is that it will maintain the humidity level on the leaves, and so far above freezing that it will encourage diseases. Now, if it looks like the temp will drop and stay well below 38, then frost cloth might be an option and tucking the plant closer to an interior wall (shared with house) might be a good idea. Good luck! Thank you for reading! 🙂

  36. by LizR

    On November 14, 2020

    So glad I found you. This is our first winter with standard roses. We’re in zone 6b so looks like we’ll be digging them back out of the ground and wintering in our lower garage. It stays above freezing there. Should we add a plant light on a timer so that they get some light each day? Thx.

  37. by seminarygal

    On November 15, 2020

    I’m glad you’re here too! 🙂
    Yes, I would put a plant light on a timer if there are no windows. Additionally, I’d shorten the amount of time (now until late February) to simulate winter and increase the length of time at that point to approximate spring. It might sound silly since the plant has no leaves, but the stems and leaf buds know. Plants are such amazing things! Make sure to keep the soil barely moist, just a few ice cubes each week per plant to slowly melt, since the roses will still breathe out moisture (transpiration) and risk drying out. You might want to spray them with a disease preventative spray before bringing them in so they stay healthy all winter. Most diseases don’t thrive in colder temps, but when we’re dealing with beautiful roses, why give disease a chance? Good luck! And thank you for asking. I love interacting with my readers. 🙂

  38. by LizR

    On November 21, 2020

    We’re going to get down to 30 degrees on Monday just before dawn. Then back above freezing for at least another week. The ‘trees’ still have leaves and flowers on them. Will they be alright for that single morning or do we need to dig them up now and move them in and out of the garage until their leaves drop? They are still in the ground along an east facing brick wall. I’m sorry to keep bothering you. I’m not good with plants and I *really* don’t want to lose these. Thx.

  39. by seminarygal

    On November 23, 2020

    I’ve been offline for a few days, sorry if I missed your time window. If they are next to the building, I’m not sure one 30 degree night will be a problem. Oftentimes, when I put my tree roses in the garage, they still have their leaves. I will dutifully pick them off and throw them away so all that diseases don’t linger and all that overwinters are the stalk/branches. Chances are good that the “abscission layer” (the cutoff plants make between the leaves and the stem) has already formed and the leaves are just feeding off the food/water still in the leaves. No need to wait for leaves to drop.

    Please never worry about asking. I’m actually honored that people appreciate the resource and view it as a help to them. I value sites that I visit for information so I know how important it is to have a place one can go to find answers. Hope they made it through the night okay. But do bring them in before the ground freezes. It doesn’t take long to make the soil too hard to dig. Good luck! Barbara

  40. by Myra Bate

    On January 2, 2021

    I hope you can help me. I brought my potted tree roses in for the winter. Unfortunately, they have received too much sun in the room I’m keeping them in.They have broken out in leaf and also buds. I haven’t watered them at all so far. I will be getting some blackout drapes but what do I now do with them? Should they be pruned shorter or the leaves removed?

    Thanks very much

  41. by seminarygal

    On January 3, 2021

    Thank you for your question! While I’ve never had this particular issue myself, I’ll think through it with you. It’s probably a matter of both sun daylength (signaling spring, a time to grow) and warmth.

    First thing I would do is give it a little bit of ice water. Then, if possible, Cold to try to convince it to go back into dormancy…simulating a mid-winter thaw. If it has leafed out significantly then both the cold and the water will keep it from growing a lot but also keep it from drying out which, IMO, will be your biggest threat. If the roots dry out and the leaves still rob the stems of water, the whole thing dies. A bit of water is good, not enough to simulate April showers, but enough to keep things from drying and dying.

    Now, the sun is a problem since it will warm both the room and the rose in addition to getting the rose started producing food. Kind of like waking up at 2 am and having a snack programming you to wake up every night at 2 am. If the room gets a lot of sun, then perhaps keep it as cold as you can to keep it from growing much, and treat it like an indoor plant until spring. I’ve held our tree roses in the windowed garage in bud and leaf for well over a month with no issues whatsoever. The cold temperatures have kept it stocky. Once I put it out in the spring, I do “tip” the rose by removing the ends to help the buds closer to the center stalk leaf out and result in a stockier plant. That’s if you’ve got a very cold place to store your rose. Keep it watered, though, because leaves transpire moisture and will dry out the root system.

    Now, if it’s barely leafed out, then I’d try the blackout drapes, closing off the register in the room to keep it cooler, which will also simulate a resumption of winter and enough water to keep it alive. You will want to open the drapes for a little bit each day since the canes are still alive and need to sense the existence of sun to avoid etiolated (white) new growth when it leafs out.

    The other question I would consider is your zone. If you will have spring in February/March, it’s half the time than if your spring arrives in May like in Canada. I don’t think I would pick off the leaves since the plant used valuable food to make them. Your best bet is to try to simulate a resumption of winter somehow if you’re a northern zone, or treat your interior as a southern zone 8 or 9. Don’t feed it—even as a houseplant–but do give it some water. The goal is to keep it with minimal growth until spring and to keep it hydrated.

    Make sense? Good luck and let me know how it goes. Thank you for your question!

  42. by Myra Bate

    On January 4, 2021

    Thanks very much for all the excellent information! I am in Canada, zone 4b. Spring will arrive officially March 20th and will suspect that it will warm up here around May 12th( Forsythia bush blooms around then.) Right now dusk starts around 4:30 and dawn around 7. My4 rose trees in 10″ pots are in an unheated room facing east .I had planned on getting some blackout drapes but I unfortunately overlooked. My beautiful yellow “Sunsprite” roses are now in full leaf with a few small buds on 2 of them.

  43. by Myra Bate

    On January 4, 2021

    cont’d I am thinking that I’ll put my blackout drapes up, put about a cup of ice cold water on them and open my drapes for maybe 2 hrs? every day until I see them die back and then close the drapes a while after that…. continue to water a little bit maybe in a month? I’m hoping I can save them. They were absolutely gorgeous! The fragrance from them filled our deck area all summer long!
    I so appreciate all the help! Please feel free to update me if you are able!

    Stay safe!,


  44. by seminarygal

    On January 4, 2021

    If it were me and I had the time, I’d consider opening the blackout drapes daily from 3pm until before dawn the following morning when I’d close them to keep the morning heat and sunlight from being most intense and from the day length telling the roses to wake up. The angle of the sun by 3 pm should still simulate winter especially if the room faces east. IMMEDIATELY pick off the flower buds which will only drain food reserves!! You’ve got quite a few weeks to hold them. If the leaves don’t drop, but enter a suspended animation that’s good. Not sure having the leaves drop is important. Getting rid of the flower buds is an absolute must. Yes, it will be important to give them the equivalent of melting snow to keep the root zone from drying out but not so much that the root zone never dries and decides to rot. Good luck!

  45. by Myra Bate

    On January 9, 2021

    That makes perfect sense! Thanks for thinking that through for me!! My roses just need to come first before my dog when I get up first thing! I hope I can get them through! They are so worth the try!

    I very much appreciate your help and so glad I found you!


  46. by seminarygal

    On January 9, 2021

    You’re very welcome. Let me know how it goes! 🙂

  47. by Peg

    On February 7, 2021

    I have 2 2yr old rose trees kept in our unheated garage basement in South Central WI for the winter. I have dark drapes over the window & patio doors to keep light to a minimum. They are watered just enough to keep roots from drying. This worked great last year until they could go outside. This year, they recently broke dormancy and have put up rather long pale shoots! What should I do?? It is way to early for them to be actively growing. We are going into 9 days of sub zero nights so I know it will cold in the room they are in. Thank you for this resource it helped me a lot in my first year of growing!!

  48. by seminarygal

    On February 9, 2021

    Hi Peg, thank you for your question. The milder winter you were experiencing prior to the “vortex” may be partly responsible for that, as well as the increasing daylengths which plants can perceive at remarkably low light levels. They truly are amazing! But just like Chicagoland where it was previously my home, the weather can change quickly and get very cold.

    You’re right. It’s too early for them to be actively growing. If the shoots are longer than about 5 inches, I would “tip” them by pinching off the top leaf buds (or the ending leaf+stem back to central shoot). Here’s an illustration: II===L===L=//==X If this crude diagram was a graft union/stem II and the === is the pale shoot, there may be leaves L coming off at particular nodes. I would cut // that pale shoot to remove ==X as the very tip just above one of the L leaf nodes/junctures. If nothing else, it will let your rose use its growth to help itself branch, not continue to stretch too long to be sustainable. Maybe a little less very cold water –just enough to keep it alive and cold.

    Once you turn the corner into March, you can begin to “harden” it off by gradually exposing it to bits of sun, just above freezing, temperature-wise, still on the drier side. The temps will keep it from growing much or freezing, the sun will encourage the leaves to green up since the chlorophyll is being “suppressed” by the darkness at present which is why it is pale, etiolated. Just like seeds growing under a mulch, once they reach the sunlight, they turn green because the chlorophyll production is responding to the sun. Do this VERY slowly because doing this too fast will “fry” the pale shoot which doesn’t have the necessary chlorophyll yet to absorb/harness the sun’s damaging rays to use in photosynthesis.

    I’ve never had this issue so I’m just using what I know about plants and trying to apply it to a plant’s staying alive. I hope this will help. Good luck and let us know how it turns out. Part of what I love about doing gardening posts too, is that it really helps a lot of people. Particularly this one on overwintering roses. It seems to be even more popular than my devotionals which I’m not sure I should wish it were different. LOL People may come for the roses, stay for the encouragement. 🙂

  49. by Myra Bate

    On March 13, 2021

    Hello again! ( from Jan /21)
    Well, we made it! My 4 rose trees that leafed out in Jan are still alive! I followed all of your info and opened and closed my room darkening drapes while keeping the room cool, They didn’t grow anymore except for one that grew a big long leggy stem with pale leaves.
    I learned from a previous post that I should slowly introduce them now to sunlight to harden them off.
    Should I tip them as well right now or after I move them outside when the temperature is right?

    Thanks, Myra from Fenelon Falls, Ontario, Canada ( zone 4b)

  50. by seminarygal

    On March 14, 2021

    YAY!!! I love happy stories, Myra! Yes, I would definitely harden them off so they won’t fry in full sunlight when the time comes. It’s not a waste of time even if it seems like it is. No one was ever sorry they took it slow, but plenty of people kick themselves for having rushed the hardening off process and ruined an entire winter’s effort and ended up with fried greens. It’s not a race. 😀

    I would probably tip them BOTH now and again when the temperature is good enough to be outside. You may have ready my Hokey Pokey analogy where I gradually bring them out and in and out and in to increasing light levels even if it’s cold. My garage has been great for that. It needs to be ABOVE freezing, but a little chill in the air tells them to move slow. When you’re spending roughly the same amount of time out as time in, that’s when I’d definitely fertilize them and give one last tiny pinch to help it leaf out bushy instead of being Mr. Long Arms. Mr. Long Arms is drama until he breaks off the union and makes your rose uneven. So if that long pale shoot is still there doing its show, now’s the time to rein him in to manageable size. Like going from long hair to shoulder length instead of immediately to a short bob.

    Thank you so much for letting me know it worked out okay. If you ever want to send me a photo of them, my email address is seminarygal and it’s at my account. I love hearing from people, particularly those who find what I write useful! 🙂 Blessings! Barbara

  51. by Myra Bate

    On March 15, 2021

    Thanks for getting back to me so quick! I’ll tip them all today and continue to move them all along slowly. So I’ll just tip the branches that are looking a bit leggy to bring them back into a more uniform ball and all sounds good. I at least know now that we’ll have them to grace our deck again for another glorious summer!
    I’ll be sure to send you some pictures with their progress and for sure with the final results of hopefully the same beautiful roses that we felt lucky to have!

    Regards from Myra Keep Safe!!!

  52. by seminarygal

    On March 15, 2021

    My pleasure to help as best as I can. I’m so pleased things are working out. So much of this really is trial and error. It’s always a joy to share what works with others who have the same situation and are on the Internet in search of something to help. Blessings, fellow rose traveler. 🙂

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