Q. How should I protect my container roses in the New York winter?
For more information on some common rose problems and questions, see our Guide to Rose Problems.
Roses grown in containers have some great conveniences but a few more challenges than those grown in the ground. In winter, the roots are less insulated from the cold as the entire mass of soil will freeze very quickly while the entire plant is exposed to the threat of drying winds. As a result, a container grown rose is at greater risk in a cold climate. You can reduce (but not eliminate) the risk with some protective measures .
Always select a rose that is cold hardy at least two USDA zones lower than your location. If your container-grown rose is located on the terrace of a high rise building, an even greater buffer of hardiness is necessary to make up for the additional exposure. In New York City where the USDA zone is 7a and 7b, that means selecting a rose hardy to at least zone 5 for a container or zone 4 for a rose in a container on an exposed apartment terrace. If you live in USDA zone 5 or lower, roses are unlikely to survive the winter in a container unless you can temporarily submerge the pot in the soil to protect it. Grafted roses are not a good choice for containers.
Keep the plants watered up until the time the soil freezes and the plants become dormant but do not fertilize to encourage new growth after August.
If you have an unheated garage, shed, barn or enclosed porch, you can protect your container-grown rose by moving the plant into that space after the leaves have dropped and it has become dormant. It is important to choose a space that will shelter the plant from winds and freezing temperatures but will not warm up and break the plant's dormancy prematurely. Sunlight is not needed. Water the rose lightly twice a month.
If you cannot provide a protected space, you can create greater protection for your roses outside. Make sure that the pots themselves are not ceramic or terracotta which are likely to fracture in the cold. Mulch the soil up to the top edge of the pot. Once the roses are dormant, pull the pots into an area near to the warmth of the home and with any wind barriers that are available from the building structure. Create further wind barriers by erecting burlap or tarp screens around the containerized plants. During the coldest weather, you can provide the same protection recommended for roses growing outside of their hardiness zone: surround the rose with a cylinder of chicken wire and sturdy poles. Fill the cylinder to the top with dry leaves or straw and cover it with a solid top to prevent the protective mulch from compressing in the rain and snow. You should also shield the plants from southwest sun which is intense and risks awakening the plant prematurely.
Do not bring the rose into the home or keep it in a place where temperature will rise above the mid-40's during the winter. Keep the plant between 25 and 45ºF.
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