When I was a boy, I used to help my father prepare his climbing roses for the winter. We used to dig a 1-foot (30 cm) trench next to them as long as the plant was tall (often 6 feet/2 m or more), carefully detach the branches, bundle them together, then lay them in the bottom of the trench. Then we filled in the trench with soil, adding a good 6 more inches (15 cm) of soil brought in from elsewhere for extra protection. Then we covered the entire mound with a thick layer of spruce branches.
Come spring, we had to undo the whole thing and dig up the branches and attach them back on their trellis for the summer. It was a huge amount of effort, but if you wanted to grow climbing roses in zone 5 (where I lived at the time), that was the only way to go.
Hardy climbing rose ‘John Cabot’
Fast forward to today. The frost-tender climbing roses are still around and widely sold, to boot, but there are now much hardier climbing roses, most created by crossing tender climbing varieties with extra-hardy shrub roses. The Explorer series produced by Agriculture Canada comes to mind, with tough-as-nail climbers like ‘John Cabot’ and ‘William Baffin’, but there are others. They require no winter protection whatsoever: really, zilch! Just cut back any dead branches in the spring… and there won’t be many of those!
You’d think I wouldn’t have to point out that hardy climbing roses need no winter protection, that the very term “hardy climbing rose” would say it all, but you’d be wrong. I still receive plenty of questions from gardeners wanting to know how to protect their hardy climbing roses, including people who have been putting theirs in trenches for the winter for decades and are getting a bit tired of doing so!
The point is that, no matter how cold it is where you live, even in zone 2 in some cases, you no longer need to put all that effort into protecting your climbing roses for the winter. Just plant hardy climbing roses, attach their branches to whatever support you’re using and let them grow.
Gardening can be so simple when you choose the right plants!
A Few Extra-Hardy Climbing Roses
Hardy climbing rose ‘Polestar’
Here are a few examples of truly hardy climbing roses that gardeners in colder climates might want to try:
- ‘Alchymist’ zone 3
- ‘Captain Samuel Hollande’ zone 2
- ‘Félix Leclerc’
- ‘Henry Kelsey’ zone 4
- ‘John Cabot’ zone 3
- ‘John Davis’ zone 3
- ‘Louis Jolliet’ zone 3
- ‘Marie-Victorin’ zone 3
- ‘New Dawn’ zone 4
- ‘Polestar’ zone 2
- ‘Quadra’ zone 3
- ‘William Baffin’ zone 2
Hardy Climbing Roses
Introduction to Hardy Climbing Roses:
Climbing roses have long been some of the most popular and most widely sought after roses anywhere. Finding varieties that can withstand the colder temperatures of some of the more northern climates, and still come back year after year without being cut back to the ground, can be quite a daunting challenge to growers who are trying to create a stunning rose garden in these climates. Unfortunately as many of you know, while the climate of your region matters, so does the micro-climate in your own garden as well.
Some gardens and locations are just more naturally protected than others, this is why your neighbor might be able to grow a stunning rose across the street, but you can’t get that same variety to survive in front of your house. In many cases it just all depends on the specific conditions that are impacting that particular space. Perhaps your neighbor’s location is being warmed by the heat from the house, or perhaps your house is situated as such that the winds buffet it more intensely than others. There are a lot of factors that determine the individual growing conditions.
Choosing Hardy Climbing Roses:
While it is true that your options are somewhat limited if you live in the northern climates and are looking for hardy climbing roses, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have any options at all. It just means you need to choose your rose varieties very carefully, and then go through a few extra steps to ensure that you give them the best chance to survive. One of the first things you need to do is know what zone you are in and use that as the starting point for selecting your roses.
Every rose variety out there these days will give you a zone hardiness rating, to help you narrow down your search. Now while these ratings are extremely important, they are not hard and fast numbers that you have to live and die by. Some varieties of unusually hardy climbing roses can survive in zones colder than those listed, however to do so it depends on how well you protect your roses over the winter, and what location you have them planted in. If you have a micro-climate in your garden that stays just a little warmer and more protected than the rest, this is probably a good location to plant.
Varieties of Hardy Climbing Roses:
Now let’s look a little closer at some of the varieties of climbing roses that you could choose from to plant in your northern climate garden. One of the first ones that come to mind is the New Dawn rose. This is a great climber that produces pink blooms and in addition to being pretty hardy, it also has a high resistance to diseases and is a repeat bloomer. Check out our climbing roses section for more detailed info on this variety. A sport of the New Dawn is the Awakening, which is the same rose only with fully double blooms.
The Ramblin Red rose, from the very breeders that brought you the “Knock Out” roses, is a vigorous deep red rose that is very hardy.
William Baffin roses are among the most hardy climbing roses that I have ever come across yet, some claiming to have successfully grown this deep pink variety all the way north to zone 2.
The Coral Dawn rose is another pink rose that can survive well in zone 4, and in select locations even colder yet. This variety tends to die back to around 4 feet tall however in the colder climates, and then regrowing from there the following season.
As with the New Dawn, we have variety specific pages for each of these types in our rose category, so refer to them for more specific details.
Site Selection for Hardy Climbing Roses:
Now obviously anyone living in the colder northern climates would love to be able to just plant their roses where they want like everyone else and not have to worry about them. While you do have some additional considerations to think about prior to planting, the steps to protecting your roses is not as intense as you may think. So let’s go over some of the biggest ones.
The most important choice is where you plant them within your garden. There is no special “tool” for detecting micro-climates, so much of it is common sense and a little trial and error. For instance, while good air circulation is critical to rose health, you probably do not want to plant your roses out in the open where frigid winter winds can buffet them unchecked. Hardy climbing roses are strong, but they are not invincible.
You can also find a somewhat sheltered area around your house, that perhaps might get warmed slightly from the heat radiating off your home over the winter. Why not make the most of that wasted energy? A location with full sun-light is ever so critical here as the sun will warm the soil during the day and give it a better chance of surviving the night.
Overwintering Hardy Climbing Roses:
How you plant your roses is critical to how well they survive the winter. In most climates, the bud union is usually planted 1 to 2 inches below the surface of the soil. However in colder climates, you may find you have to plant the bud union a good 6 inches deep to prevent it from freezing. Planting the bud union deeper however usually results in a regimented feeding schedule, so make sure you don’t overlook this tip.
Before backfilling your newly dug hole for a brand new rose, mix the existing soil 2 parts soil to 1 part organics compost, available cheaply at any local garden store. Water it thoroughly after backfilling to make good and certain all the roots are covered with mud.
You can help protect your roses over the winter by “hilling” up the base of the rose with mulch or peat moss. Depending on how deep you planted your bud union however, you may have to remove this hill the following season. If your climbing roses survive the winter however, this added step could be worth the effort!
There are numerous products on the market today that northern rose growers can use to cover their roses over the winter also. This more or less acts like a mini-greenhouse over your roses by trapping heat from the sun inside during the day.
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By Reeser Manley • October 21, 2011 4:28 pm
In my education as a gardener, I had a rose period. It was long ago, but I remember having a penchant for old English shrub roses. I don’t remember ever worrying about winter protection for my roses, but then I lived in coastal South Carolina where, I now realize, there was no winter.
Non-native roses of all types, including hybrid teas, grandifloras and floribundas, can be grown in Maine, provided the gardener focuses on the most winter-hardy varieties. Some climbing roses and many old-fashioned shrub roses are hardy in Maine as well, including the Explorer varieties developed in Canada for superior winter hardiness.
Maine winters can damage even the hardiest of roses in several ways: rapid changes in temperature, root injury from desiccation as a result of plants being heaved by alternate freezing and thawing, gnawing by mice beneath the snow and snow or ice breakage. Often, it is the rapid changes in temperature and the repeated freezing and thawing that do the most damage.
The good news is that all of these problems can be mitigated by proper winter protection.
Winter protection begins by ending nitrogen applications in late August. Nitrogen encourages the growth of new shoots which will be less winter-hardy than the older shoots. If you see any new shoots starting to grow from the base of the plant in September, remove them to prevent freezing damage to the plant.
Many rose growers believe that you can increase the winter hardiness of your roses at least one zone by autumn fertilizing with potash. One formulation of potash, “Sul-Po-Mag”, also contains two other beneficial nutrients, sulfur and magnesium. Potash is also in organic materials such as manure, wood ashes and seaweed.
Stop deadheading your roses (removing spent blossoms) after Oct. 1, and allow them to develop hips (fruits). Fruit development promotes hardening of plants as they go into winter.
Beginning in early September, gradually reduce watering. This will also help initiate the process of hardening. Continue to monitor soil moisture through the fall, watering only as needed to avoid extremely dry soil. Stop all watering when the ground freezes.
Don’t do any pruning during the fall except for removing dead, damaged and diseased canes. Wait until the end of April, at the earliest, to prune your roses for summer growth and flower production.
Winter protection techniques are designed to keep rose plants uniformly frozen through the winter and to prevent the damaging effects of freeze-thaw cycles. Do not start too early.
Wait until a hard killing frost has caused most of the leaves to fall, then clean up all dead leaves and other debris around the base of the roses. This eliminates the overwintering stages of fungal diseases and should result in far fewer disease problems next year. Throw the debris into the trash or fire rather than into the compost pile, where temperatures are not high enough during winter to kill the diseases.
In late October or early November, before winterizing your roses, remove all of the old mulch from around the plants and put down new organic mulch such as composted manure or seaweed. This helps control diseases and jump-start growth in the spring.
In mid-to-late November, a couple weeks before the ground freezes and when the plants are fully hardy, bush roses (climbers will be discussed later) should be mounded with 10-12 inches of well-drained soil around the base of each plant. This soil should come from another location in the garden, not from around the roses. Then cover the mound with another 12-16 inches of mulching material such as leaf mold, straw, pine needles or wood chips, holding the mulch in place with evergreen boughs or chicken-wire fencing. This added mulch will help stabilize soil temperature and reduce heaving. If your garden has resident rodents, you may want to skip the addition of this mulch material as it will provide them with a winter home.
Remove the soil and mulch in April when you feel the worst of winter is over. If an extended period of freezing temperatures looms, you can always replace the mound of soil to protect the sensitive crown.
Climbing roses are best winterized by removing the canes from the fence or trellis, laying them on the ground, and allowing snow cover to protect them from extreme cold. If you cannot count on continuous snow cover during the winter, you can mound soil or mulch over the canes on the ground. The practice of leaving the stems attached to the trellis and covering them with burlap offers only a few degrees of winter protection, at best.
The only roses growing in Marjorie’s garden were planted years ago by a bird, perhaps a thrush sitting on a high branch of the old yellow birch at the edge of the drive. The trunk of this tree is now skirted with a colony of native roses that bear simple summer flowers, each a single whorl of pink petals encircling golden stamens, and bright red autumn hips. I don’t worry about their winter survival.
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Hardy roses for the modern garden
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When I moved into my first home, I inherited a lovely perennial garden from the former owner. The one corner of the backyard garden included a couple of rose bushes that had obviously been around for some time—one of them had enormous, thick canes with massive spikes. They terrified me. I promptly added rose gloves to my birthday list. Besides being a challenge to prune, my old rose also suffered after bad winters and had several pest issues, like black spot. Overall, I found it a finicky, hostile plant to care for and I told myself I’d never purposely add a rose bush to my garden. That was until a few varieties of hardy roses suddenly crossed my radar.
The Canadian Shield™ rose
The Canadian Shield™ rose was introduced this past spring at Canada Blooms as part of Vineland Research and Innovation Centre’s new brand called 49th Roses. This first variety that they’ve released is hardy to zone 3a here in Canada. That means it will survive -40 Celsius and Fahrenheit. It’s also self-cleaning and disease-resistant.
Apparently this new hardy rose was hard to find—it sold out in many garden centres this past spring.
Why did this new hardy rose change my mind? After listening to Amy Bowen, a program research leader at Vineland, describe all the research and work that went into breeding this rose for our harsh, Canadian climate, I was curious. Though you still have to prune them (obviously), this variety seems much lower-maintenance. Unfortunately my local garden centre didn’t have any left when I went to buy one, but I had another hardy rose delivered right to my door. I’ll get to that one in a minute.
I saw on social media that my friend, fellow garden writer and Ontarian, Sean James, a master gardener and owner of Sean James Consulting & Design, had planted a Canadian Shield™ rose this past spring. “I was interested to test the hardiness,” he said when I asked him what about it had interested him. “What has impressed me most is the new glossy, deep-red spring foliage.”
The At Last® rose
Another hardy rose that I learned about at Canada Blooms is set to launch in 2018, but a new garden friend, Spencer Hauck from Sheridan Nurseries (who will be distributing the roses), delivered an At Last® rose right to my door. It promptly went into my front garden where I had a perfect spot waiting.
Bred and developed by Proven Winners, this rose bills itself as the first disease resistant rose with a classic rose fragrance (which is referenced in the clever name). It blooms from early summer to fall (with no deadheading required), is resistant to powdery mildew and black spot, and is hardy from USDA zones 5 to 9.
This shot is of the At Last® rose in my garden. My plant is small, but it’s been flowering for me all summer. I love the peachy blooms!
Here’s a YouTube video of the Toronto Botanical Garden’s Paul Zammit showing the At Last® roses he’s trialling for 2018.
Easy Elegance® roses
When I was at the California Spring Trials with the National Garden Bureau this past spring, I also discovered Easy Elegance® roses. “Roses You Can Grow” is their tagline and on the “Why Easy Elegance” page, they state that their roses have been bred to be tough and reliable—disease resistant, heat tolerant and hardy in extreme cold.
An Easy Elegance® rose that I spotted at the California Spring Trials.
I asked Sean if he would say all these plants are part of a new generation of hardy roses because of their hardiness, disease resistance, etc. Sean replied: “Yes and no—there are several amazing David Austin roses that are hardy in Winnipeg and quite disease resistant, but not new. I would say it’s more that we are learning to breed for hardiness and disease resistance again. We had forgotten about those things in favour of bloom size and colour.”
Indeed an article I found in The Telegraph from last year pretty much said the same thing. And the Brits know their roses.
This will be my At Last® rose’s first winter and I’ll be sure to report back with an update on how it fared.
Have you sworn off roses, but are tempted to try these newer varieties of hardy roses?