As winter draws to a close, roses are preparing to enter their busiest time of year. While they may not show outward signs of growth, roots are actively growing, and sap is starting to rise into canes. Spring rose care and maintenance tasks set the stage for the flower show to come. Taking care of roses all starts with six simple steps.
If you live in one of the coldest zones, you probably hilled soil or mulch around the base of roses last fall for winter protection. In early spring in warmer regions, about the time forsythia flowers, begin to tear down the mound. Don’t remove it all – just a portion. Finish the job progressively over two to three weeks. Removing the mound gradually allows the rose to adjust to the change in soil temperature that occurs with more exposure. It also protects buds still buried beneath soil from a late freeze. In warmer regions, you can safely remove all winter mulch when leaflets start appearing on canes. By this point, all danger of frost should be past.
As you remove mulch, spread it over the soil around the rose’s base. In regions where frost isn’t an issue, apply fresh mulch in spring. Aim to create a layer approximately 2 to 3 inches thick, taking care not to cover the base of canes. Sunlight needs to reach those to encourage growth. Mulch helps soil retain moisture and suppresses weeds. If you mulch with an organic material such as mushroom compost, alfalfa meal or very well composted manure, it will also feed roses as it breaks down.
Gather any remaining rose leaves in the planting bed or attached to stems. These leaves can harbor diseases. Destroy or dispose of leaves – don’t compost them.
Check soil for moisture. This is especially important in regions where winter brings cold but not rain or snow. Gauge moisture by digging down about 3 inches and grabbing some soil. If it’s crumbly, plan to water. If temperatures are still dipping near freezing at night, water during the warmest part of the day. Water slowly and deeply.
Spring rose care and feeding fuels early season growth plus the first wave of flowers. Apply a rose fertilizer for rich blooms. If you added compost around the base of roses, you still want to give them a rose fertilizer.
Timing is critical for spring feeding. In regions where cold lingers, don’t fertilize roses (a compost mulch is OK) until growth begins, or you risk jump-starting growth that could be killed by a late freeze. If a late freeze does zap stems, don’t apply any fertilizer until new leaves unfold. In mild-winter regions, fertilize in February.
If you battled fungal diseases last season, spray roses as part of your spring rose care regimen while they’re still dormant. A dormant spray will kill spores of black spot and mildew that have overwintered. Proper timing is very important with this spray. Most sprays require at least 8 hours after application without freezing temperatures or precipitation. Follow label directions carefully. In two weeks, you can follow up with a product that offers systemic protection to control a wider range of pests.
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