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“You can complain because roses have thorns, or you can rejoice because thorns have roses.” — Ziggy

I have very rarely written about the care of roses. I love roses, but they are very special plants that need quite a bit of care. They get many diseases, attract insects and can freeze over the winter if not cared for properly.

Rose lovers need to do their homework. Learn to identify the pests and apply insecticides only when insects are present. Insects are not the worst problem. Diseases are what usually defoliate your roses. But all is not lost if you learn which diseases your roses are likely to get.

The secret is prevention. After the disease has infected your roses, it’s probably too late to cure it. Fungicides should be applied in early spring and about every 7-10 days during the growing season. If you follow that schedule, you should have beautiful plants.

If you plan on getting tea roses this spring, the best time to plant them is late March or early April. In Wisconsin, the bud union, the place where the rose cultivar is grafted to rootstock, should be planted about 4 inches below the soil surface to prevent the death of the plant during winter. Hybrid teas are usually grafted and if the bud union dies, you may get a rose plant growing from the rootstock. These plants are wild looking and may give a few flowers, but really should be dug out.

Roses are very hungry plants and should be fertilized in early spring after pruning, during the first bloom and in mid-July. If you fertilize after July, there will be too much new growth and your plant will not harden off properly resulting in winter kill. A 10-10-10 fertilizer is recommended at around 1 pound per 100 square feet or ¼ cup per plant. Water well after fertilizing your roses.

Roses require at least 1 inch of water per week. Avoid wetting the foliage. I like to water early in the day so the foliage dries quickly or I use a soaker hose. As a rule of thumb, avoid watering any of your plants in the evening.

Pruning is usually done in the spring. Prune down to live wood but save as much as possible. In a mild winter, you probably can leave stems about 8-12 inches tall. After blooming you need to deadhead the spent blossoms. On a newly planted rose cut dead flowers down to a three-leaf shoot but on older established plants cut down to a five-leaf shoot.

Last but not least, winter protection is important for roses in Wisconsin. Always remove dead leaves and compost them, if they are not diseased. Mulch the rose plant after the ground freezes. This is important because mulching too soon will keep your roses too warm and then they can’t adapt to frigid weather.

Start by mounding soil at the base of the plant. Loosely tie the canes together and then add more soil up to about 8-10 inches. For additional protection you can add straw or leaves held together by burlap wrapped around the plant. Remove winter protection in late March to mid-April.

For more rose information, I suggest that you download “Care of Modern Roses in Iowa RG310” from Iowa State University. Just Google “Iowa State RG310” for a copy of this two-page document.

The 2019 Phenology Calendar has sold out in the Sauk County Extension Office but are still available through the Aldo Leopold Foundation. Order online at or by calling: 608-355-0279. These calendars are fantastic for nature lovers and gardeners alike; the cost is $15.

And Happy Holidays from the Both family to yours.

Contact Phyllis Both by email at or by telephone on Monday mornings at the Sauk County UW-Extension office, 608-355-3253.