What to Do in the Rose Garden in January

This is the first in a 12-part series of monthly rose gardening tips.

There's no sweeter sight than the year's first rose bloom!

There’s no sweeter sight than the year’s first rose bloom!

The first time I tried to grow roses, I just stuck them in the ground, watered them occasionally, and otherwise ignored them. They bloomed beautifully at first, but then disease ate them up and they succumbed by the end of the season. The second time I tried to grow roses, I planted them right around 4th of July, when South Carolina heat was at its worst. The heat cooked them and most of them died before they could even come out of dormancy. The third time I planted, I was determined to do it right. I did my homework. I added a banana peel to the planting hole, and mixed plenty of compost into the existing clay soil. I watered religiously and kept an eye out for black spot and mildew, which I would snip out and dispose of without delay. Then the warm weather arrived and . . . Success!

The moral of the story is that roses are immensely rewarding but that they also require some pretty specific maintenance at particular times through the year. So I’m writing this month-by-month maintenance guide to lay out a road map for rose-growing success.

Know Your Zone

The tricky thing about month-by-month advice is that the US is a big country, and January in Minnesota is a lot different than January in Florida. So I’ve divided up my recommendations into three general areas: Cold-Climate (Zones 2-4), where the rose-growing season is short and winter protection is a primary concern, Moderate-Climate (Zones 5-7), where the primary concern shifts from season to season, and Hot-Climate (Zones 8-10), where the winters are thankfully mild and the primary concerns are keeping roses well-watered and preventing foliar diseases.

(Note: The best timing for when to prune, when to plant, when to provide winter protection, etc. depends on your local climate. I’ve tried to account for this by breaking up my suggestions by USDA Hardiness Zones. Keep in mind, though, that these Zones only indicate what the minimum temperature gets down to in winter and NOT how generally warm/cool the weather is—for example, Tallahassee, FL and Olympia, WA are in the same zone, even though I’m sure one of those has a much longer, warmer, and sunnier growing season. So what I’m saying is: be sure to adjust my timetable based on the ACTUAL frost dates for your area.)

Without further adieu, here’s what to do this month:

Cold-Climate (Zones 2-4):

  • Time to start shopping!

    Time to start shopping!

    Shop for Roses: While the frosty weather locks you out of the garden, this is the perfect opportunity to plan what you want to grow in the upcoming season. Consult Jackson and Perkins and your other great rose dealers and see what new varieties came out this year. Figure out where you’ll make room to plant all your new babies. Drawing out your garden plot often helps, and there are plenty of wonderful gardening apps available to help you with the planning process.

  • Clean/Sharpen/Oil your Tools: It’s likely too cold to play around outside, but one thing you can do is make sure that all your gardening gear is up to snuff. Clean any mud and debris off of your shovels, spades, trowels, pruners, etc. If any rust has formed on the blades, scour it off with steel wool. Then sharpen the blade with a file. Pay attention to where the tool’s built-in bevel is. Keep your file at the same angle as this bevel so you don’t ruin the edge the factory put on. Do not sharpen the non-beveled side of a blade. For fine tools (knives or pruners) that need to be especially sharp, hone the edge further with a sharpening stone. Once your blades are in order, coat them with oil to protect them from rust. You can buy specially formulated oil for this purpose, but WD-40 or Household Cooking Spray are both good short-term sealants that also have the benefit of spraying into your tool’s hinge/nut and helping to smooth its action.

Moderate-Climate (Zones 5-7):

  • Formulated with Neem Oil.

    Formulated with Neem Oil.

    Prune Existing Roses: Late winter is a good time to give your roses their annual prune. It may seem too early still, but you want to get to them before new growth begins.

  • Spray Neem Oil: To smother the eggs of any pests that overwintered in your roses and to help prevent fungal diseases from setting in, it helps to spray your roses with a dormant spray, especially one with plenty of neem oil in it.
  • Buy New Roses: Get ready for spring and order all the new roses and rose companions that you had your eye on.
  • Test your Soil: The ideal soil for growing roses is a moist loam (1/3 Sand, 1/3 Clay, 1/3 Organic Matter) with a pH between 5.5 and 7 and a good supply of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (these last two are especially important for roses). A Soil Test Kit will let you determine which nutrients you might be low on and if your pH needs raised or lowered.

Hot-Climate (Zones 8-10):

  • Plant Roses (Bareroot): If you have no frost to worry about, its best to plant your roses plenty early. This will give them as long as possible to get established and develop deep roots before the heat of summer arrives.
  • Spray Neem Oil: Again, you want to try and prevent fungus and pests pro-actively.
  • Amend Soil (with Rose Tone): You want to be sure you are working in organic fertilizers early in the year because they take time to finish decomposing and releasing all of their nutrients into the soil. Organic amendments like Rose Tone are great because they don’t just add nutrients, but also a healthy dose of the beneficial microbes that help to build good garden soil.
  • Apply Mulch: It may seem too early to bother with mulch, but getting this put down early will suppress the weeds and save you a lot of hassle later on!

What are you doing in the rose garden this month? Leave a comment and tell us!

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