There’s no denying it; soon cold winds will be blowing and dormancy creeping into perennial and woody plants. Roses often defy the season, with September’s flush of buds and flowers still hanging on. Should I leave blossoms and buds on the plants, so that a frost will tell these plants to shut down, or should I take the opportunity to cut what’s left for a vase? Usually I do a bit of both. My favourite climber, ‘Clair Matin’, has a ginkgo tree for support, and they’ve been great pals for several years. I often take some of the last shell-pink blossoms indoors, along with a sprig of still-green ginkgo foliage. They don’t last long in a heated house, but I can’t resist.
Now is not the time to prune roses, although shortening overly long canes that might whip around in winter wind is a good idea. However, autumn is a good time to move a rose bush, should you be so inclined. The first weeks of November are best, after foliage has dropped and several nights of hard frost have brought it into partial dormancy. (Full dormancy won’t occur until mid to late December.) No one likes the idea of moving a rose, fearing the upheaval will do irreparable damage. But in its docile, partially dormant state, a gentle move to a new and better location won’t faze it at all.
Gently dig the rose shrub out, using a spade to loosen the root ball in a circle around the plant. Lift the root ball and put it into a wheelbarrow or onto a tarp for transport to the new hole. Don’t worry if the root ball shatters and the roots are exposed; they’re inured to brief exposure at this time. Just quickly cover them loosely with plastic for the journey to the new location. Amend the soil from the new hole with organic materials like shredded leaves, composted manure or garden compost.
Plant the rose shrub in its new hole with its bulbous graft two to four inches (5 to 10 cm) below soil level. Backfill halfway with the amended soil, and fill the hole with water. After it drains, fill the hole with the remaining soil. To protect the newly replanted rose during its first winter in a new location, hill up around the rose crown with 12 inches (30 cm) of fresh soil and add a thick layer of leaf mulch. I use a generous 12 inches (30 cm) of leaves piled over the hilled soil. Now, wasn’t that easy?