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Dead or not dead after the freeze? (Jan 2024)

Updated: Jan 16

Dead or not dead? Die back or just dark canes? Are my roses dead?? Their canes are literally black?!?! Should I prune now to get rid of those stems? These are million dollar questions that some of us have been wondering day in and day out about our roses while we are all waiting in anticipation...and as our winter unfolds.

For new rose growers, I completely understand it can be worrisome....but hear me out. Apologies in advance for any typos as I was in a rush cooking up this post.

Love Song rose recovered from freeze in Dec 2022. It died back all the way down!

Nature is so fascinating...although mother nature can seem cruel and is very unexpected at times. All living things in nature have the ability to withstand, tolerate and adapt to the ever changing environment. Some can handle more than another. Some can't make it.

Roses are like chameleons. Right after several nights of below freezing temperatures back in December, you may notice that some roses still had fairly green canes while some turned darker to various shades from brown, dark purple to even black.

Now the canes that are black, it doesn't mean they are dead. I have a few that literally turned super black from top to bottom and the whole bush looked like the freeze had completely zapped their lives away. Don't lose hope and faith y'all.

Followed by rain, warmth and many sunny days this month, this is when magic happens. The bushes or canes that once were all black or dead looking start to showing sign of life. Some of them slowly turn small sections.....which make them look like they develop die back, blackspots or fungal diseases.

This is why it's so important to wait...not pull or prune your roses right away after the freeze. Each rose is different, just like us. Each of us reponds to things and situation differently and each of us has our own protection mehanism. Some of you roses may stay green like nothing ever happen to them, some turn dark and look dreadful.

What happend to the dark canes was their mechansim... they turn dark so they can absorb more sunlight to warm them up. Imagine wearing black t-shirt and you absorb heat/UV ray much faster. That's exactly what some of your roses did.

After the 2021 Febuary freeze, my Koko Loko took the longest to wake up among all others. It was the last rose to put on new growths or bloom. She had her own timing and took all the time she wanted to wake up. My 50+ roses now are all in different stages.

Some roses completely dropped old leaves and put on new fresh green growths. This one is all greeen and ready to roll!

Some roses are in between stage. They still hang on to their dried brown leaves after the freeze while new green growths are sprouting along the canes.

Some roses still have many black / dark canes but you can start seeing small section are turning lighter

Some show small green areas at the very base near the root

Some show nothing

You see, they are all roses but each one does its own things.

As far as how long you will have to wait, it depends on many factors, some examples are:

  • Your patience level

  • The weather over the next few weeks (is there an unexpected freeze on the horizon? Another sudden drop in temp?)

  • The health/condition of your roses prior to the freeze

  • What you have done to your roses after the freeze

Some of y'all in the FB group sent me photos of your roses asking if they're dead. Honestly, I don’t know. I wish I could answer you. Only time will tell and time is what nature needs. Hope and faith are such uplifting feelings to hold than fears and worries. Please don’t give up hope too fast or become frustrated. Roses are incredibly resilient.

We went from below freezing 🥶 to heavy rain to now extra warm weather which sprouts new growths...again. Many are wondering/debating whether to prune or not. Should you fertilize to give them a boost to recover?

With this ever changing weather, I personally will wait for both pruningand fertilizing.

Here's a reason why I will leave them until mid or end of Feb no matter how bad they look.

Let say if you prune now and we end up getting another freeze, chances are...there will be more damaged parts which require you to prune down even more. Depending how much you cut. If lightly, you will still have a lot of canes to work with. On the opposite, if you remove 50%-70% or more of the canes and another freeze comes and cause even more damages, you won't have a lot of canes left and may have to cut down to the ground. Be careful with climbing roses as we don't prune climbing roses the same way as shrub roses.

Some roses are greener, some have dark canes, some look questionable but I am giving them time and waiting until spring.

I understand it could be stressful right now for some to see brown stuff instead of refreshing green or colorful outdoors we used to see a few months ago.

Patience and time are so critical right now to help these plants get through more bouts of crazy up and down weather. Since our winter months have literally just started. Although it feels unusally warm, it doesn't mean it will stay warm. Mother nature can turn around and gives us unexpected surprise again. Waiting until we're out of freeze danger will minimize additional damages to your garden which eventually can cost more to replace. For the roses that don't make it, they may not be in their best health even prior to the freeze. While it's disappointing, the best thing we can do is to accept, learn and let go. Perhaps there's another rose that will do even better than the one that didn't make it.

Check out this article shared by our rose member in the Growing Roses In Houston FB group (Kaijin) - “Learn to live with ugly” after freeze damage: Pruning dead plant material can cause more harm through winter

Great news is we are only 7-8 weeks away then February will be over. The pruning time for our zone is around the Valentine's Day so if you're ready to grab your pruner and start the pruning party then, feel free to proceed. Personally, I may wait to do toward end of Feb just to be extra cautious in case there's an unexpected late freeze.

While waiting can be challening, you can start cleaning up the base of your roses by removing fallen leaves, pulling weeds, digging new holes (for new roses that will be arrivining), shopping for a new pruner/fertilizer or other gardening items.

May your gardening spirit continue to grow and blossom with joy and beauty,

Tat of Roses In Houston


New to roses and want continuous supportive guidance from a fellow home gardener who has gone through many trials and errors with rose gardening? What to do, where to start, what products to use, how to prune/fertilize and more?

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