The Rose in Winter

The deer have moved south for the winter, and frost has begun to take what the deer left in the garden.  First it was the pumpkin plants about two weeks ago. Then it was the Dahlias. Most of the roses still have foliage.  Some will hold their leaves through most of the winter, here, hoping that the moist soil and bright afternoon sun will provide a return on their investment.

Some will win this bet using winter sunlight to stretch their roots ever further into the soil and be in a much stronger position next spring.  Others, though, will lose the bet and find their resources depleted when spring weather finally arrives.  In the three or four weeks prior to the last frost they will have committed the whole of their remaining strength to the promise of spring and will put out lush foliage.  Then, at the last frost, this tender new growth will freeze to death; and the plant will die.

Those roses whose ancestors thrived closer to the arctic circle are programmed by millennia of evolutionary forces to be more circumspect. They will lose their leaves soon and stand like skeletons in the garden for much of the winter.  As spring tempts more optimistic roses, they will fail to commit.  Perhaps they will set small ‘feeler’ leaves that will produce some food on warm days, with the idea that their loss at the next freeze will represent a small cost for their precociousness.  Sometimes this strategy works.   But sometimes the rose just freezes back too many times for it to pay off.

Some roses will play dead all through spring.  As all the other plant cultivars come to life they will sit like skeletons through March and April.  Daytime temperatures will reach the high seventies regularly.  And frost will touch the garden only in the early hours of the mornings.  Still, the roses will wait.  Then, in May when even light frost is unlikely they will set leaves.    Or they will not, depending on the state of the soil.

One year Ambridge Rose sat underground through May and June because the soil was just too dry to support foliage.  Then, when the summer rains came in July it sent out a tentative stalk. How can one fail to admire a rose that has such a finely honed sense of self-preservation?