What's a good gardening topic for October? Harvesting pumpkins? Fall foliage color? Cutting back frost-killed peony tops?

How about blooming roses?

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A discussion of roses seems out of place when our seasonal theme should be more Halloween-like, but October is the perfect time to talk roses. June might be National Rose Month, but roses often get lost in the June gardening shuffle. Roses still blooming in October cause us to notice, having survived light frosts while other flowers have shrunk away.

June was selected for celebrating roses because historically, most roses flowered once a year in June. Some shrubs roses still available are June-only bloomers, such as Harrison's Yellow.

Although fossil evidence shows roses to be 35 million years old, our modern roses can be traced to plants imported into Europe from China in the late 1700s. The new imports bloomed repeatedly throughout the summer, quite a novelty compared to Europe's June-only roses. Plant breeders went to work, and the modern repeat-blooming rose was born.

That's why we can still enjoy roses blooming in October, or until a very heavy freeze. Most rose cultivars available at garden centers today bloom throughout the growing season.

When reading rose descriptions in catalogs, on plant tags and in rose literature, we find terms like repeat-blooming, recurrent and remontant, a French-derivative word meaning "to grow again." These terms, used interchangeably, describe rose varieties that flower throughout the growing season.

The season-long, repeat-blooming of today's shrub roses follows a definite growth pattern. Beginning with a strong flush of flowers in June, the plants bloom strongly for two to three weeks at a time, followed by several weeks of downtime, followed by another flush of flower buds, and so on, until freezing.

Less-hardy roses

Some roses advertised nationally as hardy aren't necessarily winter-hardy enough for us. They're best planted in a protected microclimate with fall mulch and good snow cover.

Included are the Knockout series, Meidiland series, Carefree Beauty, Flower Carpet, David Austin English Roses, Robin Hood, Simplicity and Freedom series. Rated zones 4 to 5, they're borderline for most of North Dakota and Minnesota's upper two-thirds.

The Easy Elegance series is slightly hardier, but still requires protection.

Winter-hardy roses

The following varieties, developed in Canada, are good repeat-blooming choices for the Upper Midwest, with hardiness ratings of zones 2 and 3:

• Canada Blooms: Fragrant pink flowers with hybrid tea-like form.

• Never Alone: Vivid blossoms with deep red edges and vibrant white center.

• Olds College Centennial: Apricot double flowers.

• Bill Reid: Yellow.

• Campfire: Indescribable tricolor of reddish-pink, yellow and white.

• Emily Carr: Medium red.

• Felix Leclerc: Medium pink.

• Oscar Peterson: Large, semi-double white.

• Adelaide Hoodless: Medium red.

• Cuthbert Grant: Crimson red double.

• Hope for Humanity: Double deep red.

• Morden Blush: Pink, blushing to ivory.

• Morden Centennial: Medium pink.

• Morden Fireglow: Glowing red.

• Morden Ruby: Ruby red.

• Morden Snowbeauty: Very floriferous white.

• Morden Sunrise: Vivid yellow-orange.

• Prairie Joy: Medium pink. Good hedge rose.

• Prairie Snowdrift: Creamy white.

• Winnipeg Parks: Medium red.

• Alexander Mackenzie: Deep red.

• Champlain: Dark red.

• J.P. Connell: Lemon yellow.

• John Cabot: Medium red.

• John Davis: Medium pink.

• Quadra: Dark red.

• Pavement series: Purple, scarlet, white types.

• Henry Kelsey: Rosy-red. One of the best climbers.

• William Baffin: Rose-pink. Excellent climber.

• Ramblin' Red: Red climber.

Fall pruning tips

Most rose authorities and research universities recommend against fall pruning of roses, as they tend to survive winter better with all canes intact. In spring, before new growth begins, prune vigorously, removing thin, weak canes and reducing height to 12 inches or less.

Modern roses bloom best on vigorous new growth stimulated by pruning, rather than old, woody canes allowed to remain.