Farewell to Roses

– Posted in: Garden Design, Perennials

Rose rosette disease on ‘Ghislaine de Feligonde’While I’ve never risen to the heights (or sunk to the depths?) of some rose addicts, I’ve put in my share of time obsessing over drool-inducing rose catalogs and clicking through photo-filled rose-related web sites. So, despite not considering myself a collector, I’ve managed to gather a few dozen favorites over the years, and many of them came with me when I started this garden six years ago. They thrived in the full-day sun here (my last garden was only partly sunny, at best), and I was feeling quite complacent at my success with them. Then, about two years ago, disaster struck.

Rose rosette disease on Rosa multifloraIt started on ‘Darlow’s Enigma’, a pretty, long-blooming thing that was finally filling out into a beautiful large shrub. Walking by it one day, I noticed a little knot of bright red leaves growing on one cane. I meant to take a closer look but got distracted by another task. Then, a few days later, I was whacking down some of the Rosa multiflora clumps in my meadow, and I realized they had similar symptoms, only much worse; in fact, some of the plants were almost covered with stringy, bright red shoots. Uh oh. Welcome to the not-so-wonderful world of rose rosette disease (RRD).

I’d heard about this problem while working on the manuscript for the last revision of Taylor’s Guide to Roses back in 2001, mostly in discussions in on-line rose forums. In the years since then, though, it seems that the awareness of RRD hasn’t extended much beyond the rose community. I haven’t noticed any mentions of it in the gardening magazines I see, and it seems to be news to the gardeners who visit me. It’s something we all need to be aware of, though —at least those of us in the central and eastern states and Canada who grow even one rose.

Rose rosette disease on Rosa multifloraWhen I recalled the symptoms on my ‘Darlow’s Enigma’ and connected them to what I was seeing on the wild multifloras growing just a few hundred feet away, I knew trouble was afoot, and I started doing some research. Google “rose rosette disease” and you’ll be inundated with information—much of it outdated or conflicting. One excellent place to start, though, is the web book put together by Ann Peck, which you can find here at Rosegeeks.com. It’s worth taking the time to learn about the symptoms, because you don’t want to confuse the normal bright-red new growth of some roses with the red leaves and shoots caused by this virus (or virus-like organism).

Rose rosette disease on ‘Ghislaine de Feligonde’There’s no cure for RRD, which is a good thing if you’re cheering for the decline of multiflora roses but a serious concern for those of us who love our garden roses. You can take some steps to try to prevent it, and there are some ways you may be able to coax a few more years out of affected plants, but the consensus seems to be that removing and destroying infected roses is the best way to go. So, my ‘Darlow’s Enigma’ met an untimely end two years ago, and in this last year, Rosa glauca, R. eglanteria, and ‘Ghislaine de Feligonde’ have all shown symptoms. I’m trying to be philosophical about this; think of all the space I’ll have available for other plants, after all. But if my treasured Knock Out roses start showing symptoms…well, I can’t bear to think about it!

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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Carol August 25, 2007, 11:50 am

I had not heard of RRD. I have only one rose, a small one at that, but I’ll be on the look out.

It’s always sad to have to face a disease in the garden, especially one with no organic cure, other than removing the infected plants. Good luck and I hope you can save some of your roses.

Carol at May Dreams Gardens

Nan Ondra August 25, 2007, 4:52 pm

I think RRD is rather less of a concern for gardeners who live in more-developed areas, or in areas where multiflora roses aren’t growing wild. Maybe that’s why more gardeners aren’t getting upset about it. Here, I’m surrounded by infected multifloras, both on my own property and in area roadsides and hedgerows. So, even if I hadn’t been cutting them in my meadow and then walking back into the garden, the wind would have carried the little buggers (the mites that carry RRD) in anyway. If I had just one or a few roses and one showed symptoms, I’d be tempted to simply cut out the affected stem at the base and try to get another year or two out of it, at least. At this point, it seems inevitable that I’ll lose most or all of mine, so I may go ahead and try that pruning-off approach here while I organize replacements for them. And I’ll send good wishes that your own rose stays healthy!

eliz September 10, 2007, 10:28 pm

I have never seen roses in the wild in Western New York. Never, ever. That would be cool.

I have heard of this disease from haunting the roasarian boards at Gardenweb, but I’ve been yanking a lot of my roses for no reason except that they are so often unsuccessful plants for so many, many other reasons.

Nancy J. Ondra September 10, 2007, 11:31 pm

Until a few years ago, it *was* cool. Some of the roads I travel are lined with old hedgerows filled with tangles of multiflora roses and Japanese honeysuckle, and it was a guilty pleasure to slow down and enjoy the flowers and fragrance when they were both in bloom. The honeysuckle is still here, but many of the multifloras are now all red and stringy and awful-looking. My understanding is that RRD is eventually supposed to kill the plants, but it’s taking a painfully long time to do it.

Jennifer September 11, 2007, 1:02 am

Thanks for writing about RRD and posting those excellent pictures. It’s a topic not talked about enough, as you stated, outside of the online rose community.

Not to long ago a woman posted pictures on a small gardening group of her neighbor’s yard. She was a little concerned because the neighbor wanted to give her all of the roses that “weren’t doing well” and replace them in her own yard with new ones. The poster was wondering how to bring them back to good health.

It was a gruesome post. There were dozens of roses in the advanced stages of RRD. Her entire yard of roses was infected. The saddest part was that if she had been aware of the seriousness of the problem much earlier she would have had the chance to save some of them.

This is right outside the city of Chicago, BTW. My understanding is there has been a sharp increase in RRD reports here in the last year.

Carol A September 22, 2007, 10:37 am

Hello:
I live in Fort Wayne Indiana and have/had 81 knockout roses on a hillside going down to a small lake. Over half of my roses are infected with RRD. I have been advised by my local extension to remove all the infected roses. I was also told NOT to plant knockout roses in those infected areas. The thinking is that any insects in the soil in those areas will continue to spread the virus.
To those of you that have RRD and removed your roses — what did you plant?

Thank you

Nancy J. Ondra September 22, 2007, 11:01 am

I’m so sorry about your Knock Out roses getting infected, Carol. I’m surprised to hear about the mites living in the soil. My understanding is that the mites are so tiny that they move around mostly on the wind, then basically stay where they land. The problem is that they can travel so far on the wind, it’s quite likely that they could blow into your garden again. Either way, I guess, the result is the same. I’ve heard that some roses are more resistant than others, but who really knows? I guess replanting with something other than roses is the most sensible approach.

Pamela Patrick April 24, 2008, 11:24 am

Nancy,
I’ve got Rosette disease on my property. It seems to affect the Tatarian honeysuckle (bush honeysuckle) as well as the multiflora rose. It appeared soon after I had cut back bushes of both species and sprayed the regrowth with RoundUp. It did affect the one cultivated rose that grows on the property, which is a semidouble bright pink flowered variety that I think is actually coming up from below the graft of something else that died long ago. This rose has recovered on its own. Some of the wild bushes have died of RRD, but others seem to get better with time. I’m not sure rosette disease is the absolute knell of death that is predicted.

Thanks for the positive news, Pamela!
-Nan