The roses took a beating

One of the two Pink Knockout roses at the end of the lane before pruning. See all of those dead canes? If I keep it, it will be half this size for the summer.
One of the two Pink Knockout roses at the end of the lane before pruning. See all of those dead canes? If I keep it, it will be half this size for summer. Not necessarily a bad thing.

As I go about my spring chores in the garden, I’ve looked at my roses with much dismay. They aren’t well. The damage is so bad I pondered whether they have Rose Rosette Disease although I haven’t seen the characteristic foliage on any roses that remain in my garden. Remember, I shovel pruned those that were sick. So, let’s assume that all of my roses don’t have it. I don’t know if I could take that.

Dead and withered rose cane closeup.
Dead and withered rose cane closeup. I have seen this all over the garden. Only a few roses escaped the carnage.

What has caused this damage then? I know my soil is fine because all of the other perennials in the garden that like the same soil as roses are performing beautifully.

'Mutabilis' rose nearly dead. There is only a bit of new red foliage at the bottom.
‘Mutabilis’ rose nearly dead. There is only a bit of new red foliage at the bottom.

Why do my roses look like hell? What do you think?

'Dame de Coeur' rose nearly died all the way to the ground. I think I'll take off this last cane to even her up.
‘Dame de Coeur’ rose nearly died all the way to the ground. I think I’ll take off this last cane to even her up. I just couldn’t bear to do it at the time.

After pruning back so many to the ground, I think I know part of the reason. I grow most of my roses on their own roots. In such a cold and inhospitable garden like mine, this is a good thing. I also grow a lot of China roses which are more tender than any other class. These and the Polyanthas were the hardest hit, although the Pink Knockouts shown above are pretty sad too. All of the Chinas died down to the ground. I have cut them back and I hope this will revamp them. Some roses, like ‘The Fairy,’ also a Polyantha, didn’t show much damage though. Roses are funny things. ‘Carefree Beauty’ did have a lot of damage, but she is also fine. Still, she grows right next to ‘Cl. Souvenir de Malmaison‘ that died of Rose Rosette last summer. I hope the virus wasn’t passed on to ‘Carefree Beauty,’ but there isn’t much I can do about it anyway. Just wait and see.

Some roses like 'The Fairy' a very hardy Polyantha, is fine. She didn't have much dieback at all.
Some roses like ‘The Fairy’ a very hardy Polyantha, is fine. She didn’t have much dieback at all.

Last winter was a one-two punch of disastrous events for much of the country. It was really, really cold. I haven’t seen statistics, but I think even Oklahoma had many more cold days than normal. It sure felt that way. I’ve noticed the rose canes look desiccated, and I think that’s due to the ever-present prairie wind and cold we had from November until March.

The other thing I’ve considered is … my garden is pretty old by modern garden standards. Parts of it are 24 years old, and many of the roses I outright lost were older ones planted when I first got here and began laying out the back garden. The other ones that died were newly planted last year like ‘Grandma’s Yellow’–‘Nacogdoches.’ It may be a Texas Superstar, but I just don’t think ‘Grandma’s Yellow’ could handle the cold that lingers in my garden. I am in Zone 7a after all.

'Carefree Beauty' after her early spring trimming.
‘Carefree Beauty’ after her early spring trimming.

So, what’s the lesson here? Tender roses perform better in the hot South, but Oklahoma is part of the central south, and as such, we may lose them sometimes. Especially, if you plant them in unprotected areas. If you do grow Chinas and other tender roses, either protect them by placing up next to the house, or grow those on their own root. Does that mean I’ll plant only cold-hardy Rugosas? No, definitely not. I like the Rugosa class, but I want diversity in the garden. Although I mourn the roses I lost to RRD and now, extreme cold, losing them opened up places in the garden for other shrubs and plants. You shouldn’t plant a rose in the same hole where a rose grew before. So, diversity in the garden is a good thing for many reasons. Mistakes I made in the design years ago can be rectified. That’s the thing about gardening. You can know a great deal, but not everything. It’s always changing, and it’s why I like it so.


  1. Pam/Digging says:

    I’m sorry your roses took such a hit in the cold weather this winter. I have only one, a Carefree Beauty, and it got nipped a bit too but is now putting out its first flower. I hope yours recover soon.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I’m glad your Carefree Beauty is getting ready to put on a show. I love mine so much. It looks pretty good this spring, but the freeze will nip it back again. That’s okay. We can’t control the weather.

  2. Well, that’s really a pity! My roses took a hard hit but did return, though I actually lost a 20 year old Cecile Brunner to drought last year. But you’re right about things that happen: I actually lost a thicket of Indigo Spires that I’ve had as a passalong for YEARS. But I’ll plant more and I even put in a new Cecile. Gotta keep at it!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Linda, I lost Cecile a couple of years ago to unseasonable cold. What a lovely rose it is though! Oh well, it’s the travails of gardening that keep things interesting.

  3. Sue says:

    Hi Dee
    I was much relieved to read you post. I live in Canada, zone 6 US (zone 5 Canadian) and although by Canadian standards we had a milder winter than other provinces, my roses have suffered as you have described. I have found the canes to be desiccated and brown despite watering before putting to bed in the fall with mulch and snow cover over winter. I had come to the conclusion that several things had happened: we had wind in the late fall before snowfall likely causing more drying than I realized, the worst affected roses are my old ones ( likely too old to stand the cold and dry) and I think one plant suffered root rock. It sounds to me like you came to the same conclusion. I too have cut them back severely and hope they will recover. Thanks for sharing

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Sue, I’m glad my post helped. Mine are starting to come back. I still have ten more to prune. Ugh. I always hate pruning time, but I love the blooms that follow.

  4. CurtissAnn says:

    Thanks for all the info on pruning roses. It is the hardest thing for me to prune anything. I did my best this year, and the dears are responding. Love you, honey-bunny.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Love you too Curtiss Ann. Pruning does make them grow stronger.

  5. I agree with Kathy and Carol. I’m in zone 5a. I only have a few (various) Roses in my garden, but there are some incredible Rose gardens nearby and they grow a wide variety of Roses (not just Rugosas). I clip my heirlooms back to 1/3 or 1/2 every year, and some of my other Roses nearly to the ground. Some canes die, but the new growth on others is incredibly vigorous. It might seem like they’re gone, but a moderate to heavy pruning might bring them back to even more vigor than before. You have a wonderful Rose collection, Dee!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      They do seem to be coming back more vigorous than ever. I did lose six shrubs so far though.

  6. Diana says:

    Ah, keep the faith, Dee. It’s still early. I hope warmer days ahead will bring new life to your roses. I cut back my Carefree Beauty just before our last surprise freeze and she looked dead for a while after that. But now she’s full of foliage and buds. I was worried – but time seems to be healing our gardens down here – even after this very hard winter. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for your roses.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Diana, it always seems darkest before the dawn. Yes, they are all responding well. I just hope we don’t have rose rosette disease this year.~~Dee

  7. Cheryl says:

    Do you follow Howard Garrett the Dirt Doctor? He has lots of suggestions about Rose Rosette disease and lots more.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Cheryl, I have read him. Thanks.

  8. My only rose (miniature) looks worse than ever planted along the south side of my house, but after pruning ‘dead things’ off last week, I see signs of buds. Iris, daffodils, nandina all look battered. I think it was the cold winter, then a recent start with spring growth, then the plants all got cold zapped again. Yo yo weather.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Ray, it was the worst winter in a long time for everyone. I imagine piles of dead canes all pruned away from roses throughout the country. Glad yours are getting stronger as spring rolls in.

  9. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I have few roses. I did plant a new climber last summer. It looks dead to me. All the canes are dark brown. I think this winter was just horrible to anything growing.

  10. I can’t speak for your more tender roses, but I think most of yours will pull through, especially if they are well-established. If they have a good set of roots, they can put out a lot of new growth from that stored energy. You think yours look terrible, but mine look like that every year. I wait until I see new growth emerging and then prune all the dead stuff off. Often my roses have not dropped all their leaves before winter hits, and so they have a lot of brown foliage on them as well. It is a blessing that they are own-root roses. That will be the saving of them.

  11. sweetbay says:

    That just looks like damage from cold. I remember when your crape myrtles got killed to the ground too. I think of zone 7 as having mild winters but OK does not have mild winters! (Compared to the Southeast.)

    1. Dee Nash says:

      No, we sure don’t Sweetbay. We’re on the prairie, and when it gets really cold, we do too. I guess I haven’t seen this much cold damage in a long time. Oh well, they are sprouting from the ground.

  12. Carol says:

    Here in Zone 6a, I don’t have many roses, just some Knockouts and Oso Easy roses, and an heirloom rose from my aunt. This year, I cut them all down to about eight inches. I try to do that every other year or so, and they come back fine, even better than before. I do need to check that heirloom rose, though. It’s in an out of the way corner and I haven’t been back there yet. I like your attitude… the loss of a rose, or any other plant for that matter, opens up a space and sometimes allows us to do something different in that area…

  13. Henrietta says:

    I am waiting to see if our cold winter damaged my bourbon rose.
    I mostly have scrub roses

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Henrietta, I think your Bourbon rose will probably be all right. They are pretty tough stuff. Thanks for stopping by.~~Dee

  14. Songbirdtiff says:

    It’s frustrating to lose perennials. Hopefully we will have a much more kind summer than we did winter!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I sure hope so. We don’t need another bad summer like 2011 in my lifetime. 😀 ~~Dee

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