Rose rosette comes to RDR

A bad case of Rose Rosette disease forming the familiar witch’s broom.

Sometimes, disaster strikes, and you don’t always know until afterward. Last spring, I detected that the new foliage on some of my roses was very red and extremely ruffled. It was like nothing I’d ever seen.

Rose Rosette disease on ‘Zephirine Drouhin’

I watched and wondered.

When I saw the roses weren’t coming out of their rouge-colored funk, through the power of the Internet, I did some research. I remembered an older post of Nan Ondra’s on Gardening Gone Wild where she shared about her roses and rose rosette disease. What she wrote made my heart first shudder and then sink.

Three of my roses looked very similar to hers. Both of the ‘New Dawn’ climbers had it bad. One ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ did also. Later, this summer, I saw horrid foliage on ‘Old Blush.’ The canes are thick and red, but soft, and can easily be snapped off.

As you can see with this map, rose rosette disease is supposed to be in only one county of Oklahoma. However, I can assure you rose rosette is in Logan County and probably other places, and there isn’t much we can do about it other than to remove and destroy any rose we see with symptoms. Do not put the withered canes in the compost pile. Instead, they should be burned. Rose rosette spreads via the air and comes to us courtesy of now invasive R. multiflora introduced into the U.S. in 1886 from Japan for rose rootstock and then, because of its wild habit, encouraged for soil stabilization. Rose rosette isn’t new, but its name has changed over the years. It was once called “Witch’s Broom” and I remember hearing this term when I first starting growing roses in 1983.

Don’t confuse healthy red foliage like this on R. Pink Knockout. Some roses have new red foliage.

Rose rosette is spread by a tiny, eriophyid mite (Phyllocoptes frutiphilus), which infects roses and their relatives, including apples and plums, causing odd foliage, mottled canes, decreased vigor and eventual death. I noticed rose rosette is listed as a biological control for R. multiflora.  Good grief, it could wipe out entire groups of plants along with this invasive rose.

Although it is listed as a disease, you can’t simply treat it with a fungicide. Chemicals, if you are so inclined, are no help either. Your only choice is to dig out the entire plant while making sure to get all of its roots. Although the pathogen is not soil borne (a small blessing), it does remain within the root system of the plant and could possibly spread.

For more good information on this disease, visit Rose Geeks. They’ve studied it for some time. NewsOK also has an article online. It looks to me like there is a lot of conflicting information about the disease. Most sites agree we should dig up the bush and destroy it with fire if possible, thus killing the pathogen. However, such doesn’t take care of the mites which are so tiny they can float on the wind. According to what I’ve read, normal miticides don’t work, but Sevin does appear to offer some benefit. However, it should only be sprayed on neighboring bushes after the infected rose is removed and destroyed. I won’t be spraying it in my garden, even if I lose several roses because I garden organically. Now, if I’m about to lose everything, you might check back with me later. I may change my mind, dress up Hazmat style and wage war.

Back garden with purple crapemyrtles, ‘Mutabilis’ and ‘Cliffs of Dover’ roses.

How did it get into my garden? Unlike other states, I don’t see R. multiflora taking over Oklahoma fields, but a few years ago, I noticed an aberrant rose of R. multiflora’s description growing next to the back garden fence. How it came to be there, I don’t know because the two roses, ‘Mutabilis’ and ‘Cliffs of Dover,’ growing in that bed are not grafted. Most of my roses are grown on their own roots because they seem to be hardier. I can’t remember if there ever was a grafted rose growing nearby, but anything is possible. I cut it below the soil line several times and even dug it out, finally ending its life in the fence line, but it appears R. multiflora left Rose Rosette as a calling card.

R. ‘Old Blush’ at far left was one of two roses which anchored this bed facing the street.

As I dug up ‘Old Blush,’ I kept thinking about that line in It’s a Wonderful Life where the Clarence the angel tells George Bailey, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

‘Old Blush’ dug out at right leaves a very large hole to fill. What shall I plant there?

Of course, roses aren’t people, but when they are part of a garden bed for a long time, they do leave an awfully big hole once they’re gone. With over ninety roses in my gardens, I’m not quite ready to say farewell to all my roses, but I did say a fond adieu today to ‘Old Blush.’ I hope with a quick response I’ve eliminated rose rosette from the garden. Only time will tell.


  1. Dee, thank you for this very in-depth story about this disease. I plan to save it in case it comes our way. And I’m so very sorry about the loss of your roses.

  2. joey says:

    So sorry about your rose plight, Dee. Like saying goodbye to an old friend 🙁 Good info for those with the same problem.

  3. Jennie Brooks says:

    how about Burning Bush? i don’t know much about them but they’re beautiful. didn’t you recently plant one somewhere else in your garden?

  4. I’m so sorry, Dee. I’ve only heard of Witches Broom, but have never actually seen it – thanks for such helpful (though sad) photos!

    Out here in CA we have sporadic areas of Oak Root Fungus (which I call Herpes of the soil). Once you have it, you’ve got it for life. There’s absolutely nothing we can do about it, should we be unfortunate to have it in our soil, except plant resistant plants – which roses are NOT. Oak Root Fungus eats roses like candy…

  5. Kelly says:

    Dee, my heart just sank! I had no idea what was going on with some of my rose bushes! I lost my climbing yellow rose bush (I had named it Ruth after my Aunt Wilma Ruth , who has passed on. She loved yellow roses). It was stricken with rose rosette disease! I have a beautiful white rose bush that has this disease also. I thought I had pruned it wrong. I dread digging it up but it is in the middle of my rose garden.
    Thanks for your valuable information!

  6. My mother calls R. multiflora “wild rose” and it took me a while to figure out what she was talking about. It was planted all through this part of Texas by farmhouses, on cemetery plots, and by the road. I have a small plant of it that is by the old farmhouse foundation and only popped up after I had lived here eight years. The roots must be able to lay dormant a long time.

  7. Lisa Ueda says:

    Oh I am so sorry! It’s so sad, when you know there’s nothing you can do to save a favorite plant (ToT)

  8. Pam/Digging says:

    I remember Nan’s post, and I’m sorry to hear that a few of your roses have fallen victim. I have my fingers crossed for you that you caught it in time to save your others.

    Isn’t it something that you find the plant(s) you really love and can grow well, and then something comes along to get ’em? For me it was agaves and the agave weevil. You learn to live with it, but that doesn’t make it right! 🙂

  9. commonweeder says:

    Dee, this is terrible news. I had never heard of rosette disease. Is it a southern problem? I hope it is now a problem of the past for you.

  10. Ilona says:

    Interesting article, although a sad personal loss – roses are a big part of any garden where they are grown and you grow to love each individual type. There are so many things in a garden which we don’t understand because of the complexity of nature’s balance.

    I hope you find roses resistant to it. Your gardens are beautiful.

  11. Carol says:

    “an awfully big hole”. I’m sorry to hear of this and will watch for it on the few roses that I have. I hope you have caught it in time to save the other roses…

  12. Nan Ondra says:

    Poor Dee. I’m so sorry to hear about your roses getting RRD. Since I wrote that post a few years ago, I’ve lost almost all of my garden roses. The only ones that have shown no symptoms yet are the Knock Outs (Original, Pink, and Blushing). I’ve heard rumblings that they can be affected too, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they will continue to be resistant for a while longer, at least. A garden with no roses is a very sad thing.

  13. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    How disappointing to have the rosette plague invade your roses. I do hope this is the last of it. I will be watching to see what you plant here. Another shrub maybe with some interesting blooms and foliage.?.

  14. gail says:

    Dee, I am sorry that rose rosette has touched your garden~Your roses are gorgeous and a joy to behold! I know what you mean about a hole left in the garden. Several years ago I was worried that I woud have to dig up all the summer phlox because of phlox bug…xxgail

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Gail. I do love the roses, but even if all of them were gone, I would find something else to plant. It would, however, totally change the garden, and actually, I think losing the phlox would be worse. They bloom much, much longer.

  15. Frances says:

    I am so sorry, Dee. I know how you love your roses. We have had to dig and discard several here as well, including one we brought with us from Texas even, Grootendorst Supreme, aka Thorny. Moonlight and About Face also were affected. My daughter Semi has lost About Face and Moonlight as well. It is heart breaking, but also opens the garden for new planting opportunities. We went to Nan’s article as well. It was the first we ever heard of it.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Yes, Nan’s article was my first brush with rose rosette a couple of years ago. I remember thinking I was glad it wasn’t in my garden. Now, I have it too. Like you wrote, it opens up new opportunities because I won’t plant another rose in ‘Old Blush’s’ place.

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