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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.