Rose Rosette Disease in Oklahoma

P. Allen Smith's new rose garden at Moss Mountain Farm.
P. Allen Smith’s new rose garden at Moss Mountain Farm.

Last week, when I was at the second annual Garden2Blog, I asked Allen if he’s seen any Rose Rosette Disease in Little Rock. He knew immediately what I was talking about, and he said he hadn’t seen “witch’s broom,” the more common name for what is currently being classified as a rose virus. As we sat in Allen’s new and exquisite rose garden, I thought . . . No, I hoped RRD wouldn’t touch his peaceful valley dedicated to Lady Elizabeth Ashbrook, his friend and mentor. One of the reasons I attended Garden2Blog this year was to see the new rose garden at Moss Mountain Farm. Bloggers saw plans last spring, but now the garden is a reality. I love to see things come to fruition.

Rose bed at Moss Mountain Farm. It's a new garden, but one day, those roses will climb up into the tuteurs. Rose Rosette Disease in Oklahoma.
Rose bed at Moss Mountain Farm. It’s a new garden, but one day, those roses will climb up into the tuteurs.

Steve Hutton, President of The Conard-Pyle Company, which distributes the Knockout® family of roses and many other roses including the Romantica® Collection, Star® Roses and Drift® roses in the U.S., talked to us about new, disease-resistant cultivars, the star of which is Francis Meilland™,  the 2013 AARS winner. I’m testing two Star® roses in my garden this summer, ‘Meikanaro’ a/k/a Sunshine Daydream, the 2012 AARS winner, and another cultivar I’ve yet to identify–as it came without a tag. As Steve talked, all I could think about was Rose Rosette, and how it is spreading rapid-fire throughout central Oklahoma. After he finished, I asked him his thoughts about RRD. I was encouraged that Conard-Pyle is well aware of the problem. In fact, their company is funding research through the University of Arkansas. Here is their statement which they sent me when I emailed them after I returned home from Arkansas:

“Conard-Pyle is working with Dr. Ioannis E. Tzanetakis at the University of Arkansas.  Conard-Pyle is really committed to combatting RRD, and continues to aggressively fund and coordinate research on many different levels with many industry professionals.”

You may not know, but Rose Rosette Disease flourishes in Oklahoma, especially in Edmond, where the original Knockouts® have been planted anywhere there was room, Rose Rosette flourishes, and it seems attracted to the Knockouts®. Perhaps, it is because they are planted so close together so that RRD spreads more easily. It could also be because Knockouts® grow so quickly, and the virus simply shows up in them first. In Edmond, I’ve only seen it on the original red so far. I find it odd that the original Knockouts® are being hit so hard in the city because, thus far, none of my Knockouts® indicate the disease. I grow the original Knockout®, Rainbow Knockout®, Double Knockout®, single Pink Knockout®, Blushing Knockout® and ‘Radsun’ a/k/a Carefree Sunshine. I also grow the later introductions: Home Run® and Winner’s Circle®. These roses are the backbone of my disease-resistant garden, and I would be sad to lose them.

To identify RRD, look for large, tender shoots showing unusual thorns and foliage that looks sickly and broom-like such as this below. By the time you see the “witch’s broom,” the disease is well on its way to killing your rose.

Rose Rosette Disease on my 'Zephirine Drouhin' rose. Note the sickly pinkish color, and the misshapen roses behind the "witch's broom."
Rose Rosette Disease on my ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ rose. Note the sickly pinkish color, and the misshapen roses behind the “witch’s broom.”

In 2010, I lost one ‘Zephirine Drouhin’, an ‘Old Blush’ shrub, and two ‘New Dawn‘ climbers to this scourge. Because current literature states there is no cure, I dug all four roses and disposed of them in plastic bags in a dumpster at our company, far, far away from anyone’s roses. Landscapers need to take this problem seriously and dig up effected roses immediately and plant something else in their place. Wingless, microscopic Eriophyid mites carried on air currents spread the disease from plant to plant.

To combat the disease, space roses far enough apart to keep these non-flying mites from spreading the virus. I also grow my roses as shrubs with other plants. I hope this helps retard the disease’s progress in my garden. Note that chemicals have limited success on Eriophyid mites. I don’t use chemicals, but the Virginia Extension Service indicates what does work if you want to go the chemical route. Miticides for spider mites apparently do not work.

From the Virginia Cooperative Extension (emphasis added):

“Some symptoms, such as leaf coloration, may be subtle. Although some diseased plants develop very obvious red pigmentation, others exhibit a less striking reddish pink color on leaf undersides or along the margins of otherwise green leaves. Since the new leaves of many rose cultivars normally have reddish pigments, it may be difficult to determine whether the reddish color is abnormal or not. Therefore, it is important to continue to monitor symptoms on suspect roses. On RRD-infected plants, the reddish color does not go away, whereas on healthy plants, the reddish color usually disappears as the leaf matures. Witches’ brooms on some diseased plants may be an unusual color of green that can be mistaken for symptoms of a nutrient deficiency. However, nutrient deficiency should affect the whole plant. If these symptoms appear only on parts of the plant, they are probably not due to nutrient deficiency, and RRD is more likely.”

The people from Conard-Pyle stated that any rose with Rosa chinensis in its background was susceptible to the virus. This news especially saddened me because R. chinensis is in almost every modern rose. It is what makes roses remontant, or reblooming.

I am concerned for anyone in Edmond who grows roses. If you see roses with RRD, consult the local authorities and refer them to online sources about the disease. Roses with RRD must be destroyed, but not composted. Also, because any roots retain the virus, you cannot plant roses in the same spot unless you dig two feet of soil from the area where the roses were and remove all of the roots. Do you know hard it is to completely remove rose roots? I still get shoots of ‘New Dawn’ now and then. I dig and destroy them.

This is a very serious problem. I’m grateful that Conard-Pyle is trying desperately to solve it. It saddens me to think I might one day have a garden without the scent of roses, but I’m willing to destroy every plant to halt this plague if I must. I hope it won’t come to that.

Note: As with all of those who attended Garden2Blog 2012, I received transportation, accommodations and meals during the event. I did come one day early and pay for my own hotel room. Event sponsors, like Conard-Pyle provided information, samples and product giveaways at no cost or obligation. Before I attended Garden2Blog, Conard-Pyle sent me two roses to test in my garden at no charge. All of the other roses mentioned in this blog piece like the Knockouts® I grow I paid for with my own money. I’ve grown Knockouts® since they arrived on the scene years ago, and I love their carefree ways. 


  1. Donna says:

    Hi, I remember you from the Iris Club, where I was a guest of Sadie’s. Your website is looking great, is easy to use and full of good info. I’m so sorry you lost such wonderful roses to this disease (with a pretty name). Interesting to hear about your conversations with people in the rose industry. It certainly could be a devastating problem for them, as well.

    I had RRD in my huge & wonderful Belinda’s Dream last year and didn’t know what it was. Therefore, I let it remain all summer, as it still had so many blooms. In the meantime, I cut blooms from plant to plant. I found out about RRD in October and had the rose bush removed. I guess the mite had already spread (by my cuttings) and it’s own means….so that this summer it has spread to: 1 Abraham Darby, 1 Hot Cocoa, 2 Carumba’s, 1 New Zealand, 2 Carefree Celebrations, 5 unknowns, 1 pink Radler shrub creation that I really love (but don’t remember the name) So many roses….. all of these are in my backyard, in mixed cottage garden type beds. I have many other roses in the backyard and I’m hoping they escape. I have 5 different types of knock-outs that don’t have it…. yet.

    I plan to remove all the diseased on Thursday. I already bought lots of day lilies and other hardy perennials to take their places until I think the mites are gone. Having the new plants waiting to take their places in the garden will help with the depressing business of killing all those rose bushes. Roses were the joyful backbone of my cottage garden. I am writing down my favorites to replace in a year or two.

    So far, I don’t see the disease in any of my front yard roses, I’m hoping they have distance in their favor. Thank you for all the information.
    Donna (in Edmond)

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Donna, that is so sad. I weep for your losses. Truly. Not only are they so sad, but also, just removing all those roses would be a nightmare. While we have cooler weather could I make a suggestion? Spray any other roses with Neem oil. It’s a natural miticide (although not the best miticide on the market, it is organic.) That should help protect the other roses from any mites which are left because if you remove all of these, it will stir up the mite.

      Again, thank you for visiting. I’m terribly sorry.

  2. Chris says:

    Well it’s officially now here in Birmingham,Al. I Have 21 knock out roses that will now be knocked out by this devastating disease by the end of the summer. My only question now is , is the soil now also diseased? I am truly thankful to have read about this as I didn’t know what was going on with these roses that have been established now for 4 years…it’s very upsetting to know there really is nothing truly resistant is there?

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Chris, I am so very sorry. I tell that to all who are suffering with this plague. Chris, if you take out the Knockouts which are diseased, you might spare the others. It all depends on how close they are together. The mites can’t fly. As for removal, the soil is not diseased, but have you ever dug out a rose? If you have, you know you can’t get all the roots out. If the roots of your new rose touch the old diseased ones, they can supposedly get the disease. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough information about RRD yet. It is often called Rose AIDS, and it reminds me of how things were when people first learned of AIDS. Human beings of course are much more important than roses, but I still feel your pain. There is nothing truly resistant which has repeat blooming thus far.~~Dee

  3. Lynn says:

    I appreciate this article and the various comments. I live in Middle TN and found this awful disease last week on one of my large 5 year old Knockouts. My local nursery didn’t know exactly what it was and were asking around to see what it was called. So I’ve been researching this thing myself. It didn’t take me long to find many articles on it. I can only guess it’s not widespread here in TN yet. But yesterday I saw evidence on my next Knockout down the line and I’m sure it has/will infect the next, etc. I dug up the first one and guess I’ll dig up the next one today. My Knockouts were my pride and joy. I’m not a gardener and have never been able to grow anything that came close to the beauty of these huge, double red, Knockouts. I also have two very large, very old climbing red roses that of course touch the Knockouts. So I guess they will be next. To say I’m sick is an understatement. But I really want to re-plant because I got so much joy from them. What would be the best time to re-plant? And even though I will dig out all roots, etc. is there anything I can treat the holes with? Wonder if I should wait a year? Thanks everyone.
    From Lynn, the non-gardener. p.s. I just planted 200+ daylilies. I’ve also been told they are low maintenance and you can’t kill them. We’ll see!

    1. Christine says:

      As a gardener in nashville garden’s, I have found it, I now work in Brentwood and Franklin, mostly in subdivisions where the knockouts are planted ad nuasium. It is rampant. Not only spread by the wind but by landscapers that prune these shrubs like they would a boxwood or holly….going from rose to rose, rounding them like a boxwood, transmitting the disease from rose to rose, one property to the next. I am talking about hundreds of these roses. I have never seen this disease until this year.

      1. Dee Nash says:

        Yes, Christine, I think they way landscapers deal with the roses has a lot to do with spread of the disease. You make very good points. I’m hopeful they’ll find a cure, but I’m not holding my breath.

    2. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Lynn, I’m sorry. I’m just seeing this. I’m terribly sorry about your roses. Yes, we all thought Knockouts were going to be the ticket to low care, but they are being wiped out in my state, at least the red, originals are. I keep hearing from more and more people. As for daylilies, they are wonderful plants. Easy to grow and if you get enough cold weather, you won’t have to worry about daylily rust in your garden. Yes, get rid of the roses with the disease. Maybe it won’t spread.

    3. Al says:

      Lynn, RRD has arrived in Bartlett, TN, just outside Memphis. I am digging up six rose bushes that are infected, several of which are Knockouts. Just noticed the symptoms last month and didn’t know of the disease until I did some research on the ‘Net. I hope this does not doom my 60 or so other roses. Guess I’ll be planting other shrubs and perennials.


  4. Jaquine Hudson Bly says:

    I am so sad … so far I have lost (removed and burned) two old roses to RRD and I am just holding my breath as I watch all my other rose bushes (8). My one Knockout seems OK so far… I just need to be more vigilant about cleaning my nippers.
    from Jaquine
    southeast of Lexington OK

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Jaquine, I can’t tell you how sorry I am. I definitely feel your pain. I wait every spring and watch for this noxious virus to raise its ugly head in my garden. Only time will tell if I’ve stopped it here. Yes, clean anything you use around the roses. Just carry some bleach solution around with you.

  5. Carolyn Cline says:

    I am so grateful to have found this site. I have been trying to discover what went wrong with my beautiful New Dawn and now I am afraid that I know. I live in Winchester, VA, it is in the north western part of the state. .Your article has been so informative. I am in the process of removing the entire HUGE climber that hs adorned my back arbor entrance. I will sorely miss it. I am afraid that the disease has alredy attacked my two other rose bushes, antique roses. Do you think that the Knockout is the cause of this outbreak? Everyone and their neighbor now has at least one or two in their yards. It is suspicious that the knockout has become so very popular at the same time th RRD has sprung up. Should I destroy my other two roses and not plant any more? I am so sad about this, however, I am old enough to know that ignorance is not bliss. Thank you, Carolyn from Virginia

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Carolyn, first let me say I am so sorry about your roses. No, I don’t think it’s the Knockout per se. Instead, I think Knockouts are like canaries in the coal mine. They grow so fast that they show symptoms first. Plus, if they grow quickly, then the disease can spread even more quickly. It’s clear that the virus comes originally from Rosa multiflora which was planted all over the U.S. It’s been a problem out east for quite awhile. Now, my part of the world is struggling with it.

  6. Carol says:

    Good info, Dee. I’ve never seen it here in Indiana, but I will be watching my few roses closely. Good luck and may you see no more of it your garden.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Yes, keep your eyes on it Carol. RRD comes out of nowhere.

  7. Mary Ellen says:

    Dee – It was great to visit with you last week. Interesting post. I recently saw a rose with RRD at an outdoor mall and I had a New Dawn on my porch rail that I cut down that had it. So we have it in Little Rock. 🙁

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Yuck. I hate that for all of you. I hope, Mary Ellen, that it doesn’t continue to spread. It is a plague for roses in my opinion. Loved seeing you again.

  8. Linda says:

    Several of our clients have lost roses to Rose Rosette disease. One of the clients wanted them left in her garden until they finally died after three or four years. Pruners and gloves exclusively for her roses came with us whenever we worked in her garden. “Nearly Wild” is ubiquitous, and seems especially susceptible around here – haven’t seen it on Knockouts yet.

    LOVED the rose garden – saw it last fall at the Tale of Two Farms event. It’s amazing how established it looks already.

    Fantastic to see you again, Dee!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Linda, I loved getting to know you better. We gluten free types need to stick together at these events. 🙂 I’m so sorry RRD has made it to beautiful Chicago. That makes me very sad. The spread of it in just a few years nearly takes my breath away.

  9. Wonderful informative post, Dee, especially for those of us who grow roses. There are many multiflora roses near my garden, and this makes me nervous. Moss Mountain Farm looks like a beautiful retreat. P. x

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Pam, if I were you, I would be nervous too. Heck, I’m nervous anyway. It’s a nightmare.

  10. I read about Rosette disease just recently in one of my garden magazines and then while in the extension office, the extension agent and I were talking about it. I have witches broom on a tree in my woods, but no other place. Hope it doesn’t spread to any of my cultivated plants.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Janet, I hope not too. It’s a nightmare just removing the roses, and oh so sad.

  11. Sonia Kirk says:

    I went to a seminar at TLC in Edmond and they were talking about the virus. So glad you showed a picture…I had no idea it was that widespread in Edmond. I live next to Lake Hefner so hoping the virus doesn’t affect my neighborhood! So sad! I have been growing knockouts for about 5 years. None of my neighbors grow roses so maybe I am safe from the spread of the virus. I have added three new plants this spring. Will be on the watch for RDD. Thanks for giving us such great information. Hope they come up with a “cure” or treatment for our favorites and certainly hope you don’t lose any more plants!

    Miss Bloomers

    1. Ashley says:

      I have heard that TLC is not even carrying roses right now because of RRD. Is this true. I live by Penn Square Mall and had to remove both of my new Knockout bushes. I have also noticed that both my next door neighbors have it too. After I found out about this, driving around Edmond this past weekend, I have noticed it everywhere. My parents have about 8-10 bushes that have been affected. So sad.

      1. Dee Nash says:

        Hi Ashley, thanks for stopping by. Well, I hadn’t heard that about TLC, and unless it’s a new development, I think they still have roses. I bought three there this spring to replace some which had died from different causes. They all looked good. When I was by there the other day, I saw some of the Drift roses. They are usually out of roses after Mother’s Day. I ‘m so sorry you had to remove your Knockouts. I still have many on my property. I worry I’ll lose all of my roses before this is all over.

    2. Dee Nash says:

      Sonia, I’m glad TLC is finally talking about the virus. At first, no one wanted to discuss it, but we must. People need to be aware. I hope they come up with a cure too.

  12. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I don’t have many roses so I ill have to look up what it is. The new Rose garden at P Allen’s is a beauty. His estate is becoming a jewel.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Yes, Lisa, the garden is so lovely. I hope he never sees RRD.

  13. That is too bad Dee. We have enough with the onslaught of the emerald ash borers all around us…I hope we do not see this disease…I also grow mainly Knockouts

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Oh Donna, there are so many things now. Pine Wilt Disease on our pine trees, boxwood blight, RRD, and yes, the horrible emerald ash borers just to name a few. I don’t think it matters much which rose you grow anymore. Any of them can be susceptible I’m sorry to say.

  14. Thanks for the heads-up, Dee. I just did a quick Google search, and it doesn’t seem to have arrived in Ontario yet. But I’ll keep my eyes peeled. This sounds tragic.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Helen, perhaps it won’t travel into Canada. Maybe the mites can’t survive your winters. We can hope anyway.

  15. Have you heard. as I have, that Rosa multiflora is a host to the mite without being killed by the disease? R. multiflora was already an invasive pest, and this adds insult to injury! But maybe it will also be a clue as to how to combat the problem. If roses with R. chinensis in their gene pool are more vulnerable, perhaps breeding roses with R. multiflora genes will make them more resistant. One can hope…

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Yes, I have, and it was planted all over the U.S. as a hedge on farmland. I do hope they discover a cure, but I’m watching mine for now.

  16. Frances says:

    Thank you for showing us the finished rose garden in the first shot. The brick and iron work is simply superb. It would be terrible for that new garden to get RRD. I have lost several roses of different types, hybrid tea, floribunda, antique own root, climbers, nothing seems safe from it. My knockouts have not been affected, so far, but like you I have them planted in mixed beds, not close together. We much be vigilant and I hope something can be found to stop this dreadful scourge.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Frances, isn’t it pretty? I look forward to seeing it “all grown up.”

  17. Layanee says:

    This disease sounds dreadful especially with little treatment available. Good to know that research is being done to battle this scourge. May you have a RRD free rose garden this season.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Layanee, it behooves all of them to do research. The entire rose industry is at stake. Let’s hope it’s all gone. Didn’t see any in 2011.

  18. Gail says:

    Dee, It makes me sad to think of your rose losses…and I hope they figure out a solution soon. PAS’s new garden looks ancient and beautiful~thank you for sharing. xogail

    1. Dee Nash says:

      It makes me sad too, but I’ve found natives to put in those roses’ places. It will be okay, but RRD could kill the rose industry if they’re not careful.

  19. Susan Cohan says:

    I thought it was really interesting that PAS made the comparing Rose Rosette to the early AIDS epidemic. There are parallels I think. It has spread quickly and no one really knows if it’s a virus or not. The biggest difference is that roses aren’t people…

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I thought it was Steve who compared it to HIV and how they don’t know exactly what it is, virus or disease. It is often called Rose AIDS because it is systemic and will eventually kill the entire plant. Plus, right now, it’s incurable. Of course, people are much more important that roses.

  20. Excellent information for all rose growers. The remedy is so harsh, I hope that growers & retailers up their vigilance so gardeners can be spared the heartache.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Me too MMD. Me too. I’d hate to lose them all. Nan Ondra told me she has.

  21. Chris says:

    Valuable information here. Glad to hear work is being done to discover more. Blessings to you!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Chris. Blessings to you too. I hope it stays away from your state.

  22. Sue says:

    Thanks Dee,
    This came just as I was researching what was wrong with my Double Knock Out ‘Radtko’. I will be very sad to loose it. By the way I live in far SW OKC, so it has spread down here.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Oh Sue. I am so sorry. I hope you and I don’t lose many more.

  23. Dave says:

    Great post Dee! I know of a few people here in Tennessee who have had some incidences of the rosette virus. Definitely not something we want to see.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Dave, thank you. I know Fairegarden lost a couple, and I’ve heard of more in TN. I’m so sorry.

  24. Donna says:

    I live in Alabama and RRD has destroyed my New Dawn rose. My wild un-named rose is now under attack. I have lots of roses in this particular area, so I assume they will all be lost. Thanks for the information.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Donna, I’m so very sorry. Losing ‘New Dawn’ leaves a terrible hole. If you dig quickly though and dispose, you may not lose your other roses. It’s a harsh reality, but we might be able to save some of our roses this way.

  25. Martha says:

    Glad you had the opportunity to attend and let us know about the gardens, Dee. As always we feel like we made the trip and saw what you saw – without the hassle!

    Muskogee” Honor Heights Park has lost its somewhat famous rose gardens to disease. They have tried everything – removing all the plants, all the soil, putting in new soil and plants and still disease persists in the new plantings.

    But, gardeners are a resilient lot – we just plant something new.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thanks Martha. It was a really hot day in that garden. 🙂 Yes, I’ve planted a native wisteria in the places where I lost two roses. I also planted a native, coral honeysuckle where I lost ‘New Dawn.’ We are truly resilient.

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