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 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 Google “rose rosette disease” and you’ll be inundated with information—much of it outdated or conflicting.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 . 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!

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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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