Rose Rosette Virus and My Changing Garden

Submitted by Dee Nash, August Blogger of the Month

Back garden with roses-impMy English Cottage garden in spring is full of roses
blooming for all their worth.

When I designed and planted my ornamental garden over twenty years ago, I was smitten with roses and English cottage garden style. I started my first blog, Red Dirt Ramblings in 2007, and I’ve probably written more about roses than any other topic. I still love these prickly shrub and their beautiful flowers, but a dark and deadly disease changed the way I look at roses and my garden now.

Rose Rosette disease 10-5-2010 1-43-36 AM-impWitch’s Broom on ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ rose, my first sighting
of Rose Rosette virus. Ugly, isn’t it?

Looking back over my posts, I see that I wrote about roses with joy until 2010. In late July 2009, I saw my first witch’s broom, a marker of Rose Rosette Disease (now called Rose Rosette Virus or RRV) on Rosa ‘Zephirine Drouhin.’ I wrote about it a year later because it took me that long to figure out what was going on. Until I did, I just kept cutting off the diseased foliage not realizing I was probably spreading the disease around to my other roses. ’Zephirine Drouhin’ is a Bourbon introduced in 1868. It can be grown as a large bush, or as a climber. It is a thornless and pretty rose with a remarkable damask fragrance. I placed one shrub on each side of a gated arbor entrance to my back garden because I knew it wouldn’t scratch my children’s arms as they ran in and out of the gate. By the time one ‘Zephirine’ succumbed to RRV, Megan and Brennan were nearly grown.

Photo #3, Rosa 'Zephirine Drouhin'-imp‘Zephirine Droughin’ Caption: ‘Zephirine Droughin’ before it
showed any sign of disease.

The next roses to depart were two gigantic ‘New Dawn’ climbers at the end of the garden. I’ve since planted an American honeysuckle to climb the right side of the arbor, and I put two Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’ on either side. This hydrangea can be grown in full sun. They haven’t reached their full size and potential yet, but eventually, they will. This is one of the problems with RRV. It creates holes in the garden that must be filled with something else. Although some will say you can plant another rose where a diseased rose once grew, I don’t take the chance. Although RRV isn’t in the soil, it’s thought to remain in the roots of diseased roses. Have you ever dug up an established rose? It’s nearly impossible to remove all of the roots.

Hole where 'Old Blush Once GrewTwo ‘Old Blush roses were planted as sentinels at either end of this
freestanding bed. One got RRV.
It left a very large hole when I removed it.

Before RRV started killing my roses, I had over ninety in the garden, and they were healthy and happy. I focused mainly on heirlooms. All the amazing names and stories behind antique roses struck my fancy. At first, I sprayed them occasionally with fungicides, but that all changed when I read information about how fungicides affect pollinators. Instead of working toward the perfect show rose, I turned to more disease resistant varieties. I read an article about Dr. Griffith Buck and his work with disease resistant roses for over 30 years at Iowa State University. I still grow several Buck roses, including ‘Applejack’, his first success, ’Carefree Beauty’ (my favorite of his roses), ’Country Dancer’ and ‘April Moon.’ Some of his named varieties have more disease resistance than others, but most are somewhere in the parentage of modern disease resistant roses.

Rosa Carefree Beauty'‘Carefree Beauty’ which is easily found on its own roots at
Antique Rose Emporium and Chamblee’s Roses,
is still my favorite Buck rose.

I also planted several of the Knockout® family of roses. Some people think RRV began with Knockouts. That’s just not so. According to Clemson University Cooperative Extension, “Rose rosette disease was first detected in California, Wyoming, and Manitoba Canada in 1941.” A Japanese rose, R. multiflora is a carrier. Farmers brought R. multiflora to the U.S. for hedgerows, but, like Japanese honeysuckle, it soon became invasive. R. multiflora has now not only spread itself throughout much of the Eastern U.S., it’s also spread RRV through a wingless mite and other possible methods.

Knockout with Skyrocket behind it 5-7-2010 11-24-55 PM-imp An original Knockout rose with the climber ‘Skyrocket’ in one of my borders.
Both are still apparently healthy as of this summer. However, I recently
dug out a Double Knockout planted at the end of the border that had
succumbed to the disease.

As the Missouri Botanical Garden states in their easily understood article on RRV, “The disease can be transmitted by grafting and by an eriophyid mite, a wingless mite that can travel passively in the wind.” Well, I can attest that those stupid mites spread mightily throughout the garden despite their wingless status.

rose rosette (1 of 1)-impI found RRV on my only remaining ‘Cl. Old Blush’ rose yesterday.
I’ll be removing it as soon as possible.

When I first wrote about RRV coming to my garden, no one was talking or writing about this disease except one other blogger and writer, Nan Ondra, on her blog, Hayefield and as a contributor to Gardening Gone Wild. Nan lives and gardens in Pennyslvania so RRV hit her first. Although I was sad to see she’d lost her roses to this nasty disease, it was comforting to find information and know I wasn’t crazy. Now, every university with a horticultural bent, including our own OSU, is studying and writing about it. With good reason, because this disease could bring down the rose industry. Although I’ve recently read online articles stating RRV is helpful to farmers because it attacks the invasive R. multiflora. I say, “Harrumph!” to that.

So far, I’ve written five blog posts—if you include this one—on RRV. When you have 100 roses in your English cottage style garden, RRV is a real danger to the style and form of the “garden rooms” you tried to create.

Does RRV mean I’ll no longer grow roses? No, I added four this year, but I always plant them in a spot where not other sickly rose has grown. If you don’t have RRV in your garden yet, count your lucky stars and keep an eye out for it. It’s all over Edmond and Tulsa, and I’ve heard it is spreading throughout the state. If only, it would instead attack the Juniperus virginiana, Eastern red cedars taking over Oklahoma pastures, but that’s a whole other rant, ‘er post.

Here are my four strategies for dealing with RRV:

  1. If you see any weird foliage resembling RRV, you can either have it tested, or just remove the shrub. I vote for immediate removal because by the time it shows up on roses, it is already spreading through your garden. Stop RRV in its tracks. You can’t simply cut out the foliage and hope it hasn’t spread. If you see it in one spot, it has most likely spread throughout that rose’s system. Get rid of it. Roses aren’t that expensive. You can buy another. Bag and dispose of any diseased roses. Do not compost them.
  2. When deadheading or pruning, be diligent about spraying clippers with alcohol and wiping them down. While not everyone agrees you can spread the virus through rose maintenance, I’m sure you can. Plus, cleaning your tools between cutting is a good garden practice anyway.
  3. Don’t panic. I lost many roses when I first figured out what was wrong, but it had been in my garden for awhile. Once I removed these shrubs, I didn’t see RRV in my garden for several years. I will remove two shrubs this year, but I’m still not panicked.
  4. No hybrid roses are bullet proof when it comes to RRV. However, you can buy cultivars that are resistant to many other diseases. Buy those if you don’t want to spray. Spraying won’t help with RRV anyway. I also try to buy roses grown on their own roots because they tend to be stronger. I’ve also only bought one grafted Hybrid Tea in years, and it was ‘South Africa’ this spring. We’ll see if it survives.

Rosa 'Abraham Darby'‘Abraham Darby’ is an English or David Austin rose that is very beautiful.
It is worth the extras trouble, and I would hate to lose it to Rose Rosette Virus.

Although battling RRV seems overwhelming, we can do it together. If you see a rose with damage, educate the rose grower or homeowner. Offer to help them dig up diseased shrubs because doing so can seem overwhelming to the average homeowner. Show them this post or other articles about how quickly RRV spreads. Even though RRV is called Rose AIDS, it doesn’t have to be a death sentence for a genus that inspired romance, poetry and is even featured in more than one Agatha Christie mystery. We can beat RRV if we are diligent and help each other. We simply must because we have too much to lose.

Dee Nash1

Along with being the Oklahoma Women Bloggers blogger of the month for August, Dee Nash is an award-winning professional writer, speaker and garden coach. Born and raised in Oklahoma, Dee lives with her husband, children, two dogs and one cat. Find her at Red Dirt Ramblings, The 20-30 Something Garden Guide or Dee Nash.
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  1. Dee, As one who “dabbles” in gardening, I’m in awe of your expertise and your amazing garden. An English cottage garden is my ultimate dream, but lacking space and skill, I will probably never realize it. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    • Dee Nash says:

      Hi Dee Dee, thank you so much. I think with the English cottage garden style one needs to lack knowledge to get started. Here’s why…if you knew how much time and effort this style takes, no one would take on the challenge. However, I love flowers so I keep gardening on. Thanks again for your kind words.~~Dee

  2. Hi outstanding blog! Does running a blog similar to this require a massive amount work?
    I have no understanding of computer programming however I had been hoping to start my own blog soon. Anyway, should you have any recommendations or techniques for new blog owners please
    share. I understand this is off topic nevertheless I simply wanted to ask.
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  3. Nancy says:

    Hi, love your carefree beauty, can you tell me how tall and wide it is?…I am hoping to make a hedge with them. Thanks.

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