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With the prevalence of RRD attacking Knockouts, I thought it might be good to get a refresher on this devasting problem.
Rosette disease of roses is caused by a virus-like organism.
It is most likely spread by a type of mite (the eriophyid). It first spread
through the wild rose population (Rosa multiflora) in the US. It has now
attacked cultivated roses.
The symptoms of rose rosette disease (RRD) are very
interesting-and they can be quite variable. Some symptoms include rapid
elongation of new shoots, development of witches brooms or clustering of very
small branches at stem tips. Leaves in the witch’s brooms will be small,
distorted, and sometimes red in color; affected canes can be thicker than
normal canes. The most reliable method
of identification is the appearance of a huge number of soft, pliable red or
green thorns on affected stems. Flower
buds may also be affected, with flowers changing color, aborted buds, or
conversion to leafy tissue.
Rose plants affected by rosette disease will usually die in
one or two years. There are no effective controls for this disease; any suspect
roses should be removed immediately from the garden.
Some other information from Sandy Feather, an Extension
While 'Knock Out' roses are resistant to common rose diseases such
as black spot, they are as susceptible as any other rose to rose rosette
disease. This disease has been spreading through wild multiflora rose
populations in the
since the 1940s, and now it has spread throughout the East.
Multiflora rose (
introduced to this country in the late 1800s as an ornamental and for use as a
hardy rootstock for grafting more tender varieties of roses. In the 1930s and
'40s, multiflora rose was promoted by the Department of Agriculture Soil
Conservation Service for erosion control, strip mine reclamation and use as a
living fence because of its dense, thorny growth habit. We now know that it is
a terrible weed due to its ability to grow and thrive in less than ideal
situations and its ability to produce prolific seed crops.
Multiflora rose is extremely susceptible to rose rosette disease,
and it kills infected plants in about two years. As a matter of fact, the
disease is so efficient at killing multiflora rose that it has been considered
for use in controlling this pest. Unfortunately, rose rosette disease can also
infect our garden roses, including hybrid teas, floribundas, miniatures,
climbers, shrub roses and old-fashioned garden roses.
Although we have known about this disease for a long time, the
true identity of the causal organism was not known for certain. It had long
been thought that the culprit was a virus, but other organisms such as
phytoplasmas had also been considered. That changed in 2011 when researchers at
An extremely tiny (1/100 of an inch long and 1/400 of inch wide)
eriophyid mite, Phyllocoptes fructiphilus, spreads the virus from plant to
plant. They typically feed on shoot tips and at the bases of leaf stems
(petioles). These mites are wingless, and are blown from plant to plant by the
wind. The virus is also spread when infected (but asymptomatic) roses are
grafted to propagate named varieties of roses.
Rose rosette disease is systemic and has been found in all parts
of infected plants except for the seeds. The causal agent is not soil-borne, so
roses can be successfully replanted where infested roses have been removed.
However, removal must be very thorough so that no pieces of infected root are
left behind that could re-sprout.
There is still no definitive laboratory test for the disease, so
diagnosis is based on a range of symptoms that vary from species to species,
even cultivar to cultivar, and with different stages of infection. Symptoms
• New growth at inappropriate times of the year.
• Rapid stem elongation.
• Bright red to dark red mosaic patterns on the leaves. While many
varieties of roses have red-colored new growth, it hardens off to green. With
rose rosette disease, it stays red.
• Infected plants produce numerous lateral shoots, known as
witches brooms, that create bunches of growth at the tips of canes. These
shoots are often bright red.
• Leaves are smaller than normal or they may be badly distorted in
a way resembling herbicide damage. Some garden roses show red or pink-colored
• Some canes produce only sparse red and/or yellow foliage; others
die and turn brown. On garden roses, symptoms come and go. At times, the plant
may seem to recover. Many garden roses can go on like this for four or five years.
• On garden roses, certain canes produce an overabundance of
thorns (hyperprickliness). These canes usually die back in the fall. Some
short, deformed canes produce more buds than usual and smaller-than-normal or
badly distorted leaves. Again, the distortion is similar to herbicide damage.
Powdery mildew becomes a problem on roses that are normally resistant.
Although there is no chemical control for rose rosette disease,
there are steps you can take to protect your roses. First of all, monitor
nearby populations of multiflora roses, especially those upwind of your garden,
for the symptoms described above. Because they are so susceptible, they can be
early warning of the disease's presence in your neighborhood. If possible,
eliminate any multiflora roses growing within 300 feet of your garden. Because
they do not die quickly from the disease, they serve as a reservoir of
The best course of action is to remove and destroy garden roses
that show any of the symptoms as soon as you notice them. Be sure to send them
out with the trash or burn them rather than composting them.
Controlling the mites is not as easy as it sounds; they are active
from May through September, they are not visible to the naked eye, and they
reproduce very rapidly, especially during hot, dry weather.
While there are recommendations for commercial nurseries to
control the mites, the most effective materials are not available to home
gardeners. Because they are not insects, traditional insecticides that home
gardeners use may not control them. What's more, those insecticides can kill
beneficial insects that keep other rose pests in check, so you can wind up with
an outbreak of another pest.
Monitoring your roses carefully and getting rid of any that show
suspicious growth is the most practical course of action.