The Q&A Archives: Leaveless

Question: I have several rose bushes. There has been several roses on each bush. However, the stems do not have any leaves. Help!!

Answer: Based on your description, I am not sure what has happened to your rose bushes.

If they were badly flooded during the recent rains, they may have defoliated in response to that. If this is what happened, they may leaf out and recover naturally. There is not too much you can except wait and see.

If the plants seemed healthy but suddenly the leaves disappeared, they may have been eaten by deer or some other animal. There are spray on repellents that can be used to deter animals, these are sold at the garden center.

If you noticed holes being chewed in the foliage, it may be Japanese beetle damage. The beetles can be handpicked and droppped into soapy water, or you can try spraying with a product containing neem to repel them.

If they had black spots on the leaves and then the leaves turned yellow and fell off, they are most likely severely affected with black spot. Here is information about that.

Unfortunately, many rose varieties have little or no resistance to black spot. Innate susceptibility plus the weather as well as cultural conditions can all contribute to it appearing and to its severity in a given year.

This is a fungal infection. Damp conditions would of course encourage it to develop. Once black spot appears for the season, it is difficult to control. In general, remove affected leaves as soon as they appear and then replace the mulch immediately beneath the plant to try to keep the disease spores from splashing back up onto it. Keep the plant lightly thinned to promote air circulation and make sure it is planted in a location with good air circulation and in enough sun. If you water, avoid watering the foliage and water in the morning rather than at night. Finally, each winter, remove all of the leaves from the plant and dispose of them. Then replace the mulch beneath the plants. Also remove any prunings from the area. Then spray the plant and the ground below it with a copper or sulfur based fungicide. These steps should help limit reinfection.

Once you see signs of it developing, you can pick off the affected leaves, and consider spraying. People have reported success using products containing neem oil or containing sulfur (read and follow the label instructions carefully), or using a home-made spray containing one part milk and two to three parts water. Although some people also report success using a baking soda based spray, it can burn the foliage on some sensitive roses and according to the American Rose Society is better as a preventive than a treatment. It is usually a good idea to test spray a few leaves, wait a few days, and make sure there is no adverse reaction prior to spraying the entire plant -- some roses are extremely sensitive to sprays of any kind.

If your plants are in pots, you may also want to spray the pots and surrounding patio or deck to try to keep the spores from splashing back up onto the plants. (Test and make sure the spray will not damage these surfaces.)

Unfortunately, if you have a plant that is particularly susceptible to black spot you may never get rid of it permanently without a regular spray routine plus some cooperation from the weather and maybe some extra good luck. I'm sorry I can't be more encouraging.

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