How to Revive a Dying Rose Bush

Why is my rose bush dying

Are your prized rose bushes dying back, and you are unsure why? Do not be alarmed. I have listed the most common reasons for dying roses and how you can solve them!

The reason for a dying rose bush is usually because of water stress or a nutrient deficiency. Rose leaves can turn yellow and wilt from both over and underwater. The fungal disease black spot (Diplocarpon rosae) causes rose leaves to turn yellow with black or brown blotchy spots.

Here is a summary of the most common reasons that I see for dying rose bushes:

Symptoms of Dying Rose Bushes:Reasons Your Rose Bushes Are Dying:
Leaves Turning Yellow with Brown or Black Patches:Black spot disease.
Rose Leaves Turning Yellow:Leaves affected by black spot eventually turn yellow. Leaves turn yellow in Winter naturally. Water stress, poor drainage, too much fertilizer, or not enough nutrients are all causes.
Rose Bush Dying After Planting:Not planted in enough light, nutrient-poor soil that drains too quickly, planting roses at the height of Summer can result in stress due to a combination of high temperatures and blazing sunshine.
Rose Leaves Turning Red:New leaves often emerge red (due to the pigment anthocyanin) as a way to protect themselves from sun and heat stress. Rose rosette disease can also turn rose leaves red, but it only occurs in North America. Nutrient deficiency is also a cause.
Rose Leaves Turning Brown and Dying:Specific nutrient deficiencies can lead to brown leaves, as can frost, temperature extreme, too much wind, and water stress.
Rose Bush Wilting:Wilting is usually the first symptom (before leaves turn yellow or brown) resulting from water stress, high temperatures, too much wind, and slow-draining soils.

Keep reading to learn what is causing the problem with your rose bush and how to implement the solutions to save it…

Why are my Rose Bush Leaves Turning Yellow with Brown or Black Spots?

Rose with the first symptoms of black spot.
Rose with the first symptoms of black spot.
  • Symptoms: Leaves develop black spots, and the leaves turn yellow and eventually drop off.
  • Causes: Black spot is a very common fungal disease by the name of Diplocarpon rosae.

Black spot is a very common disease that can present as black spots on green leaves as shown in the photo which then typically turns yellow as the rose battles the disease and loses its overall vigor.

Black spot is so common and such a problem for rose growers that even ‘black spot resistant’ roses eventually succumb to the disease as the fungus is genetically diverse, and new strains arise that overcome the resistance.

This has affected my roses, but the good news is that roses can survive black spot. However, it does affect growth and the abundance of flowers, so it is always important to get it treated.

I find black spot is most prevalent when the weather in Summer is both warm and wet and can be also related to a shortage of potash (potassium) in the soil. However, black spot is now so prevalent that they can spread even when conditions are not ideal.

How to Save a Rose with Black Spot

I have personally saved many roses with black spots with a combination of careful watering, pruning, and the use of a fungicide spray. Here is how to do it:

  • Increase the air circulation around the rose if you possibly can. Prune back any foliage from nearby shrubs or perhaps transplant the rose (either in the Spring or the Fall) to a more exposed area. The increased airflow creates a more hostile environment for fungal spores.
  • When watering your rose bush, you need to aim the hose or watering can at the base of the plant rather than overhead watering on the foliage and ideally water in the morning. I find the key is to avoid damp foliage, as this increases the risk of black spot. If you water in the morning, the rose is then charged with water for a hot sunny day ahead, and any moisture that does happen to go on the leaves has a good opportunity to dry quickly.
  • Cut back the most severely affected leaves, stems, and branches to prevent the fungus from spreading and burn it. I must caution against placing it in the compost heap and clear up any leaves that may have dropped around the rose, as this can harbor fungal spores, which can reinfect the bush.
  • If almost all the rose’s leaves are infected with black spot then it becomes impractical to cut off all the leaves as this would prevent photosynthesis. In this case, I use a fungicidal spray (I bought mine from the local garden center). I often require repeat applications of a fungicide to tackle a severe case of black spot so persistence is required.
To effectively treat black spot it is important to use a fungicide spray
To effectively treat black spot it is important to use a fungicide spray as it does not typically go away by itself. Fungicide spray is an effective treatment and resolved the problem of black spot for all my roses.

Once the black spot infection has cleared up, it is important that you remain vigilant for any signs of reinfection as the spores can be transported by the wind.

I recommend applying a granular fertilizer in the Spring and Summer to address any nutrient deficits in the soil, which should make your rose bush more resilient to infection.

I have personally bought and planted ‘disease resistant rose bushes’, and after 3 years or so, they had black spot, such is the fungus’s ability to develop new strains that cause the disease, but by following the steps and the occasional use of the spray, my rose collection is largely disease free.

Black spot is now such a problem among gardeners that the commercial growers I have spoken to have said they have seen a decline in sales of rose bushes! Isn’t that sad?

Why is My Rose Bush Leaves Turning Yellow?

Rose leaves turning yellow
This is my rose bush with its leaves turning yellow in the Fall.
  • Symptoms: Leaves can turn yellow or brown, droop, and fall off.
  • Causes: Water stress, poor drainage, too much or not enough fertilizer, and seasonal change.

The above photo is of my rose with yellow leaves at the end of Fall coming up to Winter. Rose bushes are deciduous and lose their leaves every Winter, but the leaves turn yellow or brown before falling off. If your rose leaves are turning yellow before Winter, then I assure you that you have nothing to worry about.

However, if your rose leaves are turning yellow at any other time of year, then in my experience, the most common reasons are water stress from underwatering, overwatering, or poor drainage.

Roses need soil that retains moisture yet retains a porous open structure to allow excess water to drain away (so that the soil is not boggy).

I achieve this balance by planting my rose bushes in organic matter (compost, manure, and leaf mold) and by mulching every Spring to further improve the soil’s structure.

If the rose is planted in sandy soil, it drains too quickly for the rose to draw up any moisture whereas heavy clay retains too much water and can cause boggy conditions, both of which cause the roses leaves to turn yellow as a sign of stress.

It is also important to moderate your applications of fertilizer. Nutrient deficiencies (particularly as deficiency in nitrogen) turn the leaves yellow and reduce growth, whereas too much fertilizer can burn the roots and cause the leaves to turn yellow.

I should also caution that excessive fertilizer produces growth at the expense of flowers.

If the leaves are yellow with some brown, then this is the result of a severe black spot. In this case, I recommend following the steps listed above in this section.

How to Save it…

Whilst it can be difficult, I have saved rose bushes with yellowing leaves by amending the soil:

  • If your soil is heavy clay and draining slowly, or the soil is sandy and draining too quickly, it is important to transplant the rose bush to avoid root rot or drought stress. Roses cannot survive in boggy soil, so move your rose to either a pot or raised bed or dig a hole 18 inches deep and across to remove the heavy clay or sandy soil and backfill it with compost to create a more favorable soil structure.
  • My most important tip is to Apply a compost mulch every Spring on the surface of the soil as this integrates naturally into the soil over time, further improving the soil structure and fertility of the soil.
  • I recommend Applying a fertilizer that is specifically formulated for roses, such as this miracle grow granular fertilizer which I use personally. This provides all the nutrients a rose needs at the right concentration to address any nutrient deficiencies. Roses are heavy feeders and generally benefit from additional fertilizer regardless of whether the leaves are turning yellow or not.
I personally use this fertilizer with the granular release with good results.
I personally use this fertilizer with the granular release with good results.
  • Avoid applying fertilizer too often, as too high a concentration is likely to result in yellowing leaves. However, I have found that If you use a granular product, then this is less likely to be the problem. Remember that I have seen people apply lawn fertilizer before rainfall, which then diluted and washed its way onto a nearby rose bed and caused the leaves to turn yellow.
  • Rose typically only needs to be watered once a week in Summer (although as often as every 3 days during heat waves and pronounced drought), and once they have established after several years, they do not typically require any watering, so scale back the watering if necessary.

If the leaves have turned yellow and you suspect the problem is too much fertilizer, then the leaves are likely to stay yellow for the rest of the season and then drop off at the end of the year. I would refrain from applying any more fertilizer for the following year.

Give the soil a really good soak with a hose if you have applied too much fertilizer, as this can help dissolve any accumulated salts from the fertilizer, which should help the rose bush recover.

Why is My Rose Bush Dying After Planting?

The most common reasons that I come across for rose bushes dying after planting are:

  • The rose does not have enough exposure to direct sunlight.
  • The soil is too poor, stony, or sandy and does not retain enough water to sustain the rose, causing it to wilt and die.
  • The soil may be relatively thin and not contain enough nutrients.
  • Planting roses at the height of Summer with high temperatures and blazing sunshine can cause them to wilt and die.

Roses need to grow in ‘full sun’ (which means at least 6 hours) to attain enough energy for photosynthesis and to display as many flowers as possible, so if you have planted your rose bush in an area with insufficient sunlight, then this is the reason your newly planted bush is dying.

Roses are also heavy feeders and require nutrient-dense soil that has ideally been amended with lots of organic matter (in my experience, compost, leaf mold, and horse manure are all excellent choices for rose bushes) to retain moisture and thrive.

If you have sandy soil, then the soil is unlikely to retain enough moisture to sustain a newly planted rose bush or be sufficiently nutrient-dense. The rose bush then loses its vigor, wilts, and dies back.

It is also worth considering whether the soil is too damp due to boggy garden areas or heavy clay (which can hold too much moisture and be too dense for the newly planted rose bush roots to grow as extensively as they otherwise would).

However, with a few simple alterations, you can often revive the bush…

How to Save it…

If the rose is planted in too much shade, or the soil is particularly stony or sandy, then I would personally recommend transplanting it as quickly as possible:

  • Find a nice sunny spot in your garden with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight in Spring and Summer. If you live in a particularly hot climate, then I recommend planting roses in 6 hours of morning sun (rather than the afternoon sun), so the rose can benefit from the sunlight without having to contend with unfavorably high temperatures, which can cause the rose bush to wilt.
  • Dig a hole that is at least 18 inches deep and across to accommodate the rose bush’s extensive roots system at maturity.
  • Plant the rose and backfill the hole with lots of compost. Multipurpose compost is able to retain lots of moisture yet still retains an open structure that allows the roots to respire and excess water to drain away.
  • I always recommend applying a 2-inch layer of mulch around the base of the rose to help retain moisture and improve the soil’s structure. I personally find the best mulch for rose bushes is compost, leaf mold, or horse manure (rather than wood chip or slate, etc.), as these materials retain moisture and contribute nutrients to the soil. Mulch also prevents the sun from shining directly on the soil surrounding your rose bush, which, I find, can prevent the soil from drying out too quickly.
  • Give the soil a generous soak at least once per week during its first year of growth. It is imperative to water a newly planted rose bush thoroughly as this encourages the roots to grow deep and establish properly in the soil, which increases the rose bush’s resilience to future drought. Watering too lightly encourages the roots to grow near the surface, and the rose wilts at the first sign of hot and dry weather.

If you cannot move the rose bush due to limited space, then cut back any overhanging tree branches to cast more light on the rose.

You can potentially avoid transplanting your rose if you give the soil a really good soak and apply mulch to lock in the moisture, and the rose can recover from a wilting appearance.

I personally have had great success with applying another 2 inches of mulch around my newly planted roses before Winter as this insulates the rose’s roots from the cold, which allows them to keep growing and establishing over Winter, and then gives the rose a great head start in the following Spring.

Why Are My Rose Bush Leaves Turning Red?

Rose bush leaves turn red because of a pigment known as anthocyanin, which acts as a natural sunscreen to protect the more delicate new growth against the effects of harsh direct sunlight and excessively high temperatures.

I know this may look alarming at first, but don’t worry. This happened to my new rose bush, and I found as the leaves grow; they typically turn green again as they adapt, but it is always a good idea to water thoroughly during any period of heat wave or drought to alleviate the stress on the rose and ideally add a 2-inch layer of compost mulch around the base of the rose to lock in the moisture.

My rose foliage turned green again over the next three weeks.

It is possible (although much less common) that rose leaves can also turn red due to a nutrient deficiency.

In this case, I would apply a liquid fertilizer to your rose. I would recommend a liquid fertilizer as opposed to a granular in this instance, as the liquid fertilizer is able to infiltrate and reach the roots more quickly than the granular fertilizer to address the problem.

It would also be a good idea to check the pH of your soil. (Which can bee\ done with a soil gauge available online or in garden centers). Roses can tolerate a pH range of around 6 (slightly acidic) to 7.5 (alkaline), with the optimal pH for roses being pH 6.5.

A soil gauge can determine whether the soil pH is in the range to grow roses.
This is my soil gauge which can be used to determine whether the soil pH is in the range to grow roses.

If the soil pH is outside of this range, the rose bush’s roots cannot uptake certain nutrients properly, which causes the leaves to turn red as a sign of stress.

The rose bush is likely to die if it stays in soil that is excessively alkaline or acidic, so it is essential that you transplant the rose, ideally to a pot or raised bed, plant it up with compost, and give it a good feed.

I can assure you that most garden soil has a pH that is okay for growing roses, but I think it is worth speaking to people with gardens in your immediate neighborhood as any local gardening enthusiast is likely to know the pH of the soil so you can determine whether excess acidity or alkalinity is the problem.

Another potential cause of reddening rose leaves is rose rosette disease, which causes the leaves to turn red and produce excessive thorns and is often fatal. Rose rosette disease is found in the USA and Canada but not in the UK or Europe.

I recommend reading this article from Oklahoma State University on how to diagnose and treat rose rosette disease.

Why are My Rose Bush Leaves Turning Brown and Dying?

  • Symptoms: Leaves turn brown at the edges, with wilting leaves.
  • Causes: Nutrient deficiency, water stress, weather extremes such as frost, high temperatures, drought, or wind.

Most often, I find brown leaves result from a nutrient deficiency such as phosphate, potash, or nitrogen. From my experience, they can be easily remedied by applying fertilizer in the Spring or Summer.

The brown leaves do not turn green again, but new growth should be green and healthy, and any existing brown leaves should not worsen, but I recommend trimming any brown leaves off for asthetic reasons.

I find that brown, wilting leaves are usually a result of too much or not enough moisture. High temperatures and blazing sunshine combined with high winds and dry soil can often result in brown wilting leaves as can frost damage if there has been a late frost in Spring.

Roses appreciate airflow, but if they are in a particularly exposed location with severe gusts of wind, the wind can sap excess moisture from the leaves and cause them to dry out.

If your rose is in a windy location and turning brown, then consider providing a wind break with shrubbery (I find my bamboo does a great job) or moving the rose to a more sheltered location.

If the rose bush is suffering due to drought, heat, and sun extremes, then give it a really good soak with a hose and apply mulch to retain moisture and keep the roots nice and cool.

If the rose has turned brown due to frost damage, then wait for the threat of frost to alleviate and prune any damaged parts of the bush back to encourage new healthy green leaves.

Black spot disease can also look like brown blotchy patches, in which case, use a fungicide spray and follow the steps at the top of the article.

Why is My Rose Bushes Wilting?

If the rose bush is wilting, this is most likely the preliminary sign your rose bush suffers from stress due to high temperatures, drought, wind, or too much sun.

I have had my rose bushes wilt (even if they have access to enough moisture) if the temperature is particularly high. Wilting is a way for the leaves to reduce their surface area, which in turn reduces the rate of water loss from the leaves as a way to cope with drought. (It’s an interesting adoration, don’t you think?)

The rose should recover when the temperature cools, but I would recommend watering thoroughly and applying mulch to conserve moisture and keep the roots cool.

Again, excess wind can also sap too much moisture from the leaves, which initially causes drooping and eventually results in leaves turning brown.

The rose leaves can also droop if the rose does not have quite enough direct sunlight. Roses need full sun (at least 6 hours of sun) to thrive and can die back in too much shade, in which case you need to either cut back any overhanging tree boughs that may be casting too much shade or transplant the rose to a sunnier part of the garden.

If your rose is wilting despite frequent watering, then the drainage may be slightly too slow. If the rose’s soil is saturated, then this can exclude oxygen from the soil, which prevents root respiration. If the roots cannot respire, then they cannot effectively uptake moisture or nutrients, which results in a drooping appearance.

Transplant the rose into a pot or raised bed, as these have more favorable drainage. You can also dig out any heavy clay and replant the rose in compost with better drainage.

(If you have a potted rose, read my article on how to revive a dying potted rose as there are some problems that can occur specifically to roses in pot).

Key Takeaways:

  • A dying rose bush is usually a result of water stress or poor drainage. Roses need well-draining, porous soil to survive. If the soil is slowly draining, then the roots cannot function properly, resulting in root rot and rose dieback.
  • To revive a dying rose bush, replant a rose in well-draining soil that has been amended with lots of compost to provide the optimal soil structure to avoid drought and prevent root rot. Provide the rose bush with shelter from excessive wind and use a rose fertilizer to address any nutrient deficiencies.

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