Why is My Rose Bush Drooping? (How to Save it)


Why is my rose drooping

I love roses, and I have grown them in garden borders, pots, balconies, and even in different climates! Along the way, I encountered problems that caused our rose plants to droop and have learned how to diagnose the problem that has caused the drooping appearance but, more importantly, how to save it!

In this article, I share with you all the tips and secrets in a step-by-step process of how to identify what caused your rose to drop and the actions you need to take to save it. Don’t worry; there isn’t any complicated jargon. This is just one gardener talking to another!

The bottom line is…

Roses require the soil to be consistently moist, so the reason your rose is drooping is likely a sign of drought stress due to underwatering, high temperatures, or sandy soils that drain too quickly. A drooping rose could also be a sign of using too much fertilizer or root rot due to boggy soil.

As there are several differing reasons for drooping roses, I created a reference table to help you with your diagnosis…

Causes:Reason Rose Bush is Drooping:
Soil is to dry:High temperatures, sandy soils, underwatering, and root systems from nearby plants competing for water can all contribute to the rose drooping or wilting because of drought stress.
Fertilizer used too frequently or in too high concentration:Too much fertilizer causes excessive foliage growth with fewer flowers and drooping stems and leaves.
Potted rose drooping:Roses droop or wilt in small pots particularly if they are plastic or metal pots as they can dry out much quicker
Rose drooping after planting:Roses can droop as a result of transplant shock or because their roots are not established in new soil and are not uptaking enough water.
Overwatering, slow-draining soil and pots without drainage holes in the base:Roses require soil that retains moisture yet has a porous structure that allows excess water to drain away from the roots. Too much water around the roots can cause root rot and cause your rose to have a drooping appearance with yellow leaves.

Keep reading to learn how to implement the solutions to save your drooping or wilting rose bush…

Most Common Reasons for Roses Drooping (Underwatering)

All our roses have suffered from wilting at some point, but roses most frequently droop because of dry soil, as they require the soil to be consistently moist but not saturated to prevent drooping or wilting. However, the lack of soil moisture can be for a few different reasons:

  1. The scorching sun and high temperatures at the height of Summer can increase evaporation from the soil and transpiration from the leaves, causing the rose to droop or wilt in appearance.
  2. The soil is too dry because it is too sandy or stony, which increases soil drainage and can dry the soil out.
  3. Root systems from nearby trees or plants can compete with your rose for water and nutrients, causing leaves and flowers to droop or wilt.

This happened to me personally. It was the height of Summer and due to recently rainfall, my garden was in full bloom, However my rose was beginning to wilt which seemed inexplicable at the time.

I had to do some investigation…with my spade!

What happened was that the neighbor had a huge beech tree (which has notoriously thirsty roots!). It was quite a way from roses (which were planted in garden borders), but when I started digging around, I noticed a very large root and a matrix of smaller roots that extended into my garden and right underneath my rose bush!

We also need to consider that roses prefer full sun (6 hours of sun or more) to grow and flower their best, but in cooler northern climates, the rose can thrive in full sun without wilting or drooping due to the prevalence of overcast days, cooler temperatures and less intense sun.

However, in hot climates what I have observed is that roses grow much better in the morning sun followed by afternoon shade which protects them from the hottest part of the day to prevent drought stress and the associated drooping appearance.

My Tips for Reviving a Drooping Rose Due to Drought and Underwatering

So how did I revive my drooping rose, which was competing for moisture with my neighbor’s beech tree?

I levered my rose out of the ground carefully with a fork and amended the planting area with lots of compost and leaf mould to help retain moisture. I then applied a really thick layer of mulch around the rose in the Spring and during before the Winter which helps to lock in moisture.

I then thoroughly soaked the rose using a hose pipe.

My rose perked back up in 2 days, and whilst I still have to keep an eye on it, the mulch really helped to keep the ground cool and moist despite the competition from the nearby tree, and my rose was saved.

To prevent roses from drooping or wilting in the first place, I’ve found the most important factor is good soil preparation to providing the optimal conditions for roses to stay healthy and hydrated with lots of compost, leaf mold, or well-rotted manure mixed into the soil when planting and immediately around the rose to increase the soil’s ability to retain moisture and improve the nutrient profile.

I did a little experiment with mulch around roses. I always hear and read that compost, leaf mould and well rotted manure are the best materials for mulch. I have six forces in my garden so two were mulched with compost, 2 with leaf mould and 2 with manure.

What I discovered from this little test is that the roses that had the leaf mold mulch were the most resistant to drought. I learned that this is because leaf mold has the best capacity to absorb and hold moisture, more so then any other organic mulching material.

Therefore I would recommend using leaf mold (which is just leaves I collect last fall that are decomposed) to revive your wilting rose! Although I would say the compost and manaure were also very effective options, but the leaf mold did hold slightly more moisture for longer according to my soil gague.

I love using mulch around my roses as it also contributes nutrients to the soil and helps to improve the soil so that it retains moisture yet also has a well-draining porous structure which is favorable for growing roses.

With a thorough watering and an application of moisture-retaining mulch around the rose the leaves, your stems and flowers should perk up again in a few days. regardless of the cause of drought stress!

The reason I recommend applying mulch around your rose, twice a year (once at the start of spring to conserve moisture and once at the end of Fall to insulate the roots before Winter) is because the soil profile improves so that it can hold enough moisture to mitigate competition from nearby trees or because the soil is naturally sandy.

With constant moisture at the roots of the rose, the leaves shouldn’t droop or wilt, but bear in mind I still have to water my roses at the hottest times of year to prevent drooping.

The best advice I received regarding rose growing is to always water with a generous soak as this encourages the roots to grow down to a depth of up to 18 inches and really establish which means that the roots can reach moisture reserves far below the surface and increases the rose’s resistance to drought.

New Growth of Roses Wilting or Drooping (Too Much Fertilizer)

A very common problem I encounter for rose growers is the new growth of their roses, or perhaps the rose bush, overall, drooping because of too much nitrogen fertilizer.

There are a few key distinctions that I have identified between roses that are drooping due to excess fertilizer rather than wilting because of dry soil:

  • If the rose has lots of new foliage growth with green leaves (that may look generally quite healthy), there is a drooping appearance of leaves and stems rather than a wilted appearance with shriveled leaves.
  • The flower heads may look as though they are drooping under their own weight or growing sideways.
  • The rose has lots of green leaves but no flower buds developing, or it displays far fewer flowers than normal.

Our roses are relatively heavy feeders, and they do benefit from applications of fertilizer, however, if you apply the fertilizer too often, in too high concentration, or lawn fertilizer becomes diluted and runs off in the rain onto the rose boarders, then the rose droops due to excess nitrogen and displays fewer flowers.

Nitrogen is the nutrient that our roses (and all plants) need to grow lush, green, attractive foliage. However, too much nitrogen makes the leaves and stems grow sappy and weak, which causes our roses to droop. This increases the risk of insect infestation in the form of aphids and fungal diseases, such as black spot.

Once the rose has had too much nitrogen fertilizer, I’m afraid there is not much you can do to revive it from drooping other than diligently checking to see if any aphids are trying to attack the rose, treating it if necessary, and scaling back any use of fertilizer until the following year, when the rose can be pruned properly to stimulate newer, healthier growth.

When I had to deal with this specific problem (when I worked as a landscape gardener), I cut back all the soft, sappy growth with my trusty pruners. The rose would not bloom (nitrogen promotes foliage growth rather than flowers), and the floppy leaves would only be a target for pests!

The rose came back the following year and looked fantastic.

To avoid this problem, I always recommend using a fertilizer specifically formulated for roses, such as Miracle-Gro rose feed.

This has all the nutrients at the right concentrations to feed your rose and promote blooms without risking using too much and causing the rose to droop.

Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using fertilizer. I must emphasize that there is absolutely no benefit to using more fertilizer than stated in the instructions, as it does not yield better results and causes roses to droop.

(Read my article, why are my roses not blooming?)

Why is My Potted Rose Wilting or Drooping?

I have personally had to deal with this several times and I have some great solutions derived from personal experience.

My potted roses can be wilted due to growing in a pot or container that is too small and, therefore, has less capacity for soil and moisture.

As we discussed, our roses grow best in full sun, so when the rose is in a small pot in full sun, the soil heats up very quickly causing moisture to evaporate from the soil before the roots have a chance to uptake the water.

Also, certain types of pots such as plastic or metal pots absorb heat more so than clay, ceramic, or terracotta pots which also increases the rate at which the soil dries.

We also need to consider that our rose’s have very deep roots so the depth of the ppot is usually more important then the width.

(Read my article, choosing the best pots for roses).

How I Saved My Drooping Potted Roses…

  • Roses should be planted in pots that are at least 12 inches across and 12 inches or more deep to ensure the pot has enough soil capacity and, therefore, holds enough moisture for the rose to prevent it from wilting. Depth is the most important factor here, and when I transferred my rose to a much deeper pot, it started to recover in the first week.
  • Plant roses in clay, terracotta, or ceramic pots as they do not heat up as quickly as other types of pots, which helps keep the roots cool and reduces stress from high temperatures. I have experimented with several different types of pots, and now I always use clay pots as they are thicker and resist both heat and cold much better than other pots
  • Give your rose a generous soak so that water trickles from the drainage holes in the base of the pot. This ensures that the water has reached the roots and that the soil is evenly moist. A common mistake I see is watering too lightly, as this only moistens the surface of the soil and does not encourage the development of roots, which can cause your rose to be even more vulnerable to drought.
  • Whilst the rose is recovering from drooping or wilting, I advise you to move your pot to an area of morning sun followed by shade in the afternoon to protect the rose from more sun and heat so you do not further exacerbate the drought stress.
  • Water potted roses as often as required so that the soil is consistently moist. Exactly how often to water your potted rose depends on many factors such as climate and time of year. A great tip I learned from a commercial rose grower is that the best way to tell whether your rose needs watering is to feel the soil to a finger’s depth. If you can detect good levels of moisture then your rose is okay for a few days but if the soil feels as though it is beginning to dry out, give the soil a really good soak. Typically I water once per week, however during heat waves I have had to water every other day.
  • Always ensure that your pot has drainage holes in the base. Whilst roses usually droop due to dry soil, they also droop if the soil is completely saturated, so drainage holes in the bottom of pots are very important to allow excess water to escape to prevent root rot. If your rose is drooping and your soil is saturated then read my article, on how to revive a dying potted rose for the solution.

Why is my Rose Drooping After Planting?

This is super common, and it happened to my roses until I learned some great tips to prevent it…

Roses often wilt or droop in appearance after planting because of transplant shock due to a contrast in growing conditions from the garden center or nursery where they were originally cultivated and the conditions of your garden.

I used to work in a commerical garden nursery and discovered that roses are often grown in greenhouse conditions where temperature, sunlight, air flow, watering and soil conditions are all carefully controlled. The difference between these conditions and your garden can cause roses to temporarily droop as a sign of stress as it adjusts to its new environment.

The roots of roses can also take some time to establish in the soil before they can uptake water and nutrients effectively, during which time the rose is more vulnerable to drought as it often loses more water through the leaves than it can draw up at the roots.

My Tips for Reviving a Drooping Rose After Planting

  • Protect newly planted roses from too much sun.
  • Water more frequently with thorough watering.
  • Use compost, leaf mold, or well-rotted manure to mulch around the rose to conserve moisture at the roots.

I have learned that Spring or Fall is usually the best time to plant roses as the rose has time to establish itself before it has to contend with the hot and dry Summer weather.

Therefore it may be necessary to protect your rose by shading it if the sunshine is particularly intense and the temperature is high, without any rainfall.

While sunlight is beneficial for promoting flowers, at this stage of the rose’s planting, it is likely to exacerbate the soil and cause leaves to dry out, causing the plant to wilt.

When I first planted a rose in the Summer, I provided temporary shade in the middle of day and the afternoon by using a windbreak that I had from a beach holiday. It shaded my rose during very high temperatures due alleviated the stress and my rose began to perk back up.

I would give the rose a really good soak with a hose to ensure that the soil is evenly moist and to help mitigate the risk of drought stress whilst the roots adjust to the soil.

As with my earlier advice, I would apply a 2 or 3-inch layer of mulch (made from compost, leaf mold, or well-rotted manure) around the base of your rose to help conserve moisture and prevent the sun from shining directly onto the soil, which causes it to dry out too quickly.

I have discovered that mulch after planting keeps the temperature around the roots nice and cool which creates the right environment for your roots to draw up moisture. Since I have been mulching my roses after planted they rarely suffer from wilting which I think highlights the efficacy of using a mulch!

Water as frequently as required to keep the soil around your newly planted rose moist, but ensure that the soil does not become boggy (a problem with clay soils), as this can cause problems such as root rot.

After about 3 weeks your rose should be start to become established and recover from its drooping appearance, but I always keep watering it with a good soak at least once a week for the first year to encourage the roots to develop and adjust to the new soil conditions so that they can draw up moisture and become more resistant to drought stress.

Slow Draining Soils and Overwatering can Cause Drooping Roses

So far, we have looked at the steps to alleviate wilting roses from drought, but did you know roses can also wilt due to overwatering?

Whilst roses require consistently moist soil to stay healthy and prevent drooping, too much water around can also cause your roses to droop. (I know, it’s confusing isn’t it?!)

If your rose is in saturated soil then there is not enough oxygen in the soil for the roots to respire which prevents the roots from transporting moisture and nutrients around the plant and causes the rose to droop and the leaves to turn yellow as a sign of stress.

Rose Leaves turning yellow and drooping.
Rose Leaves turning yellow and drooping.

Roots need to grow in soil that is porous and aerated, which, as we discussed, is easily achieved by amending the soil with organic matter such as compost or leaf mold before planting your rose as these materials maintain the optimal soil structure and moisture balance for roses to thrive rather than droop or wilt.

However, if your garden soil is heavy clay (or pots without drainage holes in the base), then excess water does not drain away from the roots effectively, and the soil becomes waterlogged, which effectively suffocates the roots as they need to respire and therefore needs oxygen in the porous soil.

If the rose is in water-logged soil for a long time, then it can potentially develop root rot (for more information on roses with root rot, read my article, why are my rose leaves turning yellow?)

If your rose is drooping and you notice the soil is draining slowly, then you must scale back any watering and try to let the soil drain.

Roses can grow in clay soils, but it has to be significantly amended beforehand to ensure the soil is well-draining for the rose to avoid root rot.

I have had to prepare clay soil for planting roses before.

I did this by digging out a hole of 18 inches across with the same proportional depth and using lots of compost and I threw in some grit for good measure! before planting to provide the right balance of moisture-retaining soil profile that also is well-draining to prevent drooping and root rot.

Pro Tip: Avoid using sand as a soil amendment if you have heavy clay soil. The sand can mix with the clay, bake hard, and create a rock-hard cement-like substance, which is very difficult to dig in! I learned this the hard way! Use grit instead.

(Read my article, how to Revive a dying rose bush).

Key Takeaways:

  • Roses require consistently moist soil to prevent drooping, so a drooping rose is often caused by too dry soil from underwatering, sandy soils, high temperatures, or blazing sunshine. Roses should be watered frequently in the Summer to prevent drooping or wilting.
  • Drooping roses are often caused by using fertilizer too often or in too high a concentration. This causes the rose to grow lots of leaves but with fewer flowers, resulting in drooping leaves and stems.
  • Roses in pots often droop or wilt because the pot is too small and heats up quickly in the sun, which dries out the soil and causes the rose’s leaves and stems to wilt. Potted roses require frequent watering in summer to prevent a drooping appearance.
  • If your rose is drooping after planting, this is because of transplant shock. It can take time for the rose roots to adjust to the new soil conditions, which means the rose is vulnerable to drought stress after planting, which causes the rose to droop.
  • Roses droop and their leaves turn yellow when there is too much moisture around their roots. Boggy soil excludes oxygen from the soil, which prevents root respiration and interferes with the root’s ability to draw up moisture and nutrients, causing the rose to droop and turn yellow.

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