It’s been interesting watching people react to a disease that has become common in North Texas rose gardens. It’s called Rose rosette, and it is a virus spread by a very tiny eriophyid mite called Phyllocoptes fructiphilus. Trying to alert people about it, I posted a photo on my Facebook page, along with the same information you’re going to see in the following paragraphs. It was interesting to watch the replies.Gardening is my life, and gardening is my love. I have two college degrees in horticulture, and I’ve spent 43 years in North Texas helping people with all manner of plant problems. But I’m more than willing to admit that there are a lot of people smarter than I am on almost any specific topic. They’re Texas A&M specialists, or they’re people within the nursery industry. Some are even serious amateur gardeners (members of the area rose societies, for example). In many cases, those people are teachers, lawyers and moms, just to pick three random places of work. But they’re experts, and I always yield to their opinions.What bothers me is that in some cases, people are willing to go off on tangents, flying right into the face of the facts. They start taking as gospel what others are willing to guess. Rose rosette virus is such a case. The country’s finest scientists, nurserymen and most recognized rosarians all agree that when the rank witch’s broom bull canes start shooting out of the tops of rose bushes, it’s time to take immediate action. Those stems will often be far thornier than the regular stems on the same plants. Flower buds that develop will be abnormal, and they’ll fail to open properly. In simpler terms, parts of the plants will look like they’ve been hit by drift of a broadleaf weedkiller.What’s the call to action? The only means of coping with Rose rosette virus is a sad one — one that many gardeners aren’t willing to hear. And, in walling off as they do, they’re becoming a big part of the problem. “It was my dad’s favorite rose.” “I just planted 15 of those a year ago.” Those are the sorts of retorts you’re likely to hear.People are kicking back at reality, because the only known means of dealing with this disease is to remove the afflicted roses. Dig ’em up, roots and all. Put them in a heavyweight trash bag, and send them off to the landfill.But no. Even though the professionals weigh in as one common voice, these individuals are determined that their remedy of hydrogen peroxide, chlorine bleach or severe pruning is somehow going to be the magical one that works. Folks, those remedies are bogus, and they only serve to help the problem spread down the street to neighbors’ still-healthy roses via that nearly invisible mite. And that is the reason you need to move swiftly and thoroughly. Keep a vigilant eye open for any signs of abnormality.If you opt to remove only the plants that are showing signs of Rose rosette, that will be fine. But watch the adjacent plants. The moment you see one with those telltale symptoms, dispatch it immediately.Stepping out of home gardens for a moment, I’d like to speak to professional landscape maintenance people and to the companies or individuals who engage them. If you have big beds of roses that are showing this problem, merely trimming it out “to make your place look pretty” is the worst thing you can do for your community. Recall hearing of Typhoid Mary? You become Rose Rosette Ralph, spreading disease and heartbreak in your lazy wake. That’s blunt, but it’s fair. In fact, there are those who contend that massed beds of beautiful Knock Out roses used in commercial landscapes have accelerated the spread of this virus.People always ask if there are types of roses that are more susceptible than others, and that book has yet to be written. The disease itself is spread in the wild on multiflora rose plants. It doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem with other species and varieties, but you probably shouldn’t assume that (a) every rose is going to get it or (b) any rose will never get it.And the other question that pops up repeatedly is how long one must wait before planting a new rose into the same spot. One of our state’s finest rose growers and chairman of the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association, Mark Chamblee of Chamblee’s Rose Nursery in Tyler, told me recently that he thought new roses could be planted as soon as the old rose and its root system were removed from the soil. Other rosarians advise waiting a year. But we Texans love our roses, so a compromise might be to plant new roses somewhere else in your landscape as you wait for the old ground to clear.I rarely post websites within my column, but there is a great deal of good information on Rose rosette online. I’m going to suggest a few sites that will provide really good details from the people who know Rose rosette best.• Go to ars.org/?page_id=3247 for an early and very informational story. The photos of the problem are outstanding.• Search for Rose rosette information on http://citybugs.tamu.edu.• Virginia Cooperative Extension’s website, http://pubs.ext.vt.edu, has a really good discussion of the problem (search “Rose rosette”).
Neil Sperry publishes “Gardens” magazine and hosts “Texas Gardening” from 8 to 11 a.m. Sundays on WBAP AM/FM. Reach him during those hours at 800-288-9227 or 214-787-1820.