Rose rosette is a serious rose disease that is present in Smith County “as we speak.” Every infected rose must be destroyed immediately so it does not spread to other roses throughout our home and public gardens. Tyler does not have the option of not growing roses. It is especially important that you learn all you can about this disease and learn to identify it when you see it.

The symptoms of this virus disease are quite distinct. The most noticeable sign is a deformed, dense clustered, “witches’ broom” growth habit, often with an abnormal red-orange coloration. The color alone is not totally diagnostic as many roses produce burgundy new growth.  The plant basically goes crazy, as if it had been sprayed with a broadleaf herbicide. The stems might also be flattened, enlarged, or elongated, with excessive leaf growth or thorniness. The symptoms of rose rosette might only occur on a single branch or a few shoots at first. The rose may die or may linger stunted for years, spreading to other roses in the area.

Rose rosette virus is spreads to other roses in one of two ways. In gardens it is spread by a tiny eriophyid mite that feeds on an infected live plant then spreads it to an uninfected plant that it later feeds on. These mites are so small that they can be spread in the wind. To be on the safe side, make sure roses are spaced so that they do not touch each other. The mite itself does not cause the disease. It only spreads it. The other way of spreading this disease is through plant propagation. Any rose propagated by cuttings or buds from an infected plant will have the disease as well, as the virus is flowing through its tissue.

There is no cure for rose rosette. Pruning out the noticeably infected branches will not cure the plant and treating the bush or soil with assorted concoctions will not cure this disease. By the time you see the symptoms, the disease is being replicated inside the plant with no way for you to rid it. All rose cultivars to date are unfortunately susceptible.

The only option is to completely remove and dispose of the entire infected plant, roots and all (in a sealed garbage bag), preferably at the first sign of infection. A burn pile is a good option in rural areas. If you allow an infected plant to live, you are unfortunately risking the life of all your other roses along with all Tyler and East Texas roses. The disease is in infected living plants only, not the soil, so you can grow roses again in the same area after you removed any infected ones nearby.

If you are unsure and suspect you have an infected rose, a sample can be sent to the Texas A&M Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in College Station. More information and submission forms can be found at plantclinic.tamu.edu. There is a fee for testing rose rosette samples.