Mad About Berries

Why Are My Rose Leaves Turning Yellow?

You work so hard on your roses, trying to do exactly right by them and keep them happy. So when you see some yellow leaves cropping up on your prized rose bush, it can seem like cause for alarm.

There are a lot of reasons for rose leaves turning yellow, but don’t worry–there are a lot of solutions, too.

Updated: April 12, 2024.

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Why is my Rose Tree Turning Yellow?

The most common reasons for rose plant leaves turning yellow are the following:

  • Overwatering
  • Underwatering
  • Soil deficiencies
  • Over Fertilizing
  • Bad Pruning
  • Inadequate light
  • Pests
  • Disease
  • Heat Stress

Don’t panic. If you pay attention to what your rose bush is telling you, you will be able to identify the problem and figure out the solution. Read on for an explanation of the possible causes of yellow leaves and what to do about them.

There are a number of reasons for yellowing leaves (known as chlorosis) on a rose bush. Some of the most common are listed below, along with possible remedies.

The most important thing is to monitor your plant so you can figure out what kind of TLC (tender loving care) it needs.

Underwatering

Roses like the soil to be moist rather than completely dry, though they also don’t like sitting in water. In order to strike the right balance when watering roses, you will need to feel your soil frequently, so you know how moist it is.

Water your roses when the top 3-4 inches of soil are dry. The best way to water a rose is to water it deeply and let it dry slightly in between waterings. See below for more tips on watering roses.

If your flowers or leaves are wilting, that is a good sign your plant needs more water.

Overwatering

Giving a rose too much water can also lead to yellow and dropping leaves because waterlogged roots will not be able to absorb nutrients and water, which will lead to plant stress. Eventually, waterlogged roots may become susceptible to root rot, which is an infection that will eventually kill off the roots of your plant.

It is tricky to strike the right balance when watering your roses (or many plants, actually), but if you pay close attention to what amount of water helps the plant thrive, you will figure it out.

Don’t keep the soil soaking wet. Let it dry out between waterings and only water when the top several inches feel dry.

Make sure your soil can drain adequately. Your soil should have good drainage and aeration, and if your rose is in a pot, make sure it has drainage holes and isn't sitting in a dish of water.

Soil Deficiencies

Nutrient Deficiencies

Rose leaves may turn yellow because the plant is not getting adequate nutrition from its soil. Roses are often deficient in iron, magnesium, or nitrogen.

If you suspect a nutrient deficiency is a problem, you can treat the problem by using a good-quality fertilizer or adding compost to your soil. This could be any plant matter or regular compost.

The best option is a fertilizer that is specially formulated for roses (Amazon link, the link opens in the new window), or choose an all-purpose fertilizer that has a high phosphorus ratio.

If your plant is suffering from iron deficiency, you can purchase iron chelates at garden stores or hardware stores. Iron chelates are added to water to increase the iron content in the soil and will reduce chlorosis due to iron deficiency.

If fertilizing your plant doesn’t improve the condition, you may want to identify the specific deficiency in your soil. Contact your local extension office and see if a soil test is available.

Poor Soil pH

Roses are picky when it comes to the alkalinity of the soil. If the soil is too alkaline (pH above 7.0), the rose will not be able to absorb nutrients. An ideal level for roses is between 6 and 7.

This problem can often be solved with the use of good rose-specific fertilizer. You can usually have your soil pH tested by the extension service as well.

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Over Fertilizing

So, roses need fertilizer, but they don’t need too much fertilizer. Overfertilizing or using granular fertilizers can damage foliage.

Make sure you follow the instructions for your fertilizer and keep it away from the foliage.

Roses need slightly acidic soil rich in nutrients and organic matter that retains moisture well but also soil that drains well.

Inadequate Light

If your rose bush is getting too much shade, this may be the cause of yellowing. Roses like around 4-6 hours of direct sun, though roses in bright, indirect light will thrive as well.

Sometimes leaves at the bottom of the plant will turn yellow if they are shaded by dense foliage at the top of the plant. This is nothing to worry about, and the plant will adjust on its own.

How and When to Prune Roses

Pruning roses is an essential gardening task that encourages healthy growth and increases bloom yield. Understanding the proper techniques and timing can make a significant difference in the performance and health of your rose bushes.

When to Prune Roses

The timing of pruning depends largely on the climate and the specific variety of rose.

Generally, roses should be pruned in early spring after the last frost but before new growth begins. This period typically falls between January and April, depending on the local climate.

In colder regions, it’s wise to wait until late winter or early spring to avoid damaging the plants in frosty weather.

For repeat-flowering roses, it’s also beneficial to perform light pruning in the summer after the first wave of blooming has subsided to encourage another round of flowers.

How to Prune Roses

  • Prepare the Right Tools: Use sharp, clean pruning shears or loppers. This ensures clean cuts that heal quickly, and prevents the spread of disease.
  • Remove Dead or Diseased Wood: Begin by cutting away any dead, diseased, or damaged branches. These are typically characterized by discoloration and brittleness.
  • Open Up the Center: Prune inner branches to open up the canopy of the bush. This increases air circulation and light penetration, reducing the risk of diseases such as powdery mildew or black spot.
  • Shape the Bush: Maintain an outward-facing bud orientation when making cuts. This means cutting about 1/4 inch above buds that are facing away from the center of the bush, encouraging outward growth. The goal is to shape the plant so it is not too dense, allowing sunlight to reach the interior parts of the plant.
  • Control Height and Width: Depending on the desired size and form of your rose bush, reduce the height of the bush by about one-third to one-half. This helps encourage new growth and bloom production.

For climbers and ramblers, pruning should be adjusted according to their flowering habits. Climbers that bloom repeatedly often require light pruning to maintain their shape and encourage blooms along the sides of canes, whereas old-fashioned ramblers that bloom once a year are typically pruned right after their flowering finishes.

Rose Pests

You will need to inspect your rose plant regularly for pests and insects in general. Common pests that cause yellow leaves on roses are spider mites, aphids, thrips, rose leafhoppers, and Japanese beetles.

Don’t forget to check under the leaves for evidence of pests. You will see small specks all over the leaf or along the veins, or you may see silky webs if you have mites.

spider mites

It is best to treat pests in the most gentle way possible and then scale up as needed. You don’t want to kill off other beneficial bugs that are taking care of other pests. Make sure you isolate any infected plants if possible.

Start by washing off pests with water. If that doesn’t work, use water mixed with a small amount of dish soap or neem oil. Keep your plant out of the sun when treating it, and make sure to give it air circulation to dry.

If these remedies don’t work, you will need to identify the precise type of pest, so you know whether insecticide is advisable.

The best way to protect a plant from pests and disease is to keep the plant healthy in the first place, so its natural defenses are strong.

Rose Disease

Several diseases can also affect roses, including powdery mildew, black spot, and rose mosaic virus.

Powdery mildew will produce a white, chalky powder on the rose leaves. Make sure you avoid mildew by providing good airflow around your plant. Water in the morning so your plant can dry out during the day.

Like mildew, black spot is caused by the plant living in a humid environment. Make sure you remove any dead leaves around the plant and give it good airflow and water in the morning so the foliage doesn’t stay wet for too long.

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Rose mosaic virus causes a viral infection in plants that causes leaves to look mottled yellow and green or to have veins or bands of yellow. There is no cure for this disease, so make sure to remove and destroy any infected rose bush.

You may want to choose a variety of roses that are disease-resistant, such as the Knock Out rose.

Rose Varieties Resistant to Pests and Diseases

Selecting disease-resistant rose varieties can greatly reduce the need for chemical treatments and make rose gardening much more enjoyable. Here are some rose varieties known for their resistance to diseases and pests, each with a brief description:

  • Knock Out Roses: Widely recognized for their exceptional disease resistance, especially to black spot and powdery mildew, Knock Out roses are also very hardy. These roses continuously bloom from spring until the first hard frost, offering vibrant colors in shades of pink, red, and yellow. They are low maintenance and adapt well to various climates and soil types.
  • Flower Carpet Roses: Often referred to as "ground cover roses," these are low-growing and spread horizontally. They are extremely disease-resistant, particularly against mildew and black spot, and they bloom profusely from spring to late fall. Flower Carpet roses come in a variety of colors, including pink, red, amber, and white.
  • David Austin Roses (English Roses): Renowned for their beautiful blooms and captivating fragrances, many varieties of David Austin roses also offer good resistance to diseases. Varieties like 'Olivia Rose Austin' and 'Roald Dahl' are noted for their robust health, resistance to common rose diseases, and continuous blooms throughout the growing season.
  • Carefree Wonder Roses: Known for their resilience, Carefree Wonder roses are highly resistant to both disease and pests. These roses bloom in cycles from late spring to early fall, showcasing pink flowers with white reverses. Their glossy, deep green foliage remains healthy throughout the season.
  • Sunny Knock Out Roses: As a member of the Knock Out rose family, these roses exhibit strong resistance to diseases like black spot. They are distinctive for their bright yellow flowers that fade to cream as they age and have a mild, citrusy fragrance. They bloom from early spring until frost and maintain a compact form.
  • Home Run Roses: A relative of the famous Knock Out roses, Home Run is another highly disease-resistant variety. It is particularly resistant to black spot and powdery mildew. Home Run roses are known for their vibrant red flowers that bloom continuously without deadheading from spring to fall.

Each of these varieties offers a combination of beauty, hardiness, and low maintenance, making them excellent choices for both novice and experienced gardeners looking to enhance their gardens with roses that require less care in terms of disease and pest management.

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Heat Stress

Roses thrive in sunny climates, but on very hot summer days, they may suffer from heat stress. You may notice yellowing leaves at the base of your plant near the ground.

Heat stress may be exacerbated by the plant being exposed to reflective heat, as is the case when very damp soil absorbs heat and reflects it back to the plant. In addition, if your rose is sitting in very dark mulch or above dark rocks, it will absorb heat which might overheat the plant.

Make sure you water in the morning and don’t allow the soil to retain too much water on hot days. Use light-colored mulch (cedar is good) around your plant if you live in a very hot climate.

cedar mulch

Weed Killer

Weed killer or lawn fertilizer used too close to a plant can also lead to yellowing leaves near the ground. Make sure that your rose bush is not exposed to chemicals used to treat your lawn or other plants.

Do Roses Go Dormant?

Your rose bush may also be yellowing and losing leaves in the winter as a natural part of dormancy. If the yellowing started in early fall or winter, check to see if there might be another reason for the yellowing, but if you can’t find any other reason, keep an eye on it.

Roses are dormant all winter for rest, which is a natural part of their plant cycle.

Should I Remove Yellow Leaves from Roses?

You can certainly remove them if you don’t like the look of the yellow leaves. If your plant is outdoors, it's a good idea to remove them, so they don’t attract fungus or pests or shade lower foliage.

If your plant is indoors, you don’t need to remove the yellow leaves, though they will eventually fall off on their own.

How Often Do I Water A Rose Bush?

It may seem hard to strike a balance when watering your roses, but if you pay close attention to your plants, you will begin to get a sense of what they need. (Paying close attention does not mean overloving them with water, however.)

The frequency with which you water your roses will depend on a number of factors, including the time of year, your climate, the plant’s growing conditions, your soil, and your drainage, among others.

For this reason, it is difficult to say how often to water roses. You will need to water more in the summer when the days are long and warm (possibly even once a day if it's hot and sunny) and less in the winter when roses are dormant.

The best way to figure out when to water is to test the soil. Water when the top 3-4 inches are dry.

How Do I Water Roses?

When watering roses, you are watering the soil under the rose bush rather than the foliage itself. Water drops on rose foliage can lead to leaf burn and fungal disease.

It’s better to soak your roses and let them drain and dry out rather than water them a little bit each day. You will need to water it very slowly and let the water soak in. Try to soak it to a depth of 18 inches.

Get a watering can with a nice rainshower head, or use a rain setting on a hose. This will disperse the water better and will avoid any erosion that can be caused by a single steam watering can or strong stream from a hose.

Make sure your rose can drain. If it's in a pot, make sure it has drainage holes. If it is in the ground, make sure the soil is not already moist when watering your roses.

What Kind of Soil Do I Use For Roses?

The soil also makes a difference with roses. Your soil needs to drain so the roots are not sitting in water. If your soil is too dense, add some coarse sand, limestone, gravel, or other coarse material.

It’s a good idea to water your roses in the morning, before the intense midday sun. This will protect the foliage from sunburn that may be caused by water on the leaves and allow the foliage to dry before nightfall to reduce the risk of fungal infection.

Tips for Growing Roses

You can mulch around roses to retain moisture and prevent fungal disease. Use 2-3 inches of light-colored mulch.

It’s a good idea to replace your mulch every year.

You need to prune your roses for optimal growth. This is typically done in the spring. You can find pruning information here.

Make sure to remove any dead growth from rose bushes. This can be done any time of year.


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Few Final Words

Don’t panic if you see some yellow leaves on your rose bush. If you catch the problem early, you can work on a solution and get your plant blooming again as soon as possible.

Make sure to consider each potential issue and try to isolate what the problem may be. You can then try each solution in turn and see if it resolves the issue. If not, try the next one. With a little patience, you will get your rose thriving again.



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