Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Rose Rescue Plan

Last year was not a good year for roses in my garden. How bad was it? Apocalyptic, catastrophic, and all the other dramatic synonyms for 'horrible' you can dig out of a thesaurus. A cool, soaking wet spring soon turned my roses into festering cesspools of black spot fungus and I was helpless to stop the onslaught.


The Black Plague or Black Spot Fungus? 


Here's how it all went down: As soon as I realized what was happening, I identified the culprits, ripped them out, scraped away the mulch from under my heavily infected Graham Thomas rose, remulched, and hoped I had solved the problem. What had I accomplished? A big pile of nothing! Nada. Zilch. By the end of the summer my roses had very few leaves left and stood out like skeletons in an anatomy class. It was depressing, to say the least.


Here are the black spot fungus myths that fueled my actions:

  • MYTH: A hard, cold winter will kill black spot fungal spores 
    • REALITY: Unless you live in either the Arctic circle or the Sahara desert, if you have any moisture/humidity in the spring or summer, you will have blackspot. The spores overwinter in the soil and mulch.
  • MYTH: Roses in a healthy garden won't get black spot. 
    • REALITY: Healthy roses will bounce back faster than weak ones and may be able to resist the spores longer, but that's it.

  • MYTH: Roses marked 'disease resistant' are immune to disease. 
    • REALITY: I so wish this was true! It just means that it takes them longer to become infected.
  • MYTH: Just because you didn't have black spot last year, doesn't mean you won't have it this year. 
    • REALITY: Black spot fungus is a soil borne pathogen that occurs naturally in humid climates. It is impossible to remove from the soil. The fungal spores spread when they splash from the soil onto the leaves and canes.

From left to right are 'Westerland', a small 'Jude the Obscure' (David Austin) that's really hard to see, and a 'Night Owl' rose in August.

Once I realized the black spot was spreading, I continued to unleash every weapon in my arsenal. Unfortunately, I wasn't as well stocked as I thought I was. I tried homemade anti-fungal sprays, commercial sprays, and misapplied a fungicide. I pulled off every leaf only to have the new leaves quickly develop more spots. I picked up as many leaves as possible from the mulch but nothing worked. Instead of being proactive, I stuck in a reactive loop going nowhere. So I just gave up.


Westerland and Night Owl roses in May


Graham Thomas (David Austin) in May

But I never really give up. I was just pulling back until I could figure out a better battle plan. I decided to let my roses put out as many new leaves as they could, knowing they needed them to photosynthesize. I continued to pick up all the dropped leaves from the garden and started researching. Convinced my own lack of knowledge had contributed to the disaster, I had to become smarter than my enemy. 

Here's My Plan:

November 2013 - I removed as much mulch as possible from around my roses and picked up every rose leaf out of the garden but probably missed a few. I remulched and also applied Organocide Systemic Fungicide as a drench around my roses. I'm hoping this helped reduce the pathogen load in my roses and the surrounding soil. 


This was the only systemic fungicide I could find that didn't also contain a pesticide. The name, however, does give me the creeps and makes me a bit protective of my kidneys and liver.

Mid-February 2014 - I pruned my roses, cutting off as many infected canes as I could. Several roses were reduced in size by about 75%. Cutting my roses back that severely was upsetting but necessary. Fungal spores overwinter on the canes as well as in the soil and mulch. The canes on the 'Night Owl' and 'Westerland' roses were covered in fungal lesions and were cut more severely than the rest. I cleaned my pruners after every cut with Lysol wipes.


My Night Owl canes were so covered with lesions, they looked like they had smallpox. I'd grown this rose for 6 years before having this problem. In 2012 I moved it to a much sunnier spot but didn't realize it wasn't as moist as its previous location. I think the stress of moving to a drier spot decreased its ability to fight off the fungus. I now have a thick soaker hose at its base and keep it very well watered. This entire cane was removed.

Mid-February 2014 - I applied Lime Sulfur spray to my dormant rose canes. Even though this is organic, the solution is highly caustic and I wore long sleeves,  gloves and safety goggles. I also sprayed the surrounding mulch and grass.

April 2014 - Once my roses begin putting out new growth, I will apply another fungicide drench. This will be my last application for the season. Overuse of fungicides kills the beneficial microbes and fungi needed for healthy soil. About a week after the fungicide has been applied, I will amended the soil with compost and an organic fertilizer. I don't use a rose fertilizer since my dogs will dig up the rose to eat the bone/bloodmeal they contain. I make my own fertilizer with homemade worm compost, ground alfalfa meal, bat guano, greensand, kelp, and dried ground up banana peels. I will also start spraying my roses weekly with the organic preventative fungicide sprays Serenade and Actinovate. I don't think spraying is a hassle, especially since it just takes a few minutes and I'm always out in the garden, anyway.

  • When spraying any fungicides, make sure you also spray the bottom of the leaf. That's where the spores usually land first. 


Here's what I won't do:

I do not use any Bayer or Bonide Rose Care products. I will pull every rose out of my garden before I apply these. 



Both of these products contain the pesticide imidicloprid, a neonicontinoid class pesticide responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees. Most fungicides contain imidicloprid or similar pesticides because a fungus is considered a pest. Chlorothalonil is another pesticide that is widely included in commercial fungicides, especially those by Ortho.


So, have I eliminated black spot for good? Doubtful, but I'm hoping to have knocked it back to the point that dealing with it can be classified as a minor scuffle instead of a war. I'll post updates this spring and summer to document the outcome.


My Sceptre d'Isle rose was isolated from the other roses by a patio and had been drastically pruned the previous fall when it was transplanted to a sunnier spot. It didn't develop black spot until late fall.

79 comments:

  1. The myth of a hard winter killing black spot has been put to death by the current endless season. Rose names fascinate. And sell plants. Thomas Hardy's 'Jude the Obscure' is one of my favorite novels. Gotta get the rose.

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    1. Jude the Obscure has an incredible scent and a voluptuous blossom. I think you'd really like it.

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  2. Roses are a labor of love that also consume a lot of time. You're a trooper with your perseverance and I wish you the best of success this coming year. If all else fails, I know a Nandina that will go into that spot very well.

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    1. Oooh!! Nandina! Sounds delicious! I'll take three. ;o)

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  3. You don't give up easily do you! I do hope you have a better season this year. I expect it has a lot to do with air circulation. So far I have not had a lot of problem with blackspot but then we have to put up with the fact that the garden is in a windy spot.

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    1. If I were a dog, I'd be part terrier. :o) My roses have great air circulation, but our climate lends itself to this disease. It will always be an uphill battle.

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  4. Does a rose recover? I am glad that you presented alternatives to Bayer's. Now I am hoping that our garden centers carry your products, though I have not had trouble with black mold., perhaps because we are in a dry climate.

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    1. Roses are actually quite hard to kill. They should rebound from all the pruning, especially after being given a large dose of my homemade fertilizer mix. Your arid climate makes it easier to grow disease free roses.

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  5. This is why I admire roses. In other people's gardens. To me, no flower is beautiful enough to be worth that much work and worry. But kudos to you for having a battle plan.

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    1. I am sentimental about roses. Plus, I'm just a sucker for how beautiful they are so I don't mind the extra effort.

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  6. I admire your perseverance. You should have some beautiful healthy roses to show for all your hard work. Did you ever try a weekly spraying with a solution of one part milk and two parts water? I've often heard about the milk spray remedy, but never tried it since blackspot isn't a problem in our hot dry climate. It could be an old wives' tale, and you probably have come across that treatment already. It seems almost too easy. But could be worth a try. You do have a lovely selection of roses. Wishing you a beautiful spring time!

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    1. I've heard of the milk remedy before. It's supposed to change the pH of the rose leaves to make them in hospitable to the fungus. I may try it if I'm able to control the disease. I won't give up on something until I've tried absolutely everything. :o)

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  7. I've always had trouble with roses and blackspot. Suppose the conditions in Ireland are just so damp that disease is gong to set in. All the rose parks here us chemicals. However, I tend to pull off the affected leaves, dispose them, and not use chemicals. Hope you get yours sorted. I like the idea of the milk spray someone suggested.

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    1. I tried just pulling off all the leaves last summer but I ended up with roses that never had any leaves because they were so heavily infected. I'm really hoping this plan works.

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  8. I really struggle with roses..keep trying, but they always end up with blackspot. I suspect, like Kelli, it is just too damp here. I'll be very interested indeed to see how you do!

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    1. I always thought English gardeners had some kind of magic formula to keep their roses disease free. But when I was in England last summer, I saw quite a few roses with blackspot. I was really surprised. If this plan doesn't work, then my bag of tricks is empty. That is a sad, sad thought.

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  9. OH I do hope you kick this in the butt this year! And I really respect you for being tuned into what is in these products! I am all organic...I don't treat weeds in the lawn and I don't use anything that isn't organic. I will be bookmarking the Organocide. Keep us posted on this one friend...my fingers are crossed for your roses! Happy day to you tomorrow! Nicole xoxo

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    1. Thanks! If this approach doesn't work, you'll hear me screaming all the way to Chicago!

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  10. This is why I don't grow many Roses. The ones I have don't seem to have much, if any, black spot. But I don't use any systemics. I do, however, clip them back in mid-summer after they bloom. Sometimes they bloom again later in the summer, they seem to come back OK every spring, and the pruning keeps the diseases in check. I don't know if I'm doing it the "right" way, but it seems to work. Our summers are pretty humid, too, but the really hot/humid days usually don't hit until July. By then, the first Rose blooms are fading.

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    1. I've never heard of a mid-summer pruning but I may have to give it a try. My Westerland put out a few scrawny roses in late summer that I took as s sign of hope.

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  11. How heartbreaking! I hope that your new product works and that you have a drier season. I adore roses. But I only grow rugosa roses and wing thorn roses in my partially shaded yard to avoid the black spot issue.

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    1. I liked having a moist spring because of how lush it made the garden. I just want a magic wand so I can create a bubble or aridness around each rose to keep them disease free.

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  12. Very helpful post! I live in a very humid climate and limit my roses for that reason. But I do have a few, and I just planted a new one this week! I am also determined to use only organic products, so I appreciate your advice.

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    1. I was once told that it was impossible to keep roses disease free organically, which of course just made me more determined to find a way to do it. I'm so glad this post was helpful!

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  13. I have a vision of you moving from rose bush to rose bush like a garden ninja! I hope your efforts prove effective and that you have an opportunity to enjoy your beautiful roses this summer.

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    1. I wish I were a garden ninja! That'd be awesome! But only if I can have throwing stars to throw at Japanese beetles and other nasties.

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  14. Uh oh. I guess I'm asking for trouble by adding a couple of roses to the garden later this spring. Madame Plantier is supposed to be disease resistant, but as you say, those claims do not always match reality.

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    1. Just be vigilant and know your enemy.

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  15. Beautiful roses! Thanks for sharing a great lesson.

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  16. Tammy you are a great warrior, and I heard your battle cry from way over here (Release the Kraken!!!)....I think the black spot may have finally met its match.
    Your arsenal of choice should take care of the problem or at least have it under control.
    Your roses will be okay

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    1. I like that! I'm hoping my arsenal is much better equipped this year than it was last year.

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  17. I love Roses but this is the reason I only grow a few. I always enjoy looking and seeing everyone else's though. I hope your strategy works for you this year. Sounds like a good plan.
    Cher

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    1. Roses definitely aren't the easiest plants to grow but they're usually worth it. I hope my plan works, too.

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  18. I remember your roses problems last year and am, as always, impressed by your resolve. I'll be very interested to see how your remedies work as the hot and humid weather sets in. In the meantime, thanks for tip about Serenade and Actinovate. They're now on my list.

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    1. I thought it was weird that I was being told to use two different fungicides but a horticulturalist told me that it's necessary to stay ahead of the fungus so the fungicides doesn't lose it's effectiveness. That still seems odd to me unless the fungus has the ability to adapt and mutate to protect itself from the fungicide. But at this point, I'm willing to try anything organic and like the idea of keeping my fungusy enemies confused. I've heard the Serenade and Actinovate are very effective.

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  19. I will watch out for Organicide, as I think it could have been responsible for quite a few unsolved murders!
    I see 'Jude the Obscure is living up to its name !
    All hail to you the mighty warrior and Destroyer of Ye Olde Balckspot !It wouldn't dare come back and face you ...
    This season could be the best, easiest, less - Blackspottiest EVER, so fingers crossed for you.

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    1. Too funny! I definitely find the name creepy, for sure! I'm hoping for as little balckspot as possible this year. I'm even treating my neighbors roses to prevent them from infecting mine.

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  20. Oh noooooooooo, what beautiful roses, I'd be sobbing. I do hope you beat the dreaded lurgy....with a battle plan like that going down I don't see how you can fail....fingers AND toes crossed!xxx

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    1. The roses were so bad last year, I hated to even look at them. They were simply wretched. But I really think this new plan will work. Staying on top of the spraying will be key. I swore I'd never spray my roses but never say never. :o)

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  21. You GO gurl! You are taking all the steps I *would* take if I had the time to *properly* care for my roses. Last summer was particularly horrid for fungal diseases; and with all the snow we've had this winter, I have a hard time imagining we won't have an equally wet spring this year. Don't despair and keep up the good fight. I think you're doing what any rose-grower in your neck of the woods HAS to do to keep roses. I'm looking forward to following your progress as the season progresses!

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    1. If I want disease free roses without using any Bayer or Bonide products, this is what has to be done. I will absolutely share the results, even if they're embarrassingly horrid.

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  22. Your roses are so lovely. Even in this harsh winter, I do see some buds on mine. I am looking forward to that color again. I never use pesticides on them...the birds help quite a bit.

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    1. I has rose worms last year that the birds weren't picking off. But I squished them whenever I saw them. Mine have no growth at all but since it was 2 again the other night, I'm not surprised.

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  23. Our new place is pretty barren but there are three sad looking roses by the back door. Not the best place for them but there they are. I pruned them back last fall and they already look better. They did have blackspot, I wish I'd had these tips earlier but I will be taking action now. I'd like to see them reach their full potential. Any chance of a pic of you in your spraying gear:) your fashion shots are so much fun?

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    1. I was in my holey gardening jeans, an old coat, a beat up, dog chewed hat, and a pair of lab goggles. I was quite the beauty queen! You can give your roses the Organocide all through the growing season as well as use the two fungicides. It's not too late to remove the mulch from that area and replace it with new mulch, either.

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  24. How about a flamethrower? Seriously, though. This posting is a fabulous primer for those new to dealing with rose black-spot. It also could deter some folks from even thinking about planting roses. But who cares? One needs to be made of sturdy stuff to face the pain as well as the glory of growing roses. That's probably why I only have native Nootkas growing. No guts (no glory). Great post, Tammy!

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    1. Our only native rose is a noxious weed. As much fun as I'd have with a flame thrower, I don't think it would solve my problem. But it would excellent for dealing with door-to-door salespeople and Japanese beetles.

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  25. I sincerely hope you have a better rose season this year than you had last year! After all the precautions you have taken it really should make a difference. Good luck, I will be following from the sideline and cheering :-)

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  26. Good luck with your roses this year, sounds as if you are doing absolutely everything you possibly could. I have zero experience with roses, but have inherited three which I suppose will teach me all about fungal diseases etc. Ah well! At least I will be able to come to you for advice and sympathy!

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    1. Your roses are probably already cooking up a summer of drama for you. I hope they break you in easily. Try not to fall in love with them. It's all down hill from there if you do.

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  27. Good luck. And thank you so much for talking about the Bayer systemics. I have a friend that uses this, and I have tried repeatedly to tell her this is not good for the bees. So far, she doesn't believe me. I hope blackspot is absent from your garden this year. I think Beth's idea of a summer pruning is a good one. Fortunately, our summers are too hot for blackspot. Of course, our summers are also too hot for humans! ;)

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    1. Your summers are killers! Too hot for me! I do think I'm going to add the summer pruning to my arsenal. Keep working on your friend about Bayer. Those big blue bottles are pure death.

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  28. I gave up roses decades ago when, even then, it seemed they only did well living in a toxic chemical haze. I can only applaud your ongoing battle and cheer with your successes - and commiserate with your losses. I would help if I can, but I just can't find where I left my wand.... As for Bayer, Monsanto, DuPont, etc. Those guys will most likely kill us all yet.

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    1. They may kill us all but I will die fighting.

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  29. This is why I don't grow roses--I'm afraid my neglect would send them all to that great rosebed in the sky in no time:) I hope all your hard work and diligence pays off this season; it would be a shame to lose these beauties. Thanks for the heads-up on Bayer. I don't use any chemicals--other than on the evil poison ivy--but I have some friends who regularly use Bayer in their garden. I'll see if I can change their minds.

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    1. Bayer and Bonide sell horrible stuff. It's been so cold my roses haven't put out any new growth. I'll feel more relieved that they survived our winter when they do. Of course, I'll have the organic fungicide ready!

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  30. Very educational post. I have not seen any black spot yet on my roses, though I did lose a 'Westerland' rose to rose rosette disease. I think my oldest rose right now is going into its fourth season. I guess it's just a matter of time, but I'm hoping I can get at least one more year without black spot.

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    1. I haven't seen any rose rosette but am battling blackspot. Hopefully, they won't both show up at the same time. That would just be too much of a gut punch for me,

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  31. I don't think it is possible to keep blackspot out entirely, just try your best to keep it under control. I wonder what professional gardeners at the botanical gardens do?

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    1. I think the public gardens use boatloads of chemicals. I'm sure it will show up again but hopefully this time it will be more manageable.

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  32. Gosh what we gardeners go through! You are smart to have stepped back and regrouped to fight the enemy blackspot. I am with you on the chemicals. I would rather give up on roses. The last couple of years I have had a black fungus on my peony leaves. It does not effect the plant or the flowers, but it looks ugly. I am thinking that I should follow your example and remove any leaves and maybe the mulch.

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    1. I've had mold on my peonies, too, but I removed all of mine and the only one i have left is doing ok. I didn't remove them because of the mold but because I wanted the space for other plants. But I can't imagine not having roses in my garden. Everything I did last year was so ineffective. I'm hoping for better results this year. I can't go through last year all over again.

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  33. Seriously, are roses that worth it? The answer for me is a big NO because we have so many other plants that don't take such heroic efforts to bloom their heads off sans disease-ridden foliage. Just me. I have one rose, and so far so good, but I am not beyond being roseless. I can hear the gasps in blogland :-) I have used imidacloprid as a last resort (IPM) on crape myrtle scale that has become epidemic here, but I am also happy to see many more twice-stabbed lady beetles have come to the rescue which will hopefully eliminate the need for imidacloprid use. That would definitely be my preference, but sometimes you just gotta pull out the big guns. I'm not using it like a machine gun, spraying everything in sight. More like a sling-shot, carefully addressing one affected tree, to hopefully bring the giant down before it has a chance to do more damage to others. But all the power to you on the roses, my blog friend. You are certainly more patient and persistent than me.

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    1. They are worth it to me. I'm not an exceedingly sentimental person, but roses remind me of my parents, both of whom are dead. There's a big void when I don't have a rose. Are there any cultural practices that are contributing to the scale problem?

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  34. I wish the government would hurry up and ban the horrible products that hurt bees. I think some roses are more prone to black spot than others. Graham Thomas was awful for me. I dug it out along with several others. The few roses I have now are pretty much immune but if a bad case erupts, I'll just cut the entire bush down to the ground. Usually the new growth will be unaffected. I hope your system works. I love that last photo.

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    1. I really love Graham Thomas so I hope it pulls through. But your area is much rainier than we are so I would imagine black spot would be a huge problem.

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  35. Good for you for not using that Bayer pesticide, I've heard nasty things about it. Up here it's so dry that we rarely get black spot, but oh was it a problem down on the coast. My roses suffer more from lack of water then too much...except for the last few June's which have been wet.

    Maybe that's why yours look so lovely, and mine look well...not as LOL.

    Jen

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    1. We tend to have summer droughts occasionally so I water a lot, a lot, a lot. I wish more consumers realized how important insects are and were less wanton about killing them all. I also wish pesticides were significantly harder to purchase.

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  36. I look forward to seeing how this works as I am sure I have some black spot growing on my climbing roses.

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    1. I'm hoping it all works, too. As soon as I have foliage, I"ll start spraying.

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  37. This was a very informative article. I will be waiting to see your results and apply this knowledge to my garden if need arises.

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    1. Hopefully, the need will never arise. :o)

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  38. Your roses all look beautiful. We have just planted 50 roses around the garden and at the allotment so I will have to spend quite some time spraying this summer!

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    1. 50 roses! Wow! That will be beautiful. But I think spraying will be a good idea. :o)

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  39. I admire your dedication. As much as I love roses, I'm not sure I'd grow them in a blackspot-prone climate. There is one thing to be said for drought--too dry for much disease. I found Banner-Maxx to be the most effective fungicide--one spray in the spring right after leaf-out and the roses would be clean until the following December--though I haven't done that since the drought began--no need. Anyway I hope your efforts have good results. A garden without roses seems a little empty, somehow.

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  40. Tammy, I don't know why I missed this interesting post. I have some bad news: In my old garden where blackspot was an issue, some of my roses that got blackspot, kept getting it no matter what I did to prevent it. In the end my solution was to rip out the ones that were susceptible to the disease and only keep the ones that were more or less resistant. Here in my new garden in Southern California blackspot pressure is not high, even though I have some roses that get it. These have to go as well in case they drop more leaves than I can tolerate. My main problem is powdery mildew and I follow the same strategy: Roses that constantly get it have to go!
    Christina

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  41. Good on you for avoiding chemicals that harm bees, they need all the help they can get.
    About the milk spray which someone mentioned, when I went on a tour of our Parliament House gardens a few years ago the gardener said they maintain the gardens as organically as possible and they use the milk spray as a preventative for their roses. Apparently it doesn't help once the problem has started but if the roses are sprayed regularly it does help prevent it. Milk spray has also been recommended on a tv show here. http://www.abc.net.au/gardening/stories/s948323.htm Good luck, I hope you find something that works well for you.

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