Yellow leaves on roses can be a sign that your plant needs a little extra attention, but luckily the solutions are quite simple and easy to implement. Here’s what to do if you see your rose leaves turning yellow.
Over the last few years, I’ve quickly become a big fan of growing roses in my garden. Like many gardeners, I just can’t get enough of them and I find myself walking around our property and examining my different types of roses intently every day during the summer to learn their patterns, likes, and dislikes. Shrub roses and climbers are easy-to-grow flowering garden plants and there’s always something interesting going on with them throughout the warmer months of the year. I have seen my rose leaves turning yellow from time to time, especially the foliage near the lower stems, and it definitely caused me some worry the first few times I noticed it. I thought it might be helpful to share what I’ve learned today in case any new rose gardeners out there are noticing this issue and wondering what they can do about it. So here’s what to do when you see yellow leaves on roses.
Why Are My Rose Leaves Turning Yellow?
There can be a number of different reasons for rose leaves turning yellow, and some of them are very common. You might not always know exactly what your particular issue is right away, but with a little bit of information and an assessment of environmental conditions, you can probably do a little detective work and figure out which of the reasons listed below pertains to your gardening situation. Here are the most common issues and what to do about each one of them.
Lack of Sunlight
This will be the most common issue for most mature rose bushes and in most cases what you should do is absolutely nothing. As your rose bush gets bigger and fuller, you may start to see a few of the lower leaves turning yellow and dropping off. This is just the plant recognizing that those lower leaves aren’t getting any sunlight and therefore aren’t of any use to the plant’s overall growth. In this case, the rose bush will just drop those leaves and put the energy that went into keeping them alive into creating new growth and more beautiful blooms instead.
In some more extreme cases, you may notice more yellowing of leaves starting at the lower leaves and moving upward more into the middle of the plant. If you have nearby trees or shrubs around the rose that have grown larger and caused the rose bush to be more shaded, you may want to prune them back or consider moving your rose bush to a sunnier spot.
This is definitely the second most common reason for yellow rose leaves. If you’re like me and love to grow other blooming shrubs like hydrangeas as well, you may have gotten in the habit of being a very dedicated daily waterer. Your roses just don’t need as much water as your hydrangeas and actually would prefer to be watered just twice a week during the hottest part of the summer. If you live in an area with high humidity, you may be particularly susceptible to this issue. Scale back your watering and you may find that the yellowing of leaves stops immediately once the ground dries out a bit.
Making sure that your roses are located in an area with good drainage at the time of planting will help to keep this issue from popping up and keep the soil moisture levels from getting too high. Removing weeds growing around the base of your roses can also help to keep air circulating and allow moisture to dissipate a little more quickly.
Heat Stress Causing Yellow Leaves on Roses
Truthfully, roses are very tolerant of sun and heat, so your rose bush experiencing heat stress is probably not super likely, but if you live in one of the warmer USDA plant hardiness zones, heat stress is a bit more of a possibility. Heat stressed roses will often occur when the sun is really hot and is being reflected back onto the plant. This can happen if your rose is next to a building that is reflecting a lot of heat back, or it can come from heat being reflected up from the ground. If you suspect the heat is coming off the siding of a building, you can shield the rose a bit by placing something like a wood trellis up, to hopefully reduce the reflection a bit. If the heat is coming up from the ground, lay some natural mulch down in the area around the base of your rose bush. Mulching over dark earth should help quite a bit.
Over-Feeding or Under-Feeding
Roses can, at times, react similarly to hydrangeas when they’re underfed. You’ll want to do the same thing in this circumstance as you’d do when hydrangea leaves turn yellow and apply plant food. An all-purpose plant food applied every two weeks or so will definitely help if your roses are reacting to being underfed, or you can try a plant food made especially for roses as well. When you fertilize your plants, this also acts as a bit of a preventative measure if applied in early-spring and throughout the season and can help your roses be vigorous growers throughout the growing season while warding off many pests.
If you’ve fed your roses already, there’s a chance that the yellow leaves you’re seeing are actually the result of over-feeding, especially if you’ve used a granular fertilizer sprinkled on the ground, or a foliar fertilizer that you apply directly to the leaves. The yellow you see may actually be a result of fertilizer burns, so you’ll probably want to refrain from feeding for awhile and give your roses a good drink of water to help them recover and dilute the excess fertilizer.
Roses in general are a good friend of the gardener because they’re pretty resistant to pests and negative insect activity, so unless you see clear evidence that your yellow leaves are from this issue, consider that it might be one of the other simpler problems first. If you do suspect pests, pruning back the diseased area is a good initial step. After that, you’ll want to apply something to deter pests. Start with the simplest and least-invasive method. I like to keep any shrubs that I find to be affected by pests sprayed with neem oil on a regular basis, about once a week. Reapply the neem oil after a heavy rainfall.
Yellow Leaves on Roses in Autumn
This one is maybe a bit funny, but if it’s fall right now as you read this, your rose leaves may be turning yellow with the changing of the season, even if that seems like they’re experiencing yellowing and defoliation prematurely before you’ve had a first frost. The way roses tend to yellow in the fall can be quite sudden and I’ve found that the leaves often turn yellow a bit earlier than seems natural with some varieties, which can sometimes lead me to wonder if my plant is OK. If it’s autumn and the yellow leaves have appeared suddenly and have begun to drop, even if not many other leaves in your yard have started to to change, it’s probably just because your roses are shutting down and going dormant for the winter. Not to worry, they’ll come back better and stronger in the spring.
Have you ever seen the leaves of your roses turn yellow? Did you find out what was causing it?
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.