What’s Eating My Roses?

Princess Anne roses--photo copyright Anne Underwood EnslowWhen I started my garden two years ago, I didn’t realize that what I was really planting was a salad buffet for insects—an all-you-can eat, no-cash-down, something-for-everyone, fresh, organic type of dining experience for both good and bad bugs. The more plants I pot, the more insects I seem to draw, as the word spreads among them—“good eats at Anne’s.”

The latest plants to draw unwelcome insect attention are my roses. I planted them in April as bare roots—unpromising clusters of naked roots with nothing but a few sawed-off branches above ground. But plant stock that looked utterly barren in April has since flourished into four miniature bushes with a profusion of new branches, leaves, and roses. No sooner had the tender new leaves emerged than I began to notice little round holes in some of them. Some had so many tiny perforations that they almost looked like lace. Others had been totally devoured, leaving nothing but the stem. Who gave these pests permission to defoliate my new rose bushes? And what pests are they, anyway?

Rose leaf eaten away--photo copyright Anne Underwood EnslowI called an expert—Jeff Collard of Eberly & Collard Public Relations in Atlanta, the publicist for David Austin Roses, which supplied my beautiful bushes. “Are they the newer leaves?” he asked. Sure enough. It was the tiniest, most tender little leaflets that were suffering the worst predation. “To pests, the new leaves are like spring greens or young arugula to us—fresher, more tender, less bitter,” he says. “They’ll take the older growth, too. But the younger leaves are soft and easy to chew, yet full of nutrients.”

Sawfly--photo copyright Anne Underwood EnslowBut still the question remained: what pest was treating my rose bushes as the tender salad greens du jour? “How about sawflies?” he suggested. These pesky critters look a lot like bees, except that they don’t do anything useful like pollinate crops. Instead, in the larval phase, their caterpillars dine on your plants. I’d definitely seen a handful of sawflies in the garden, but no sawfly caterpillars. Nonetheless, I went outside for a closer inspection—and there they were.

Sawfly caterpillar--photo copyright Anne Underwood EnslowI won’t use anything on my garden that’s not organic, so I started by plucking off all the affected leaves. Then I plucked off all the tiny caterpillars I could find and squished them. So sawflies, beware. You can dine on my garden—but now that I know you’re there, it’s strictly at your own peril.

Related posts: Bare Roots Roses
and Ladybugs vs. Aphids (Guess Who’s Winning?)

Darcy Bussell roses--photo copyright Anne Underwood EnslowDarcy Bussell roses (above), ordered from David Austin Roses

Princess Anne roses from David Austin--photo copyright Anne Underwood EnslowPrincess Anne roses (above), ordered from David Austin Roses

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One Response to What’s Eating My Roses?

  1. Joyce Wheeler says:

    I read about insecticidal soap so I bought a bottle. Then I read I could make my own. I couldn’t find Castile soap so I got Ivory, let it sit in water, added a drop of chili oil and put it in a spray bottle.
    I’ve sprayed my roses, peony, hibiscus and rhododenron for a couple of weeks (once or twice a week). I don’t see much change but then I don’t know how long it takes. I did see a worm on my rose today so I’m a little frustrated. Can you help me??

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