Resolutions and the Heartbreak of RRD

As you know, I made a New Year’s resolution to get the yard in order and under control, after two summers of indifferent care. Well, Fate has decided to take me at my word, it seems!

Even though it was cold yesterday, I spent a couple of hours working in the front yard clearing the beds. In this part of the country, Bermuda grass is considered an acceptable turf grass. It grows on long runners across and under the ground. Maybe other people are able to make this work, but in my yard, Bermuda grass doesn’t grow in the yard but instead makes a bee-line for my flowers beds. Our lawn looks horrible, but the grass sure is green in the flower beds! I hate Bermuda grass.

Anyway, so I am out clearing the Bermuda grass from our overgrown flower beds and I started tugging on a particularly long runner, which spans the length of the flower bed. As I am following it along pulling it, I run smack into my Zephirine Drouhin rose, and I notice something odd. She has what looks like new growth on the tips of one for her canes (new growth on some roses can be quite red). But it’s January! I stuff the wretched Bermuda grass runner in a trash bag and take a closer look.

One entire cane of Zephy, which has multiple branches, has quite a lot of these red tufts of leaves. The branches themselves have purply-red blotches along them. I now I notice that the branches are horribly malformed. I looked closer, and my worst fear is confirmed. My beautiful Zephirine Drouhin has Rose Rosette Disease, or RRD.

Rose Rosette Disease is a rose virus which is fatal to a rose if not stopped. Worse yet, the virus is spread by tiny airborne mites from rose to rose. If one rose gets infected it must be destroyed or it will spread to all the roses, kill them, and then spread to your neighbors roses. The disease is recognizable by aberrant, excessive, and distorted growth. Infected canes become twisted and grow at an excessive rate. The leaves on the infected cane develop “witches broom”, in which many branches are developed from one leaf node. The leaves and stems are garish red and excessively thorny. The infection starts on the cane, then spreads down to the crown and roots, from where it infects the entire plant.

Sometimes, if noticed early enough, the infected cane can be removed down to the ground and destroyed, thus preventing infection of the entire rose and nearby roses. However, this was not the case with poor Zephy. I know that as of 2014, she was healthy. But apparently, that fall or last spring, she became infected and it quickly spread. It breaks my heart to say it, but she will have to be removed from my garden and destroyed.

RRD has been around for decades, generally spread by wild multiflora roses in pastures and undeveloped areas, to cultivated roses. Recently, however, it has spread quickly through many areas of the US. My theory is that until fairly recently, people who grew roses were generally garden enthusiasts, who spent time in their gardens and would quickly notice an infected plant. Roses were not selected for “plant it and forget it” landscaping, because they had the reputation of being high maintenance. However, since the invention of the care-free landscape rose, such as Knockout and other varieties, many more roses are found in areas that do not receive regular monitoring and care, other than indifferent occasional pruning. My theory is that this has accelerated the ability of the virus to spread.

I began to examine the other roses in my yard and found that nearly all of them are infected. Crystal Fairy, Jude The Obscure, and Carefree Delight will all need to be removed. However, Little Mischief, which is sandwiched between Zephy and Crystal Fairy appears unaffected, so far. Queen Elizabeth, next to Carefree Delight, also appears unaffected.

For reference, here is a (rather blurry) photo of an infected area on Carefree Delight:

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Here is a picture of aberrant growth on Jude The Obscure, which is not as badly affected. It is hard to see in the picture, but stems on that leaf group are excessively thorny.

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Needless to say, this considerably impacts my plans to build a new rose garden around my beautiful Zephy rose. To err on the side of caution, I don’t want to immediately replant another rose where I removed infected roses. For reference, here is the area that I am renovating:

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It’s hard to see but Zephy is in front of the trellis. You can see some of her branches reaching out into the yard. On the far right of the bed is Crystal Fairy, which is being removed as well. Little Mischief is also in the picture but is impossible to make out. There is also a hydrangea towards the front of the bed, which will be staying, at least this year. It was planted before we lost the tree in our front yard during a storm, so it may not like all the strong sun. Perhaps I will relocate it around back next year if it struggles. On the far left, next to the steps, is the area that I have started clearing. It’s slow work – that mulched patch represents several hours of weeding and digging. (The mulched areas in the yard are simply uneven areas that we are trying to fill in.) Here’s another angle:

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And here is the area to the left of the steps:

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Notice how it is completely overgrown with Bermuda grass after one year. On the right next to the steps is Jude The Obscure, who is infected and will be removed. On the left is Glowing Embers hydrangea, which has not flowered after an excessively cold winter two years ago. It still leafs out beautifully though, and is care-free. I will give it a little TLC this year and see how it does.

After having a bit of time to adjust, I am hopeful that I can still move forward with my new garden plans. However, I may have to make some adjustments to the arrangement of plants. I am definitely going to replace Zephirine Drouhin, though I will likely move the location slightly to avoid replanting in the same hole. It would seem disrespectful somehow to replant the new one in the same location. I think I will put a rosemary bush there instead, and perhaps place the new rose in front of the porch corner rather than on the side. My current Zephy is such a showstopper, so I feel comfortably placing the new plant in a prime location. I may scale back the number of plantings as well.

At this point you may be asking, “Why are your replanting any roses? It sounds like a big pain in the tuckus.” Well, first, I love roses. Also, because of the problem with Bermuda grass in these beds, I have found that perennials are problematic. They get overrun quickly by the Bermuda grass, and then it is very difficult to remove the grass without disturbing their roots. That is the one of the reasons that I am choosing roses for this location. I love hydrangeas as well, but our house faces due west, and they do not do well in the kind of full, relentless sun that this side of the house gets in summer. With the bed full of shrubs rather than perennials, I can help keep the Bermuda grass under control by spraying with grass killer in the bed. I am planning to border the bed with catmint, which will need protection when I spray for grass, but other than that, these beds will be shrubs only.

There is still a lot of planning and preparation to be done, but in spite of the heartbreaking realization of having to remove my favorite rose, I still excited about this project. It’s very cold today, but I am going to get out an do a little work anyway. Then, I will come back in and take a page out of Simon’s book.

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