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How to Save a Dying Rose Bush

rose image by Frédérique COLOMBERON from

Roses are a popular garden plant and, when properly cared for, provide beauty in a garden for years. Many people think roses are difficult to grow and cause more grief than joy, but experienced gardeners realize that's not the case if you have a little know-how. In some cases, a rose bush may start to die because of neglect or improper care, but as long as there is still some life in it, it's possible to save it.

Remove all debris from underneath and around the base of the rose bush. This can include accumulated dead leaves, flowers and weeds. Mold can grow in debris that is not cleaned up and continually gets wet, causing diseases that can spread to the rose bush.

Prune the dying rose bush back drastically to improve its health and vitality. Any time of the year, cut out all diseased canes or branches that can infect rest of the bush, and prune out all dead, broken or crossing canes. Open up the center of the bush by cutting out any canes growing straight up in the middle, which allows for more sunlight to penetrate and better air circulation. In the spring only--so you don't diminish the blooms for that season--cut back one-third of the bush to allow for new growth.

Apply mulch around the rose bush to help prevent further disease from getting to the plant, which can occur when infected soil is splashed onto the foliage during watering. A 2-inch layer of mulch such as coarse bark, placed around the base of the plant, helps prevent this, and also controls weeds that compete with the bush for nutrients and moisture in the soil.

Water consistently to revive a dying rose bush. Perhaps the biggest mistake in caring for rose bushes is either not watering enough or watering too much and causing root rot. Rose bushes need moist soil but do not do well when it's water-logged. Water slowly and deeply; two to three times per week using a soaker hose works best. Let the water run for about 10 minutes each watering, and if the weather is extremely hot, watering once a day may be necessary.

Apply a fertilizer designed specifically for roses, and use once a week beginning in the spring to help bring back a dying rose bush. Apply the fertilizer around the base of the bush--avoid letting it touch the plant--and water in well. Continue fertilizing once a week until the rose bush is growing stronger and the rose buds are starting to swell, then cut back to once a month. Stop fertilizing at the end of summer to allow the bush to begin its dormancy stage for winter.

Check the rose bush for pests such as aphids, scales and spider mites. The signs typically include small holes in the leaves, white cottony substance usually on the underside of the leaves and the pests themselves on the bush. Pick off any pests you see and wipe the leaves, both top and bottom, with a damp cloth. If the pests continue, spray with soapy water made from adding a cap full of mild dish detergent to a pint of water. An insecticide spray, purchased at local gardening centers, can also be used.


Do not get rose bushes wet from overhead watering, which can cause black spot to form on the leaves.

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