O, Thou Rose

Rosa F.J. Grootendorst

We might not think of this as rose season quite yet, but if you grow roses, you might want to take a look at them. I hope you won’t find evidence of rose budworms, but they are out and about. The situation could already be this bad:

The Sick Rose by William Blake

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm
that flies in the night
in the howling storm:

Has found out they bed
of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does they life destroy. 

Scene of the crime.

Apparently there are a number of moths that lay eggs on rose buds. One that is frequently implicated is Pyrrhia umbra. I’m mentioning it so that if you see one fly by, you can shake your fist at it.

The pupa (usually a little green worm) often is the same color as the bud, so it’s easy to miss. It then proceeds to spin a bit of a web, and eat its way into the bud. One of the first signs of the budworm are leaves near the bud rolled up in the web.  Look closer, and you may see the worm, that can be plucked off and stomped on.

The  bud may be partially hollowed out, and the flower, of course, is severely damaged and ragged. So much bad news news to deliver in one post!

What should you do? It depends. Mild winters engender more budworms, so they might not always be a severe problem in your garden and perhaps can be controlled by hand picking. In my experience, sadly, it’s the beautiful old roses that are most afflicted. The newer “landscape” roses seem impervious. Also, I have two roses–“The Fairy,” and “Ballerina,” that are not affected. These two roses have small flowers and small buds–perhaps not big enough “landing pads” for the moths. It’s a theory, anyway. There are chemical controls, but the moment I say it, the image of the toads in my garden leaps to mind, and, for me, it’s not an option. A big problem with chemical controls is that the budworm completes numerous life cycles during the summer, and they have to be continually kept after. Neem oil products are sometimes also recommended, but, again, it will be a labor of love to keep after the worms.

Healthy buds.
Rosa ‘Stanwell Perpetual’

Another problem with budworms is that they are disease vectors, bringing viruses. This year, sadly, I will be digging up two rose bushes that are so afflicted. It’s too bad, but I do still have roses, just not the particularly delicious ones, because they are apparently as delicious to the moths as they are to me.

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4 thoughts on “O, Thou Rose

  1. But . . . but . . . Pyrrhia umbra needs a place to be like everyone else! *sniff* Do not stomp on the little guys as Fran suggests! Grow roses to nurture the Pyrrhia umbra instead! Save the Pyrrhia umbra . . . Save the Pyrrhia umbra . . . Save the Pyrrhia umbra . . .

    (Sorry Fran, I’m just giving you a hard time. You’re still my fav gardener!!) : )

    1. I am the softest-hearted animal lover you could imagine–cannot watch “Bambi”–but somehow it doesn’t bother me to stomp on Pyrrhia umbra!

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