William Shakespeare in trouble please help

mashamclApril 23, 2014

I need help from you knowledgeable rose-growers to figure out what is wrong with my William Shakespeare 2000 shrub. I have two of them flanking my driveway. One is doing great, and the other, abutting my neighbor's property, is not. Here is what it looked like last spring:

Here is what it looks like now:

It has very little foliage, and some leaves appear to turn yellow one by one. It gets hit by my neighbors' sprinklers that are set on auto regardless of rain, shine, winter, summer, water restrictions or anything else. I was inclined to think at first that it is getting drowned (our lots are sloping toward this rose and the neighbors' euonymus hedge directly behind it). However, I have seen roses drowning before, and the most obvious symptom I observed was a gradual uniform loss of green in the foliage, which does not seem to be the case here. Also, the neighbors watered it all last year, and the year before :). It appears that on several canes growth started in early spring, then stopped, the leaves remained small and crinkled (edges turned in at the sides). Leaves graduallly turn yellow, then brown, then fall off.

Interestingly, those canes still try to grow, but not normal shoots. Instead small buds appear on short necks with almost no foliage.

Blooms are much smaller than usual and very few. On some canes where foliage appears normal, it shows signs of mild chlorosis.

On very few canes, foliage is completely normal. There is, so far, no cane dieback. A month or two back, when I first saw growth slowing I fertilized it heavily and it seemed to have made no difference: no foliage burn from too much, and, obviously, no growth spurt either. The soil down to a few inches below ground level seems to be very moist, I can't figure out if there is any standing water below because I am not willing to dig. I do check to see that euonymus roots do not choke out my rose.

If you have any ideas on what to do, please share, it would be much appreciated.


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nikthegreek(9b/10a E of Athens, Greece)

A wild guess, judging from my conditions over here, would be too much salt concentration in the root area. Is irrigation water over there high in solubles (i.e. 'hard')? Is the soil clayish? What has been the rain situation this year compared with previous years? I would be tempted to dig it up, wash its rootball, prune it and plant it somewhere else or in a pot where I could watch its progress. What could be done on the spot, if that's the case, is flushing its root area with lots of water repeatedly to leach out the salts. Preferably with water treated with some acidifying agent to bring the pH down to around 5-5.5. Agricultural gypsum might help but only if the problem is too much Na ions concentration (i.e. excessive sodicity). Fertilising with mineral fertilisers will only make the problem worse if that's the problem. But, as I said, this is a wild guess only. Of course you need to check first if drowning is not the problem, so some exploratory digging might be unavoidable. It can be both, one does not preclude the other, but flushing cannot be performed if the soil is not draining properly.

This post was edited by nikthegreek on Thu, Apr 24, 14 at 0:16

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 12:04AM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

That's the only rose that is doing this in your garden?

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 2:10AM
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Nik, thank you for your thought-out answer. All you say about clay and alkalinity and lack of rain is true, of course. It is a common problem here and many plants exhibit symptoms of salt burn later in the year. Leaves usually look "burned" on tips or around the edges. It does not appear to be a classic case of salt burn, although anything is possible :). I do use mostly organics (I cheat on nitrogen every now and then).

Hoovb, you are making me scared. So far, yes, it is the only one...

To me, diagnostically, the only option left is to dig it out and look at the roots and the soil. However, given that the weather is warming up and the sickly state of the plant, it would probably be killing it outright. In any case, I don't have anything nearly big enough to pot it in.

Does it look like a rose that is drying out? Is it crown gall?


    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 10:27AM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Hoovb, you are making me scared. So far, yes, it is the only one...

No, just trying to eliminate weather or some other general issue as a cause.

So that rose gets the same neighbor watering as healthy ones? (To eliminate the neighbor-watering as a cause).

Could be gall--that decline does happen with gall--my Tradescant did that. :( Have you peeked around the base at all?

I've learned overwatering can lead to chlorotic rose foliage--one corner where it was really too wet--I shut off two sprinkler heads--the chronic chlorosis on the two 'Ambridge Rose' there vanished. Too wet and the roots can't absorb the right combination of nutrients they are looking for.

Actually I'd be thrilled if the neighbors watered my roses. I'd save a lot of $$$!

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 11:06AM
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jo_pyeweed(z9 SF Bay Area)

Masha - so sorry to hear this.

I often do get the small blooms on short necks that you show in the 4th photo on some of my roses, although not in the numbers you are seeing on WS2000. My observation has been that this typically happens after I have pruned in late winter and when temperatures fluctuate between warm and cold as the new growth is coming in. The canes on which I see such short growth are the newer canes - typically the basal breaks from the previous year - and which I have only lightly pruned. Some of my roses do this every year - Tiffany and Brilliant Pink Iceberg.

I usually also then get a lot of very short blind shoots. In the 3rd photo, is that blind growth (with just a few leaves on each shoot)? If so, then the yellowing of the leaves could be due to senescence - I have seen that leaves age a lot faster on blind growth and on the short growth.

I trim off the blind growth and cut the cane back and the new growth that comes in is then fine.

Could you try this on one or a few of the canes to see if new growth comes in fine.

I also wouldn't rule out an issue below ground, particularly if you are seeing this problem only with WS2000. Improper drainage? - the chlorosis on the leaves of normal canes would indicate this. I know you are reluctant to dig to check but perhaps you could dig deeper on the side to check?


Edited: I just saw your update and that you are considering digging up and potting the rose. No, it doesn't look like crown gall to me from the pictures.

This post was edited by jo_pyeweed on Thu, Apr 24, 14 at 11:17

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 11:13AM
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nikthegreek(9b/10a E of Athens, Greece)

The rose appears stunted so crown gall is certainly a possibility as well as any number of other issues affecting root uptake, xylem or phloem.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 11:20AM
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Masha, so sorry to hear this. Not to scare you, but I am suspecting that it may be a soil born fungus based on the excessive watering you get from your neighbor's lawn.

We do have a lot of oak root fungus (armillaria) in the San Jose area. Excessive water will often trigger it. Here is a quote from the UC Davis pest note on armillaria "The first aboveground symptoms are often undersized, discolored, and prematurely dropping leaves. Branches die, often beginning near the tops of plants". The signature mushrooms do not appear until very late. What you can do is to scrape back the outer bark of an affected cane near the root to see if you find white fungus mycelium plaques under the bark. Here is a link to a picture:


If it is armillaria, you will have to discard the rose since there is no cure. Anything you plant there should be oak root fungus resistant. Unfortunately that does mean no roses. There is a list of oak root fungus resistant plants on the Master Gardener website. Let me know if you want the link.

The second possibility that comes to my mind is another fungus disease also triggered by overwatering, phytophthora root rot. UC Davis says "most ornamental trees and shrubs (including many California natives), can develop Phytophthora rot if soil around the base of the plant remains wet for prolonged periods". Here is a link to the information page where you will find management suggestions, http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74133.html.

Or it could indeed be salts in the water, as Nik suggested. In my experience water with excessive salts makes roses chlorotic with the edges of the leaves looking burned, but I suspect it could affect different roses differently. Many roses do not seem to be affected at all. With my highly alkaline soil, I try to grow those ones.

In any case, I don't think you will be able to grow roses where the water from your neighbor's sprinklers will hit them. Waterlogged soil is not hospitable to roses even without fungal problems.

Wishing you all the best.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 11:42AM
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Hi Masha,

Here are some other things to consider:

Does your neighbor spray glyphosate?

Does your neighbor have a commercial lawn service that sprays a pesticide-fertilizer combo on the lawn?

Does your DH wash the car in the driveway, with the slant of the driveway causing the detergent to head toward the soil around the rose?

I have no idea if any of the above could cause the exact problem WS is having, but it's worth investigating.

Hope you can save the rose!


    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 11:44AM
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Thank you! You have given me something to at least think about...

Hoovb, my neighbors generously water almost everything along the property line, but because the yards are sloping I think it all ends up at the lowest point where William is (or does it continue to drain under the street? I don't know). Other roses are fine. Perhaps it is not the neighbors' fault at all, especially since thin sticks poked deep do not come out glistening wet... I did look around the base, and couldn't feel any mass. I didn't see any bark separation or fungus at soil line either. There are a lot of Dr. Huey suckers around it this year (but not previously), so maybe the graft is failing? Would it, on a well-established plant like this? After years of mulching and amending, the graft ended up buried. Some canes appear to have developed their own roots.

Jo, thank you. I also thought at first it could be a cold spell, but it is not recovering. Also, the shoots are less than a quarter inch in length, and there is nothing to cut off. You are right, those leaves do look senescent, and I am afraid I will end up with bare sun-burnt canes just as summer heat arrives. I will try to cut back a cane and see what happens, there is certainly little to lose at this point.

Rosefolly, I need to think about your suggestions more. At the other end of this "hell strip" planting there is a large California oak tree that is slowly dying. The description of oak root fungus does not exactly fit, but I have never seen a rose affected by it, so I can't really judge. Here is a picture of a leaf next to a healthy one:

Avalon, thank you for your ideas. I have not seen my neighbors fertilize with anything, and I would never allow my husband to to wash car soap into my roses :)!

My next question is, what should I do? Wait and see? Cut back a cane or two? Put it out of its misery?


    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 12:39PM
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dublinbay z6 (KS)

We are in different regions, but if you were in mine (zone 6 KS), I'd say the rose is suffering from winter cold and needs to be drastically pruned back so that healthy new growth, from the base, is encouraged to grow.

What I do if I'm not sure whether a cane is suffering from winter damage is prune back the cane about 3-4 inches from the end of it. Check the interior of that cane--is it white all across the cane? Or is it tan or even brown? If the latter, it is damaged. In that case, go down about 6-12 inches and prune again and check again. Still tannish in the center? Go down about 6-12 inches and go through the whole cycle again--and keep repeating it until you find white centers.

I've sometimes had to trim the canes back to the soil line, but the new growth coming up from the base quickly began filling out and in a couple weeks would cover the plant with healthy canes and leaves.

Don't know if it gets that cold in the winter where you are, but I swear, if that plant were in Kansas, cold weather damage would definitely be the cause of that kind of spindly growth.

You might experiment on one of your canes and see what you discover.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 1:04PM
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nikthegreek(9b/10a E of Athens, Greece)

If it is indeed a soil fungus as Rosefolly suggested it will be difficult to diagnose. Armilaria can be seen by its growths beneath the bark but it takes a trained eye to recognize what it sees. There's nothing that one can do in this case. Root rot on the other hand can be cured using any number of specialized fungicides (ones containing fosetyl-al like Aliette spring to mind as very commonly used) but one has to also take care of the root (sic) cause of the problem, that is excessive humidity in the root area. I would dig out the rose, see if there are signs of crown gall (or armilaria which is doubtful in my mind since you should have seen the tell tale signs of light brown mushroooms growing) and if there's no sign of these, root wash, dip in a fungicide solution containing propamocarb preferably (Previcur is a common one in Europe) or metalaxyl against Pythium sp. fungus, top and root prune it as if it were a bareroot, pot in a suitable substrata, spray / drench it with a fungicide like Aliette against root rot, keep it in shade for a week or two and hope for the best. That is, assuming all these fungicides are available to you and their use is legal where you live. If successful you will have a rejuvenated plant, if not you will have learnt a thing or two.. I have saved many a plant (e.g citrus) by this procedure, but I have never had to do it on roses.

This post was edited by nikthegreek on Thu, Apr 24, 14 at 15:26

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 2:45PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

At the other end of this "hell strip" planting there is a large California oak tree that is slowly dying.

I know with Oaks, the reason they need summer dryness is that soil moisture will help the oak root fungus to grow, not because they can't take moisture to their roots in the summer.

The significant thing to me is that you only have one rose that is doing this--you reported that the others in your garden are fine. That eliminates weather as a cause. One only and not the rest of the roses leads me to think something is different for that rose--the question is--what is the "different" thing? I would focus on that question and see what you can see.

If it was oak root fungus I would expect neighboring roses affected as well--even if just slightly. If it was me, I'd take some cuttings from the healthy WS and root them--that's the old WS, not 2K, so it's out of patent?--and have a new plant ready to replace the sick one if necessary--then if the sick one doesn't recover and you have to dig it up, inspecting the root system will tell you maybe what was wrong with it (smell the soil--is it foetid?) and you'll have a replacement plant or two ready.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 5:41PM
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Kate, I cut into several canes and pith is healthy to the tips.

Nik, thank you for describing this procedure, I will keep it in mind if ever a really rare rose is affected.

Hoovb, a big thank you for saying oak root fungus is unlikely. There are three more of these live (?) shrubby oaks in the vicinity and they are all fine. The rose is the 2000 one, and I can always get another provided that what is damaging this one is not a soil-borne pathogen :(


    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 6:43PM
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Masha, I'm so sorry about your William S.! I'm no expert, but it does look like some kind of root rot issue to me. I believe one sign is that the oldest leaves tend to yellow and drop, growth is stunted, you will begin to see cane dieback, etc. What Rosefolly mentioned would be my superficial diagnosis. The good news is that only one rose/area of the garden seems to be affected. I'd dig the rose and disgard and take all the usual soil, tool and plant remains precautions. Then I'd follow Folly's advice and plant something resistant. Carol

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 7:04PM
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nikthegreek(9b/10a E of Athens, Greece)

If you don't care to do the whole procedure, you could still drench / spray with fungicides against phytopthora, like Aliette and/or something containing metalaxyl or any other active ingredient recommended in your area against phytopthora root rot.

As a sidenote, I know that mulch is a must have thing for you people in the States but in this case I would get rid of all that mulch around the rose, if the problem is too much humidity, mulch is making it worse. One good thing about gardening in mostly mineral soil with a lesser % of organic material is not having to worry too much about soil borne fungi like phytopthora. Same applies for pests like various root eating beetle grubs.

Also, pruning the top off will not do more harm than is already done. Someone mentioned glyphosate, this doesn't look like glyphosate damage to me but it is a good idea to check with the neighbor about any use of herbicides on the lawn.

This post was edited by nikthegreek on Thu, Apr 24, 14 at 23:01

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 10:44PM
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Carol, thank you. What you recommend is certainly the safest option.

Nik, thanks, I will inquire about Aliette. I did pull the mulch away from it (I know it does not show well on that picture). Left bare, the top layer of soil becomes dry and indurated, which isn't generally good for plants but perhaps isn't so bad in this case :)

When not feeling too upset about losing this lovely rose, I think that my William is acting like Bunbury from Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest":

"I think it is high time that Mr. Bunbury made up his mind whether he was going to live or to die. This shilly-shallying with the question is absurd."


    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 11:19PM
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nikthegreek(9b/10a E of Athens, Greece)

'Left bare, the top layer of soil becomes dry and indurated'

Yes, any soil with at least 20% clay content will do that but it is what's happening underneath the crust that matters. I suspect that it is your clayish soil rather than the mulch that saves your woody plants from drying out too quickly during your summers.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 11:58PM
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jo_pyeweed(z9 SF Bay Area)

One of the long, stout canes on my Abraham Darby had the "little blind shoots" at several nodes after the first flush. I had trimmed them off over the weekend without thinking too much about it but found one I had missed. Here's a pic showing a regular size leaf and the one from the blind shoot:

When I say blind shoot, I should clarify that these are just quarter of an inch in size and there is hardly any stem length between the 2 or 3 sets of small leaves. And, it's hard to see in the picture but the small leaf is already beginning to turn yellow.

I poked around my roses and found a flower on a short stem on one of my icebergs. Here it is in comparison with a regular size flower stem and flower:

I, too, think that Carol's suggestion is the safest in absence of a definitive diagnosis of what is wrong.

In case you decide to leave the rose in its spot and watch how it does for some more time, you may want to use a stake and poke some deep holes around the plant to dry out the soil (if it is still very moist). I'd cut back the canes and see if the new growth comes in normal.

How much did you prune WS2000 this year? Lightly?


    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 12:08AM
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This is a sad story and I don't have any different advice but I did want to say what a beautiful bush it was and you must have been doing the right thing by it for it to look so good. I would get another and start it in a different place just in case this one doesn't come back. WS2000 obviously likes where you live.

Probably what I would do is dig on one side only down deep and look for root problems or wait until December and lift it out and see what's going on so you can save others if they are threatened. I hope you can find out what is bothering your pretty rose.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 12:43AM
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Masha, you have a wonderful sense of humor! Very literary and full of spirit. It is no wonder that your garden is filled with so much beauty and so many healthy, happy roses, whether or not "Will" Shakespeare decides he has the "will" to live. Carol

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 12:46AM
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Thank you, Kitty and Carol, for your encouragement.

Nik, I appreciate your observations.

Jo, that does look very much like what is happening to my rose. Thank you very much for taking the trouble to get pictures and post. Yes, I hardly pruned it this winter, and I do find that in the few instances where roses produce blind shoots it tends to happen on lightly pruned roses. Without any science to back me up it nevertheless seems to me that not all roses are capable of growing forever unchecked in our winterless climate. A few roses seem to achieve a certain size and just sit there until some pruning is done to encourage them to regrow. I don't know whether it depends on the type of rose, gardening practices or simply on the fact that there is not always room for roots to grow to the same size as the top. I want to add that on blind shoots I have noticed (very easy to spot on HTs) the leaves seemed to look normal to me. Perhaps I have not been looking very closely.

I went to Home Depot yesterday and bought a set of cheap pruning tools. I will re-prune the rose, toss the tools just in case and let you know what happens.


This post was edited by mashamcl on Fri, Apr 25, 14 at 12:25

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 12:19PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

And i need to take photography lessons from you.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 12:25PM
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Good luck, Masha! I'm with you in spirit, as are many others, I'm certain. Carol

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 5:45PM
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