A question--with snarl--about grafted roses

melissa_thefarm(NItaly)September 26, 2012

This was a hot dry summer with the water table, apparently, unusually low, but almost all of our several hundred roses survived. Two unexpected losses were my moss rose 'Comtesse de Murinais', which had held out for several years in a bad spot, and a handsome and rather rare striped Gallica, 'Mecene', thriving down in the bottom of the garden close to the ditch and its water supply. Both of these roses were grafted.

Well, the Comtesse appears to be gone entirely, even though it had just begun to sucker off its rootstock; the only rose in its bed to die. 'Mecene' died--just like that--I left it in fine feather when I went to Florida in July, and when I came back in August it was brown and dry. It had one sucker, and that looks as though it may have survived. All the roses around it are fine.

Are these two cases of failure of a rootstock? Is anybody familiar with similar cases? I should add that destruction from something eating the roots is not a likely cause (it doesn't happen here, but I also checked), and both roses were in good to excellent shape in early summer. This is the first time I've seen anything like this.

Feedback is appreciated.


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Mellisa - you mentioned that both of these roses had begun to sucker - are the suckers from the rootstock, or from the scions?

If the surviving suckers are from the rootstocks, I would guess that this is not a "failure" of the rootstock, but rather that, in a very stressed situation, the rootstock acted to keep itself alive, and succeeded. I don't mean to anthropomorphize the plants, but if there was not enough water to go around, the roots would get first dibs on it, of course, and since they were actually a completely different plant from the top part, it died and they lived (I would call this a "success" of the rootstock). Same thing happens in very cold winters where the rootstock is the only one of the two plants to survive.

Just a guess...


    Bookmark   September 26, 2012 at 4:11PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Mecene is sort of a strange rose. For one thing, it suffers majorly from 'gallica rust', an ailment that may be a mineral deficiency, or just some sort of general necrosis. It also seems to have fairly short lived canes. Not the easiest rose to grow satisfactorily, and I honestly don't know if I still have it or not. The flowers didn't thrill me, and the rest of the plant just wasn't up to snuff.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2012 at 4:22PM
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No, the suckers were from the grafted part of the plant; I should have specified that. I believe most of my grafted roses are on Laxa, and it doesn't appear to be much given to suckering; also, being, I believe, a relative of R. canina, it's distinctive and not likely to be confused with anything except an Alba. You may be sure that 'Mecene' was not stressed: that was one happy rose, and having been in place four or five years and flourishing the whole time, it was about the last rose in the garden to succumb to drought. It was the fact of the entire plant dying--except, possibly (I hope!) the one sucker--that made me suspect a problem with the rootstock. I have just never seen such a thing happen. And 'Comtesse de Murinais' was in a poor position, but it had been there, too, for five or six years, and had survived and grown modestly. Roses in that situation just don't die in the course of a few weeks, not in my experience.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2012 at 4:29PM
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I would think it would have to depend upon the suitability of the root stock for those conditions versus the suitability of the individual cultivars. In old cemeteries and homesteads here in California, you find many instances where the stocks have outlived the scions. You also find many instances of own root roses surviving some pretty amazing conditions. Perhaps, had your two budded roses been on stocks more suited to the extremes of your conditions, they may have survived. Or, not. If the stocks retained the necessary moisture to insure their survival, perhaps the scions were "shed", sacrificed, to save the roots. It's possible those own root survivors experienced less severe situations than the losses did. They may have had sufficiently greater root masses than the root stocks, enabling them to absorb more water from more soil area. Perhaps because the budded plants had fewer scion shoots than established own root types which more likely suckered around, their loss was more eminent due to reduced tissue of the desired rose. There could be many possibilities. Kim

    Bookmark   September 26, 2012 at 7:11PM
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Mellisa - so glad you still have those suckers of the scions that you want! I actually did have a Le Vesuve that was about 8 years old and 8 ft tall by 8 ft wide old do just what you described earlier this year. It was fine, then it started to die back from the tips of the branches. I cut off the dead parts, but it continued to die back from the ends of the branches, rapidly. Finally in desperation, as it kept getting worse and worse so fast, we cut the entire bush down except for one very low branch at the bottom which still looked healthy. Evidently we did that before the disease got down to that branch and the roots, because it stopped dying, and that branch has been putting out new healthy leaves for a couple of months. It looks ridiculous, because that branch is horizontal on the ground, about 8 feet long, and only had a bush of leaves at the end of it. Now it is making some leaves and baby branches off it closer to the roots. If it is stil alive next Spring, I will cut off that branch about 3 feet from the base and see if the plant produces any new basil shoots. I am guessing that this was some sort of canker, but don't know for sure. Definitely awful.

I hope your suckers keep healthy and reproduce new bushes for you.


    Bookmark   September 26, 2012 at 8:33PM
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Mad Gallica,
Location, location. My 'Mecene' always grew very well and was completely healthy. It was in the best position in the garden, along with a handful of other fortunate roses, and all of them were very vigorous, healthy, good growers and bloomers. So for four or five years there was never a breath of trouble with this variety. Then all of a sudden it has the rose equivalent of a heart attack and dies.
Kim, what you're saying doesn't make sense here, though nothing else does, either. 'Mecene' was a healthy vigorous mature rose in a favored spot, and if my garden had suddenly turned into the Sahara desert this summer it would have been about the last rose there to die of drought and stress. That wasn't the problem, as shown by the way that the plant went from madly healthy to dying in less than two months. I believe most of my grafted roses are on Laxa, and it's the best rootstock for our conditions and does a good job. It looks as though the rootstock itself died--but how?--taking the scion with it. It wasn't stress in any case. Canker, as in Jackie's case, also seems doubtful, as the rose was a thicket of stems: wouldn't canker have to attack each one separately? Also I don't believe canker kills this fast and completely.
Mad Gallica, Kim, Jackie, thanks for your responses. Jackie, thanks for your good wishes, and the same to you for your 'Le Vesuve'! I will be watching that remaining sucker with interest.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 12:15AM
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stefanb8(z7 MD)


It may be something else, but the fast death scenario reminds me of borer damage; I lost a large number of rose canes this year at varying heights, although the problem generally doesn't happen underground. If some insect or animal was to girdle the shank below the graft, it could just kill the top without affecting the sucker if it already has a few roots of its own--you're lucky that it had already begun to do that!


    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 7:25AM
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I have a Rosa alba that was about 30 years old and quite a thicket. Canes have died down one by one and new shoots come up but are smaller and weaker. It has been dying about 3 years and is now almost dead. Different, I know, but the size and age of the thicket could explain the longer demise. I noticed when the bark sloughed off of a dead cane that there were trails on the surface of the stem wood. I hadn't seen this phenomenon before. When I have seen borer it has penetrated into the stem wood. Have you found this on yours? Has anyone seen similar?


    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 12:06PM
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Flat Head Apple Borers are an extremely damaging pest across the country and are well known to attack roses here. I first encountered their damage in my roses in the mid 1980s. It's quite possible what you're seeing is due to damage from this family. On an own root rose with multiple canes emerging from the ground, they will girdle and kill them individually, requiring much more time to destroy the clump. On a one cane plant, such as a budded rose, once they hit the bud union, it's a goner.

Maintaining good leaf coverage to prevent sun burn; keeping companion plantings, weeds and grasses from growing up around the plants, providing cover for the adults to lay their eggs; using appropriate insecticides to knock down adult populations are all methods of control. Once the maggots bore into the canes, all you can do is find them and amputate until you find unaffected wood. Lindane, which used to be available at KMart garden centers, is the only pesticide stored in the wood and effective against the maggots once they're inside the canes. That product requires a State license to purchase now. Good thing, the first line of its Danger label states, "Causes blindness".

The extreme heat, lack of ground water and irrigation and intensity of sunlight and the symptoms you describe all point toward this type of damage. Kim





    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 1:29PM
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Thank you Kim, I will investigate this further.


    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 10:03PM
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Oh, another garden pest. Stefan and Kim, your suggestions sound worth looking into: thanks!
It's amazing we have any roses in our gardens at all.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 11:42PM
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Campanula UK Z8

Melissa, can you investigate what is left of the rose. Look under the outer cambium layer. Does it look darker or have a brownish stain? Does it smell a bit yeasty? If you rummage about in the soil underneath, you may come across little black fruiting bodies of fungus (one of the verticilliums). If present, these can kill off a perfectly good plant in a matter of weeks (I have sad memories of Cercis canadensis and Cotinus obovata, both vanquished by wilts).
Also, any woody shrub can 'shed' branches or even entire swathes of canopy in an effort to sequester disease and any vigorous rootstock will sacrifice a scion to ensure the survival of the rootstock. The nature of rootstock is their vigour so scions can be overwhelmed in a battle for survival (red in tooth and claw.....and thorn and branch).
I certainly agree that this is a worrying issue and you are right to investigate all possible scenarios. Good Luck, Suzy

    Bookmark   September 28, 2012 at 6:05AM
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