Thursday, August 1, 2013

Naked and Afraid: Losing the Black Spot Battle

I have a wonderful friend who insists on watching the latest reality series 'Naked and Afraid' while completely nude. While this may sound innocent enough, the potential for disaster is enormous. His clever wife refuses to keep their three children, aged 9 to 14, busy while he enjoys his show, thereby heightening his terror. While I don't share his hobby, naked and afraid has become a theme with my roses this summer as I've tried in vain to save them from the fungal disease, blackspot.


Note to Self: Do not sit on your friend's couch. Ever!


The Problem:

A cool, moist spring followed by a cool, moist early summer is usually the kind of weather I dream about. But this year I noticed blackspot on my 'Happy Chappy' rose by late May. By the time I made the discovery, the blackspot had spread to all of my other roses. Knowing 'Chappy' was the source of the scourge, I pulled him from the garden and  tossed him in the trash. Our fabulous weather, while providing an abundance of lush green growth, was also the perfect breeding ground for fungal diseases.


Blackspot on my roses


'Jude the Obscure' before the blackspot


'Graham Thomas' before the blackspot

Attempted Solution:

In an attempt to stop the disease, I stripped every leaf from every affected rose. They looked hideous. To compensate for taking away their ability to photosynthesize, I amended the soil around each plant with worm compost and alfalfa meal and watered it in with kelp meal. Worm compost has inherent anti-fungal properties and alfalfa meal, available in bulk at farm stores,  contains a naturally occurring plant growth hormone.

I lightly pruned the roses, which was necessary in order to reach each diseased leaf without being stabbed, sliced, or impaled. I sprayed the unaffected leaves with an organic copper fungicide and later with a Dr Earth fungicide. I also sprayed the leaves with a baking soda/Castille soap solution. But the blackspot didn't go away. The 'Westerland', my favorite rose, was so heavily affected, it lost every single leaf. My rose looked completely naked and I was was afraid I was slowly killing it. 


The Liquid Copper was strong enough to kill the athracnose on my perennials and the tiny bit of blackspot on my 'Peggy Martin'. The Dr Earth smelled strongly of cloves and had a weird nozzle that made it hard to tell how much fungicide was being sprayed when attached to the hose. I don't think it was as effective as the packaging would lead you to believe. 

Results:

The results of my interventions were mixed. All the new growth on my 'Graham Thomas' and 'Westerland' developed more spots but the few spots that appeared on 'Peggy Martin' were isolated and never reappeared. My 'Night Owl', 'Jude the Obscure' and 'Abraham D'Arby' had less spots after their new leaves grew in but were still battling the disease. I finally reached the point that I wasn't sure if I was helping or hurting my plants. Despite only spraying in the morning or evening, some leaves appeared burned and some leaves had black spots while others were purple.


Even my newly planted William Shakespeare succumbed to blackspot.

I had no idea how long I should wait between spraying the fungicide and the baking soda/soap solution. Hours? Days? Worried I was contributing to the problem rather than solving it, I just gave up. With two weeks of hot, dry weather behind me, I'm convinced the heat and lack of rain actually helped the roses more than I did. I kept them watered with soaker hoses which prevents the fungus spores from spreading by eliminating water splashing from leaf to leaf.

The Label That Lied:

Desperate to get the disease under control, I decided to try an non-organic approach. I gave up using systemic fungicides years ago because they also contain pesticides. Continued use of fungicides kills the beneficial microbes and fungi that live in our soils, rendering our soils sterile. However, after finding an Ortho fungicide that wasn't labeled as containing a pesticide, I mixed up a batch and gave it a try. I applied it as a drench to the soil, hoping a chemical shock would kill off the disease.

I'd been discussing the problem with a friend who has a PhD  and is a biology professor at a local university. She reassured me that unless I wanted to blow dry every leaf on a nightly basis, black spot was inevitable. But it wasn't until I mentioned which chemical was in the Ortho Max, that I realized I'd been duped. According to the agency that regulates how agricultural chemicals are classified, a fungus is considered a pest and therefore, all non-organic fungicides will also contain a pesticide. The chemical in Ortho Max has been shown to kill bees, birds, and all aquatic invertebrates. Accidentally applying it as a drench when I should have sprayed it was the best mistake I've made all year. But I was furious and felt like I'd been lied to by Ortho.


The main ingredient in this is chlorothalonil, a registered pesticide.

A recent study has linked Colony Collapse Disorder in bee hives to pesticide tainted fungicides. As much as I want a garden full of gorgeous perfect roses, my desire to protect the pollinators who depend on my flowers is even stronger and I may have to learn to live with a little blackspot.

How I Helped Create My Own Problem:

My garden is densely planted which makes locating and destroying every diseased leaf tremendously difficult. The leaves that fall into my neighbors lawn are mowed, making their retrieval virtually impossible. I had a problem with blackspot last year, too, and was hoping a cold winter would kill the spores. Despite having planted all of my roses in areas with excellent air circulation, this was my second year battling the same foe. Because I can't remove every diseased leaf and live in a humid climate, my garden has become a breeding ground for blackspot.


This photo shows how densely planted my garden is. All of the roses that suffered the worst blackspot are in the same area. Because I have so much shade, the area along my fence offers the most sun and best air circulation.


'Westerland' sailed through last years fungal attack almost spot-free but was the hardest hit this year. I don't understand why.


A small 'Jude the Obscure' grows between much larger 'Westerland' and 'Night Owl' roses. You can't see it in this picture.


This is what 'Westerland' looks like right now. It's so beyond hideous I don't even like to look at it. It's been slow to put out new growth and has been attacked by beetles as well as rose worms. All were promptly squished by me and I felt no pity for any of them.

The Big Observation I Kept Missing:

In the midst of all the drama, one rose didn't have a single diseased leaf. It was healthy and covered in spot-free leaves. Why? What had I done differently to that rose that I hadn't done to my other roses? Last fall I dug up my Sceptre d'Isle rose to give it more room, more sun, and removed several of the surrounding plants to give it more air circulation. In the process, I discovered it's roots went down two feet, requiring the removal of a massive amount of soil and mulch. Once it had been tucked into its new home, it was surrounded by fresh soil and new mulch. Any diseased leaf had been either removed or destroyed in the process, preventing the fungus spores from overwintering.


'Sceptre d'Isle" has remained spot-free all summer. It, as well as 'Abraham d'Arby' and 'Peggy Martin' , are all in different parts of the garden, away from the other roses.


The Battle Plan: 

I am still collecting every single leaf I can from the ground and have free reign to wander into my neighbors yard to pull leaves from their grass. This fall/winter I will remove and destroy all the mulch from the beds that include my roses. The top inch or so of soil around the roses will also be removed and replaced with compost and new mulch will be laid. Next spring, as soon as leaves appear, I'll spray them with the baking soda/Castille soap spray to help prevent the fungus from taking hold.

Do you have any other suggestions?

60 comments:

  1. I had the same exact problem. Thanks for the tips.

    S
    xo

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    1. Instead of a disease that makes my roses look like crap, I'd prefer a problem that makes me look like a Brazilian supermodel. :o)

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  2. Your roses are so gorgeous I hate to hear about the black spot. I have never encountered the black spot problem, but it rarely if ever rains in summer here, so maybe that prevents it. The naked couch situation is a STRANGE one. I've not seen that show, and actually hadn't heard of it.

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    1. He's a very funny guy with a quirky sense of humor. :o) I don't think black spot exists in arid climates. When I lived in CA we had beautiful, disease free roses. I'd like to create a California climatic bubble for each of roses. Then I'd never have to worry about black spot again.

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  3. You do have lovely roses. Densely planted beds are beautiful beds but perhaps an exception should be made so that roses are given more breathing room. I hope Westerland recovers and that your war on black spot is successful next year. Also ... why does this guy want to watch television naked? Sounds unsanitary.

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    1. He watches this show naked because he's a goofball and it's a cheap thrill, I suppose. :o) I'm hoping Westerland bounces back. It's my favorite rose. It's almost like it's gone semi-dormant. Very weird. The roses all have a lot of air circulation. They just have other plants planted at their feet, which leave collection a challenge. I need a teeny little leaf vacuum with a long hose to suck them all up.

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  4. Black spot is such a problem. The only suggestion I have is to plant knockout roses. But they are not nearly as gorgeous and fragrant as other roses. And they are succumbing to a viral disease called rose rosette disease, so they are not disease-free either.

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    1. The only roses I know of that are problem free in our climate are the silk ones. :o)

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  5. Even when you're posting about disease epidemics, your garden pictures are beautiful. Sheesh.

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    1. Thanks but Westerland looks like a space alien. :o)

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  6. I love roses but have always been afraid of the care... I'm not patient enough for the guess work and the problems that befall roses.. I envy your bravery and the undying love you have for them and I hope you have the greatest success next year!



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    1. Thanks! I do love them or they'd all get the ax!

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  7. Good light and air circulation are key. Heat and sunshine on leaves help, as does proper feeding and watering so roses are as healthy as possible. As blackspot is caused by the same pathogen as powdery mildew other plants can harbor it. The gardener can also transfer it from rose to glove/hand/shears to rose. My solution though and it is a topical foliar spray versus a systemic spray is 1:1 ration of 2% milk and water Spraying preemptively every 3 to 5 days depending on rain during cool, wet weather is best precaution. This mix stops the spread,kills existing fungal spores, but does not reverse infection. I don't think anything does. Spraying well is important. Of course, this is a cheap and safe spray, according to studies University of MN ans Australia, effective.

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    1. What's been frustrating about this problem is that they are growing in full sun, along an open fence in fertile soil. I inadvertently overwintered the spores last fall by mulching over diseased leaves that were hiding in the soil/mulch. In addition to my big clean up project, I'm going to spray my dormant rose canes with a lime/sulfur spray to fill overwintering spores. Hopefully, the cumulative affect of all this will bring the disease to a halt.

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  8. Oh dear, I'm so sorry to hear about the black spot problem on your roses. I've always admired how beautiful they were in your posts.
    I'm sorry that you gave up on Happy Chappy, but all is not lost.
    I like your battle plan. Sticking to the organic homemade sprays will work but you must be vigilant in the application.
    A friend of mine uses a neem tea, while I use a product called Ultafine Oil for my plant leaves that the insects love.
    I think I may even try the baking soda and castille soap remedy that you mentioned.
    The plant pesticides/fungicides made by the big companies always seem to tout that it's organic, but I'm glad that they are being found out...thanks to your great sleuthing.
    I'm sending up a War Cry for you. "Wooo woo woo woo woo Charge!!"

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    1. Neem is a great product but it's also a pesticide, which I avoid. I just squish all the bugs I don't like. :o) I will need that battle cry this fall when the big clean up begins.

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  9. Black spot is the exact reason I have not gotten more Roses. Yours are still lovely though but I understand your frustration with them not being perfect.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. I'm temped to rename most of them to "Pain in My Butt". Too much drama for me!

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  10. Years ago I went to hear Liz Druitt, author of "The Organic Rose Garden," speak. Someone asked her about black spot and she said, "That's how I know it's a rose!"

    Looking in her book, though, she has several more serious comments/suggestions. Many of them you are planning to do, such as making sure each rose has good sun exposure and air circulation, along with healthy soil. Otherwise she recommends growing Alliums adjacent to the roses and spraying the foliage with compost tea. As a last ditch effort, she recommends sulfur spray or powder, but only if the temperatures are below 85.

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    1. What do the alliums do? I'm going to spray the roses with a dormant oil/lime sulfur solution this winter once they're completely dormant. Along with the other controls, I'm hoping that will help control the problem.

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  11. Note to self: In my new garden, stick to my plan of leaving more air between plants than I used to. Note to you: Take the diseased rose stem cuttings and toss them on the couch.

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    1. Ha! I need to call his wife and have her booby trap the couch. :o)

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  12. Your garden looks amazing even with the blackspot. Your plan sounds like a great deal of work but if you love roses it would be worth it.

    Good to know about the labels because even if we try to avoid chemicals there are always problems we might have to address that way.

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    1. Chemical garden products hide a lot of information. My rose rescue plan will be a lot of work but I'll go crazy if I don't do it because I'll know the black spot will be back. Plus, it's good therapy during the school year. :o)

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  13. Despite the blackspot your pictures of the garden are still beautiful. We have blackspot too and it really can be a nuissance. This year we have an unusually hot summer with few rain, so less blackspot than ever. But next year will be different again.

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    1. My Westerland is at it's best when we have hot, dry summers. I never know what to expect with the weather any more. It's always a surprise.

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  14. I don't have any roses right now, but am planning to add some.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences, which make me feel I should give them plenty of air circulation and as much sun as possible.

    I'm also planning to add Earthkind Roses and Rosa rugosa, both of which I believe are supposed to be exceptionally disease resistant.

    But I wonder if our preference to plant lots of something - roses, in this case - leads to disease by making it easier for pathogens to spread through a monoculture? Perhaps a case for greater landscaping biodiversity, an issue I touched on in my most recent blog post -- http://www.gardenofaaron.com/2013/08/how-much-biodiversity-do-we-need-in.html

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    1. Having five roses all within a 40 ft long bed definitely contributed to the spread of the disease. But overwintering the spores without realizing it was the biggest culprit. I think having as much biodiversity as possible is crucial. Most suburban yards all contain the same plants.

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  15. So sorry to hear that your beautiful roses have blackspot. Although I haven't had to deal with it since we are so hot and dry here, I have read that spraying with a solution of 1 part milk to 2 parts of water is supposed to help with blackspot. It may be just an old wive's tale, but perhaps worth a try. And remember that plants can be pretty resillient!

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    1. I've heard that, too. If my Castille soap/baking soda spray doesn't work next summer, I'll try the milk spray. I'm really hoping my rose rescue plan solves the problem this fall. I don't think black spot exists in CA but I'll take our rain over living in an oven. I don't miss CA summers! :o)

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  16. Sometimes I think we gardeners must all be gluttons for punishment. For as much joy as our gardens bring, they also involve a lot of frustration and hair pulling. I'm the ever-changing climatic conditions don't help - the plants don't have the time they need to evolve their own adaption strategies.

    My own strategy with troublesome roses is similar to yours - painstakingly removing all the damaged foliage and cleaning up all drop off. Some roses, though, are just disease prone - in my case, I plan to replace those over time with more disease resistant and resilient varieties. I hope your current efforts yield results next year - your roses are certainly beautiful and deserving of extra effort.

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    1. I don't fault my roses their problems so I don't mind going the extra mile to help them. It's repayment for all the beauty they offer. :o) Mine are supposed to be highly disease resistant, which is why this outbreak has been so frustrating. Live and learn! :o)

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  17. When you hear me refer to roses as "spoiled hussies," it's because the extra mile it takes to care for them is often 3 or 4 or 5 extra miles. It reads to me as if you're doing everything one can possibly do in these particular cool and wet weather conditions and with your particular ecosystem. Between the two, fungal diseases are to some degree a matter of "how much can the plant tolerate" and "how much can the gardener tolerate." I suspect that next year, if the weather conditions are better, you'll have a lot less catastrophic loss to the disease, especially if you carry out your plan. Roses *look* so terrible when they are sick. But they are sort of hard to kill. Maybe next year will be your bumper-crop rose year?

    You're a great gardener... it's the weather that has set its will against you.

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    1. When our summers are hot and dry, Westerland is magnificent but I have to deal with seriously ugly triple digit water bills. I've decided to view this as a challenge rather than a defeat. I'm exited to give the sulfur-lime/dormant oil spray a try. It's supposed to kill the spores that overwinter on the rose canes. This is just one more opportunity for me to learn more about gardening. But I guarantee there will be a bottle of wine waiting for me after I've scraped, moved, and bagged the contaminated mulch/soil, fertilized, added compost, remulched, and sprayed. I think I'll opt for a dessert wine so I can enjoy it with a plate of cookies. I'm very high class like that. ;o)

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  18. Gardening certainly is humbling, isn't it? You have such a stunning garden, you know what you're doing, your soil is great, etc. etc. And yet your roses get blackspot. I admire your determination and am rooting for your roses to recover. If they do, I may just decide to take a chance on roses again. I lost my Knockout to rose rosette disease; if I couldn't get that to work, what chance to do I have with "real" roses?

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    1. Instead of watching TV naked, maybe I should garden naked so that when it's time for my daily butt whuppin', I can just bend over. I created a blackspot factory through my ignorance and belief that a cold winter would kill the blackspot spores. Woo-hoo! I'm Employee of the Month! The roses will survive and so will I. :o) But I'm already itchy to get out there and fix the problem. Go ahead and try a regular rose. My Peggy Martin (mostly thornless climber) is super ultra tough. It's known as The Rose That Survived Hurricane Katrina.

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  19. Oh, you poor thing! What an ordeal! I am actually glad I live where the temps get so very high - even though it's almost unbearable to go outside for any period of time, it's too hot for blackspot! You just happen to have had the perfect conditions for it. If you're serious about about replacing the soil around your roses, do so with a soil that's got a high ph, or water them with alkaline water (of course, not too high or you'll have different problems). Good luck. And thanks so much for the mention in your Blogger Spotlight! I'm afraid it's going to take me months to get my hot mess back into order - but secretly I'll love every minute I'm out there!

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    1. This is really interesting. I thought roes liked soil with a slightly acidic ph. What does the alkaline soil offer them? I'm too stubborn to give up on them. Texas heat is too much for me. I'll battle blackspot instead. :o)

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  20. I am having a really hard time getting that image of naked tv watching naked survivor people out of my head. You've totally thrown me for a loop. I just read about fungicides and bees this past week. Seems everyone was being duped for a very long time about the negative effects of these sprays.

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  21. He's a very funny guy so it didn't surprise me that he thought watching TV naked would be a good idea. The concept for the show is idiotic, which is what inspired his idiotic response. It's a bit like performance art, except the terror that he'll get caught is quite real. I just keep my visuals of the whole thing focused on his shocked face when his kids find him.

    I was so upset to find out the Ortho Max was really a pesticide. It was a brief foray into the Dark Side that I thought would simply function as an attack against a pathogen. Even the organic copper spray has to be used carefully because of copper build up in the soil. The more I garden, the more I learn about science and the environment and how significant my choices are.

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  22. My daughter the horticulturist consulted a rosearian (can't spell it) to help her out with her roses. You might see if you have sick an expert in your area. I would be so disappointed and unhappy, but it seems that you have a good plan. Will a heavy freeze kill the spore over winter?

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    1. I'm pretty happy with the Rescue Plan I've devised, based on how well the Sceptre d'Isle is doing. I'm a big believer in consulting people who know more than I do. But they often don't take an organic approach and chemicals aren't an option for me. I have a lot of transplanting to do in the beds where the roses are. By the time I'm done redesigning a few areas in that bed, I will have removed most of the mulch anyway.

      I thought that a hard winter would kill the spores but I was wrong. Instead, they overwinter on dropped foliage and on the rose canes. The dormant oil/lime-sulfur spray should take care of that for me.

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  23. Your battle with the roses is like mine with the heirloom tomatoes and wilt....I feel your pain and I am not giving up either...giving the roses lots of space away from plants may help as well...

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    1. I grow my tomatoes in containers with fresh soil every year and don't have any disease problems. Maybe I should stick all my roses in containers, too. :o)

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  24. Good luck with this battle....with your commitment I hope that all of this will shake out! Your garden is still beyond gorgeous! Aren't these companies sneaky with how they label their ingredients?!?! I wish that more people read the fine line like you it would be so much better for our bees if they did!

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    1. Thanks! This is a battle I'm determined to win. I don't mind dealing with a little bit of blackspot but the total epidemic I've seen this year has crossed the line. I have a plan and an excellent source of caffeine. Victory shall be mine! :o)

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  25. Hi Tammy
    Really I think the weather is a huge part of this. Here we have black spot years and not, and I never do anything about it. Well I have been known to compost consistently sickly rose bushes, but mostly they are tough and get better the next summer if not by fall. Picking up diseased leaves is surely good, and I also mulch heavily every summer, to help with watering, and I think that buries some of the issues. You've been brilliant in your research and have a plan. So now relax and read a good book. Revisit A Wrinkle in Time maybe...

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    1. I mulch heavily every fall and only succeeded in tucking in all those spores for a long winters nap. Argh! This fall they are GOING DOWN!! It's going to be a full throttle garden smackdown! All I need is an announcer and some boxing gloves. ;o) A celebratory read of Wrinkle in Time will be in order after I crush my opponent.

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  26. Hi Tammy, sorry you've ben hit pretty hard with Rose Leaf Black Spot, unfortunately you'll never get rid of it completely, but you can keep it under control (most of the time). Your battle plan is good and is kind of what I do. In the winter, I'll clear the beds around the roses, since the plants are either bulbs or herbaceus perennials, I'll also take off a layer of the top soil and replace it with a mix of compost and rotted manure. When the roses come into leaf, I'll keep an eye out for black spot and spray or remove affected leaves, but there will come a point when it is too much work and so I'll simply let it go. By then, the rose will be well into flower and by the time the black spot really does get visible, it'll be coming into Autumn/Winter. I expect the Westerland to be fully back on form next season.

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    1. I think removing all the mulch and the top layer of soil will be key, along with spraying them in the winter with the sulfur spray. I think Westerland will be back in fine form next year. Nudity doesn't suit it. ;o)

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  27. Oh Dear! that seems lots of work. I also get such black spots but I don't do anything and naturally they disappear. But, I guess my problem is not that huge as yours.

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    1. My problem was an epidemic of dramatic proportions. Westerland still looks like a naked space alien. :(

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  28. Roses, shmoses, let's talk "Naked and Afraid"--sign of Discovery Channel's decline or BEST NEW SHOW EVER???

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    1. Interesting perspective. I wonder if the guys ever get their weenies caught in the shrubbery?

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  29. I'm SO sorry, Tammy! But your rescue plan sounds like the best option. The photos of your (in former times) healthy roses are gorgeous, but your story makes me want to run in the other direction. We have such crazy weather, that the only roses I put in my garden are our native Nootka Roses. They haven't the subtlety or the lushness of yours, but I don't think ANYTHING can hurt them. They're brutes, and I don't need to do a thing for them. Of course I run around screeching at the bites taken out of my Hostas, and tent caterpillars all but laid waste to our apple and cherry trees. People who don't garden don't realize that it's a WAR out there! Take care.

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    1. It is war!! I'm ready to do my Maori war dance to scare off all that fungus! Completely forgetting I'm not Maori and would probably just end up as Idiot of the Week on YouTube, it ain't easy getting a garden to look good. The next rose I plant will be plastic. ;o)

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  30. I too have been hit with black spot... because Im trying to encourage butterflys as well as do my part with our pollinators I have choosen not to use fungicide or systematic treatment.
    Your pictures of your roses before are what we all dream about!....

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  31. Getting Roses to grow disease free in our climate is indeed challenging. Your solution makes me wonder more about our roses. We took the easy way out with a couple of Knock-outs that have been ultra reliable but from time to time we've ventured outside of that realm with some David Austin Roses (about 50% successful). The ones that don't work get sent to the Rose Graveyard out near the woods where they have to shift for themselves. I keep imagining that I will one day create a rose garden with all those great standards I see in the display gardens when we travel.

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    1. I grew up in CA where growing roses was so easy. All you had to do was stick them in the ground and keep them watered. But here in VA, it's a battle. My neighbors have gorgeous Knock Out roses that are problem free. I love the Knock Out's but prefer the climbers and David Austin's. I've trashed several roses that were disease prone but am determined to solve this mystery, especially since the roses I have now are reported to be disease resistant. I refuse to admit defeat if there's a glimmer of hope that I can use science and sheer stubbornness to solve this problem. :o)

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  32. This summer has been terrible for black spot. I also have mildew on my red-twigged dogwood....just a mess. I am removing the leaves from the variegated hydrangea...would like ONE hydrangea without black spots.

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