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Most of my rose stems are black.

Posted by dmoore66 6 NorthWest NJ (My Page) on
Sun, Apr 7, 13 at 8:54

I planted 15 bare root roses last spring. They grew a couple of feet last year with pencil thin stems.
Now most of those stems are black.
What should I do, cut them down to the ground or replace them?
Is this the time to prune, or should I wait a couple more weeks?

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Most of my rose stems are black.

This would be a good time to prune in your area. You need to remove the black canes and any cane sections that show brown center pith when cut. If the graft (bud union) is not damaged, the plants will grow back and bloom about six weeks after pruning.

Black canes would be winter damaged or infected by botrytis canker fungus, or both.

Typical modern roses often suffer heavy cane damage when temperatures fall to around 5 degrees or lower. The grafts need to be protected by setting them slightly below grade or covering them during the coldest part of winter. If they are exposed, they may have been killed and only the rootstock variety will grow back. The graft is a swelling from which the basal canes diverge.

RE: Most of my rose stems are black.

Sounds like your rose's canes were winter killed. To properly answer your question though we need a bit more information. What type of roses did you plant, i.e. Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, Shrubs, OGRs, etc. and the varietal names would also be helpful. Were the plants you bought grafted or own root? If grafted, how deep did you plant the bud union beneath the soil surface? What was the lowest winter temperature in your location that you can recall and for how long.

As a general rule of thumb, if you are growing Hybred Tea or Floribunda roses, many can usually withstand temperatures down to about -15 C which I think translates to about 5 or 6 degrees F. There are of course variations to this depending on the rose variety and its breeding. Some will die at warmer temperatures, some can take more winter chill because they have hardier genes. When low temperatures get close to the rose's tolerance limit, freeze thaw cycles can also kill roses that are not planted deep enough or not winter protected. The USDA hardiness zone map shows that New Jersey is zone 6a or 6b depending on your location. That is at or below the cold tolerance level for many popular modern roses.

I grow roses in a cold climate. This winter the lowest temperature at my place was about -28 C, or -9 F. I grow both grafted and own root roses and varieties selected for colder climates, but many of the roses I grow here need winter protection and deep planting in order to survive the winter. Many of my roses die to the ground even with protection each winter. The grafted roses are planted with the bud union about 4 inches below the soil surface and they come back every spring as do the own root roses.

I just did a temperature search on Weather Underground for Newark, New Jersey for January and February and it shows at least 10 days where the temperature was O F, or slightly colder. If the roses you planted were grafted and you did not plant them with the bud graft 2 inches or more below the soil, then they are likely dead. If the plants were planted with the graft more than 2 inches below soil level, then there is a good possibility they will come back. Similarly if they are own root roses, they may come back.

I would suggest that you contact one of the rose societies in New Jersey and ask for their advice. Perhaps there is someone close by who could come have a look at your plants. I'm including a link to the West Jersey Rose Society which appears to have an excellent rose advice page.

If your plants are dead, don't despair, get some local advice and try again. Perhaps try some varieties that are more cold tolerant. Roses bred by Dr. Griffith Buck, or David Austin should both generally be more than cold hardy enough to survive a winter in your climate zone without winter protectiion. There are many other roses that will grow well in your zone as well. The rose societies in New Jersey should be able to help you choose and plant roses that will suit both your tastes and climate.

Hope this helps.

Cheers, Rick

Here is a link that might be useful: West Jersey Rose Society Tips Page

RE: Most of my rose stems are black.

Rick, where are you getting that temperature information? What I was finding, was a monthly historical table which said that the lowest reading this winter for Newark was 11F, in January. Since here, it was a fairly mild winter, with few readings below zero, this is more in line with what I would expect.

Basically, my first inclination is that something is very wrong with the existing roses. The chances of cold enough temperatures to cause straight out winterkill aren't that great. Eastern weather patterns tend to be very large, and I'd be surprised if somebody that close to me had drastically different low readings.

RE: Most of my rose stems are black.

If it wasn't cold enough over winter to kill canes, did you prune the roses in fall? Pruning in November or December can expose the dormant plants to attack by botrytis fungus. I ran into a lot of this when I (never again) topped my roses in November.

Or if soil drainage is really terrible, standing water could kill the roots.

RE: Most of my rose stems are black.

Mad Gallica,

I got the minimum temps from the historic weather graff on Weather Underground for Newark, New Jersey for January and February 2013. I've put in the link to the page. See the temperature graph down the page and note the temperatures on the st, 2nd, 7th, 17th & 18th, or look at the calendar at the bottom of the page.


Here is a link that might be useful: Weather Underground History, Feb. 2012 Newark

RE: Most of my rose stems are black.

Thanks for your help.
I live in Hackettstown, NJ which is in the NW corner and zone 6a.
I planted all these bare roots last spring and planted them 2-4" below ground.
Here are the roses I planted:
Sugar Moon
Koko Loko-Bought potted
Dolly Parton
Tropicana-Bought potted
Mister Lincoln-Bought potted
Pink Promise
Dick Clark
Double Delight
Neptune-Bought potted
Kordes Perfecta
Chrysler Imperial-Bought potted

They are in 18" raised beds and probably were fed too much for first year bare roots.

I guess I should cut them all down to the ground and see what happens.

Would you give them any fertilizer at this point?

RE: Most of my rose stems are black.

Oh, no, the green line is the dew point. The red line is the observed temperature. So if you look at the calendar at the bottom, observed temperature for Feb 2 is a high of 31 and a low of 18. Feb 7 is 34/24. Overall minimum for Feb was 15, which occurred on the 10th.

RE: Most of my rose stems are black.

Thanks for the clarification MG. Guess I didn't read carefully enough, though on my computer; probably because I'm accessing the site from Canada; the calendar is showing the temperatures in degrees Celcius which I mistook for Farenheight and which is still confusing me. Sorry for the mistake.


The roses you list are all Hybrid Teas with which I am not very familiar. Many Hybrid Teas are not very cold tolerant, I looked on the Canadian Rose Society website for a list of roses recommended for zones 5 and 6. Of the roses you list above, Elina and Double Delight are recommended, though with some winter protection.

You said that you think you may have overfed them in their first year, that is useful information. Your first year roses, especially if heavily fed, probably put out a lot of new growth. New canes are very susceptable to winter kill. I would suggest that since you did bury them more than 2 inches deep that it is quite likely that there are live cane ends below the soil. To check, carefully dig some soil away around the base of the roses until you can see the graft. If there is sound growth below the soil, your roses should come back just fine. If they are alive, cover them back to their original depth and leave them.

I personally would not do anything to them until you see new growth. I would expect you will see new growth emerging from below the soil line by late April or early May if they are alive. If they were my roses, I would cut the dead canes back to the surface or slightly lower. Perhaps someone who is more familiar with Hybrid Teas will chime in and give you better advice on pruning, fertilizing, etc.

If based on examination, they didn't survive, then I guess you can go rose shopping. Again, I would suggest that you consult with a local rose society for advice about what varieties do well in your area and how to plant them.

Good luck with your roses, let us know if you find live canes below the surface.

Cheers, Rick

RE: Most of my rose stems are black.

Sounds like canker, I have lots of it. My roses get this on and off. Cut down and spray a fungicide of your chemical tolerance. Sometimes my garden looks like oily black sticks, but they recover unless it has gone down to the root ball.

RE: Most of my rose stems are black.

Yes it could be canker as well. I often get canker on canes that are covered with mulch to protect the lower canes and bud union. Canker most often attacks stressed plants, so if the roses were badly cold stressed, then canker is likely as well. I include canker in the term "winter kill" when I use the term, because it is pretty much endemic in tender winter stressed roses, especially where there are freeze thaw cycles in winter and early spring.

Here's a link to a University of Illinoise web page with a photo and good short article on rose canker.

Cheers, Rick

Here is a link that might be useful: University of Illinoise Rose Garden

RE: Most of my rose stems are black.

  • Posted by seil z6b MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 7, 13 at 20:18

Dmoore, as rose canes age they don't all stay green. Some can get brown and barky looking over time. It doesn't mean they are dead. If they are very black and/or shriveled that's a different story. Even green looking canes can be dead if they are shriveled from drying out. Temperatures may not have been the problem. It's possible that they were winter damaged by drying winds.

Start at the top of each cane and cut off a piece about 2 inches long. Look at the center of the cane where you cut. Is it white/greenish or tan/brown? White/greenish is healthy live cane. Tan/brown is dead wood. Keep cutting down the canes in 2 inch pieces until you get to wood that has a white center. You should be good from there down. When you cut look for the little reddish nubby buds on the canes and try to cut about a 1/4 inch above an outward facing one at a slight angle so water will roll off.

It's still very early in the season and too soon to give up hope for any of those roses. Nice list by the way! Relax, give them some time to get warm and see what happens.

RE: Most of my rose stems are black.

Rick,- that is a good site. One of the only one that lists a treatment for the disgusting crown gall I found this afternoon. Ick.

RE: Most of my rose stems are black.

Thanks, Seil,
Will follow your advice.
Thanks everyone else for your imput!

RE: Most of my rose stems are black.

Seil's advice to prune to white pith is correct for young canes of hybrid teas.

The OP asked when to fertilize. There is no point in fertilizing until there are green leaves to utilize the nutrients. Be sure not to exceed labeled doses of fertilizer, and if you are using more than one kind of fertilizer, reduce doses accordingly. (Labeled doses are always on the generous side.) If you overfertilized last season, there should be plenty of nutrients left over except for nitrogen. Available nitrogen is transient in the soil, so N needs to be applied every year, in several small doses if you are using a fast nitrogen source. By contrast, excess phosphate can build up harmfully in the soil if you keep applying more than is needed.

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