Meanwhile, in our garden…let’s talk Rose Midge.

Madison once told me this story that still makes me laugh to this day: she was at the ice skating rink, calmly going about her business when she turned around and saw some middle-school aged boy coming towards her at around, oh, Mach 2–you know the type. Realizing that he wasn’t going to slow down and the crash was an inevitability, her only thought was “I must accept my fate.” He missed her at the last second, “physics were defied” in her words, so I can laugh at this now knowing all was well. I also can’t help but think this story is appropriate to what’s going on with our roses and the “collision” is not only inevitable–it’s already happened, and I must accept it’s fate.

arcata pink globe and rain drops

What am I talking about? Well, we have rose midge. Please feel free to follow that phrase with some dastardly music as that would certainly be appropriate. If you’re unfamiliar with rose midge, here’s a site that will tell you everything you need to know. Having rose midge means that in our garden we have had few, if any at all, roses blooming and won’t for the rest of the season. Stop and think about that for a moment, because I certainly have–dozens of roses that I’ve put time, effort and money into, let alone the anticipation and excitement of waiting all winter for this–and no blooms at all. I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrating it is to see an otherwise healthy looking rose shrub not be able to produce flowers or even new growth. (The roses you see in photos here are the only ones that somehow made it through, but they are few and far between.)

abe darby and rain drops

OK, so enough complaining, let’s talk facts: how do you know if you have rose midge? There are some tell-tale signs, in particular, new foliage that looks as those it’s been burned and buds that do not fully develop and bend over at the neck before snapping off. Once you determine if you have rose midge what can be done? Well, there are some organic interventions, namely, spreading plastic (I’ve even heard wet newspapers might work here but plastic seems a more effective option) beneath your roses to break the life cycle of the midge. I’ve read in a couple of forums that some are trying beneficial nematodes but with inconclusive results. I’m going to try the nematodes, but spreading plastic or newspaper beneath my roses will not be happening this season as they are all heavily underplanted. I’m considering removing all the perennials and not planting any annuals around them for next year, though, so I can try the plastic trick because I’m not too confident about the nematodes (although they may help with the Japanese beetles). Good cultural practices, removing and discarding the damaged leaves and buds is important. I’ve also read that removing the top few inches of soil/mulch can help break the life cycle as the rose midge pupates just beneath the soil surface; When I do my big garden cleanup this autumn I may just do that. There are chemical interventions but I’m not even going to talk about them here because I’m not at all interested in those approaches. A healthy garden, healthy soil, bees and birds are more important to me but if you’re curious, the Pittsburgh Rose Society does a great job with describing which chemicals to use HERE. So if these interventions don’t work, then what? Well, I’m trying not to mentally go there, but there is a little bit of hope as all of my once-bloomers did bloom last spring (I’m guessing the soil wasn’t warm enough yet for midge) so if all else fails I may still have roses, just only in the spring. Maybe I’ll just delve into another plant collection. Hedgerow…Viburnum?

EDIT: One more thing I forgot to mention as far as interventions go: The midge larvae feed on the new growth and buds. In fact, if you carefully pull back the leaves you can see itty-bitty maggot like larvae crawling around there. It’s pretty much pointless to spray the new growth with insecticide because the female lays the eggs so deeply inside the crevasses that a spray won’t get to them. Once you’ve determined you have rose midge, harden your heart and remove all the new growth buds on your roses and dispose by burning or sealing up in a garbage bag and throwing out. Dr. David Shetlar talks more about combatting rose midge and the reasons why it is such a difficult pest to get a handle on in this article here. It’s a good read and one I recommend even if you don’t have them…yet. One last thing, I’ve discovered that the damage isn’t as severe on some of our once-bloomers. They are not pumping out as much new growth/buds, understandably, so that helps. Also, it may have to do with them having a thicker peduncle. Something to keep in mind.

lilies and poppies

It’s not all doom and gloom, the garden, albeit interplanted with thorny shrubs with no flowers, does look colorful this time of year. Every summer I wonder what it would be like to only plant zinnias. Wouldn’t that be something? Also, we have poppies! The trick to getting them to grow around here is spreading the seeds in late winter, yup right on top of the snow, and they will germinate when they’re good and ready in the spring. (Don’t cover them up with compost, though, in the spring like I did! I forgot I sowed seeds and so only a handful came up where the compost wasn’t spread.) The baby bunnies ate many of our lilies, but not enough to ruin the big July show–some of them were huge this season. Our vegetable garden had some shaky starts but is coming around and it’s wonderful to go out there and pick dinner. Can’t wait for the tomatoes to start ripening…any day now. Also, the hollyhocks that I started from seed last spring are starting to bloom, I’ll have photos of those soon. What news from your garden?

poppies and liliestiny cukespecies sweet peaMore photos from the garden, including the few roses fighting the good fight in the next post. See you then!

12 thoughts on “Meanwhile, in our garden…let’s talk Rose Midge.

  1. I haven’t had experience with midge before, but I’m starting to suspect that my Lady Emma Hamilton is suffering from it – when I went on vacation she was looking fine, albeit had some burned new growth, which I thought was leaf burn. However, when I got bad she had puny, withered flowers, and now I’m starting to wonder. Sigh. Looks like everyone will be getting a haul over tomorrow. I’m thinking of pulling out the annuals that are planted in the container and then laying down cardboard. My garden isn’t organic (maybe next year when I’ve figured things out more), so I might put down some Merit, too. Sigh. At least I’m getting good growth still?

  2. I don’t think my roses have rose midge, but they do have some other deceases (leaves getting yellow and brown, lots of lice, black spot etc. 🙁 They roses always look the best until the end of June, after that the foliage is slowly looking worse!

  3. I was so sorry to hear about your rose midge. How devastating when you’ve worked so hard on your roses and love them so much. I hope your cold winter will kill them off so next year will bring a fresh start.

  4. Oh – so sad! I loved the story about Madison – so her! Your garden does look beautiful though – and yes, I hope next year those bad bugs are gone gone gone!

  5. Thanks everyone!
    This truly is one of the worst situations I’ve had to deal with in the garden. And to think I used to complain about Japanese beetles! Ha!
    I’ve added an EDIT to the bottom of the post that goes into detail some other interventions and a link to an article that I found was full of good information. I hope none of you ever have to deal with this but it’s good to know, just in case.

  6. Really heartbreaking 🙁 I’ve been dealing with thrips for the first time this year. This spring I had to do the same as you and get out there with the pruners and cut off all the newly forming buds. So sad. I think I may have shed a couple tears. It was also the David Austins….Abraham Darby and Tamora. The interesting thing was that immediately next to these David Austins are three antique roses (somehow I managed to lose the tag a few years ago and didn’t note the name! some french name) that I planted a year before that were completely untouched and unaffected. Makes me think that the antiques are hardier/more resistant? Is that your experience? I am thinking of laying off the English roses next spring and trying some new techniques. Just read this book called “The 20 Minute Gardener” that I picked up at a used book store. He suggests acquiring cuttings from “cemetery roses” with the idea that by looking at the date on the gravestone next to the rose you would have an idea of its age (presumably you’d pick an “antique”) and should be very hardy considering that it has lived in the area without much care for so long. Anyway, a neat idea. I think I’ll make a trip one of these days and see what I find. At least add to my collection 🙂

    1. Hi Joann, thank you for sharing your experiences with your roses. I think you and I could have a nice long chat and commiserate. 😉 For a little while, I too was feeling like the fate of my garden may be to grow only the once-blooming roses. However, in the past week or so I have been seeing some of the fruits of my labors with combatting this midge problem and am having some roses blooming including some of my David Austins which were the hardest hit. This winter I’m going to really think about the direction I want to go and how much work do I really want to put into the roses–is it worth the frustration and tears to grow modern cultivars? That’s not to say that the OGR’s weren’t hit, too. All of the OGR’s in the garden that were producing new growth were attacked by the midge–it just didn’t seem like as big as a concern because I wasn’t expecting them to bloom again. I think I might write a follow up post about this, because there were some other things I’ve learned that could help other gardeners. Not sure if I have helped you any but know that you’re not alone! 🙂

  7. I have a Rose midge problem throughout my garden. I tried to find out what was wrong in July but the garden company I asked did not ID the problem. Now it is the end of August and all my roses, including Knockouts have been affected. I am heart broken. I do not want to use harmful insecticides and I do appreciate your tips on cutting off the affected leaves and changing over the soil. The Knockouts were just planted last year and line our patio walk…six new ones!!

    1. Kathleen, my heart breaks for you. Rose midge is the worst!! I have a suspicion that the midge was introduced into our garden via the Knockouts, too. When you think of how quickly it can spread, and how many are in a greenhouse/nursery scenario at one time, it wouldn’t surprise me if they were the source. If it comes to it, there are insecticides you can use (mentioned in the post). We’ve moved from that garden but before I left I was thinking I would just grow Old Garden Roses, ones that only bloom once in spring before the midge emerges, so that I could at least have some roses. I also was going to try adding beneficial nematodes to the soil. Crossing fingers for you that things work out!

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