Why are my roses losing their leaves? (and how to help it recover)

Why are my roses losing their leaves? (and how to help it recover)

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If your roses are losing their leaves, it’s due to one or more conditions that are causing them stress. This could come from the environment they’re in, from the weather, from pests and diseases or from how you’re caring for the plants. On the other hand, roses losing their leaves could be part of their natural life cycle.

For most people, if you have black spots on the leaves, then turn yellow before falling; it’s likely a disease such as black spots or rust if they have rust colours spots on the leaves. Both these diseases cause the leaves to drop and are usually easy to identify from the symptoms. You can learn more about these below. The other reason is the lack of water. During a drought, roses tend to drop most of their leaves to conserve moisture.

Read on to discover your plant’s particular problems and learn more about the above issues and how to help your rose recover.


Rose that has lost its leaves because watering issues

Roses are deciduous plants and in their normal life cycle, they drop all their leaves in the autumn and winter.

What to do

Nothing – it’s nature at work, just get ready to prune them in spring as shown in my pruning guide.

Environment and weather

Extreme heat

Extreme heat can cause a stress response in your rose plant. Stress directs the plant’s energy to support the new foliage and to let the old leaves die and drop off. The heat may come from overhead in the form of direct sunlight. It may also affect the plant in the form of radiant heat. This is redirected upwards from dark mulch or paving underneath the plant if grown in pots or from a dark surface (such as a wall) nearby.

What to do

If direct sunlight is the problem, create a temporary sunshade to shelter the rose tree from the midday hours of sunlight. If your rose is in a pot, move it to a shaded location for these hours of the day.

Remove the dark mulch or rocks from underneath the rose and replace them with lighter-coloured ones. These reflect sunlight but don’t radiate as much heat.

Keep up with watering the rose plant in hot and dry spells.

Prune the interior of your rose tree to create more space for the air to circulate and keep the plant cool. Check out the guide on When and how to prune roses for details about this task.

Lack of sunlight

On the other hand, lack of direct sunlight can cause the rose foliage to turn yellow and fall off the plant. This often happens to the lower, older leaves when they’re shaded by bushy foliage in the middle and upper sections of the plant.

In this case, the sunlight doesn’t reach the lower branches and leaves in order for the leaves to produce chlorophyll to produce their green colour. The rose directs all its energy to the vibrant upper growth, and the lower leaves die and fall off.

Your rose tree may become “leggy”. That is, the lower branches become bare, and the middle and top are lush with foliage.

What to do

You can choose to live with this if you want tall roses. Plant some low-growing plants around the base of the rose to hide the bare lower branches. Or, on the other hand, you can clear away the other plants around the rose tree to let the sunlight come in sideways to reach the lower leaves. Or, if your rose tree is in a pot, you can move it to catch the sun when it’s lower in the sky.

If you prune back roses hard in spring, which is what I do, this is usually not a problem as all the foliage each year is new growth. I cut my roses back to 20-30cm (12 inches).

Pests and diseases

Rose that has list its leaves due to diseases
Rose that has list its leaves due to diseases

If you’ve ruled out the time of year and the environment and weather as reasons for your roses losing their leaves, it’s time to look for pests and diseases, which I briefly discussed earlier in the guide. Your rose bush could be infested with aphids or rose leafhoppers or fungal diseases such as rust or the dreaded black spot.

What to do

Have a thorough read of my Rose pests and diseases guide. Check out each pest and disease, even if the description doesn’t explicitly state that the leaves rose leaves fall off. Left to themselves, all pests and all diseases can deplete the rose’s strengths so that they lose their leaves.

Black spot on roses causes the rose to drop the infected leaves
Black spot on roses causes the rose to drop the infected leaves

If you have black spots on your leaves and there turning yellow, read my guide on the black spot here. This is probably the most common reason that roses lose their leaves.

What you’re doing wrong that leads to defoliation

Lack of water

A lack of water causes the rose leaves to fall off after they’ve turned yellow. But this may not only be because you’ve been under-watering the rose tree. Over-watering also results in the same yellow, falling leaves.

Here’s how it works. Under-watering is often because you let the compost or soil dry out too much in-between waterings. It also happens if the soil drains away the water so fast that the plant doesn’t get the chance to take up the water before it’s gone.

Over-watering can be because you’re giving the plant too much water or watering it too often. It can also happen if there are not enough drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. The soil becomes water-logged with excess water. Or it may occur if the soil itself is heavy and clumpy (usually clay soil) and the water can’t drain away through it.

What to do

Check the consistency of the soil. Add compost if it’s too light or too heavy. This helps to break up the clumpiness of the soil and to hold onto water. Farm manure is good for this.

Change your watering schedule. If you’re happy with how often you water your rose tree, add some more drainage holes to the bottom of the pot (if you’re over-watering) or plug a few up (if you’re under-watering).

Over-watering can lead to inviting a fungal disease called root rot into the plant. It’s quite an involved process to get rid of root rot. But I’ve detailed how to recognise this disease and what to do about it in Phytophthora Root Rot – prevention and treatment. Please read this – it could save your rose.

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