How To Fix Yellow Leaves On Roses | What Causes It

When a rose starts turning yellow out of seemingly nowhere, it can throw both amateur and experienced gardeners for a serious loop.

Yellowing leaves are often the earliest sign that trouble is afoot in your rose bed. The problem is that yellow foliage can be caused by many things. And, as with anything related to plant health, time is of the essence.

Even if your rose is as green as ever, knowing the most common causes of yellow foliage will let you jump into action at the first sign of distress. The saying “prevention is the best medicine” is true for plants, too!

So, let’s break the myth that they’re difficult to care for by discussing the most common reasons (and simple fixes) for yellow leaves on roses.

What Causes Yellow Leaves On Roses

Discolored foliage is often the first sign something is wrong with a plant. In roses, yellowing leaves can mean anything from a serious disease to a comparatively minor issue with the plant’s environment.

Yellow rose leaves generally occur when the plant is overwatered, underwatered, overfertilized, or placed in the wrong type of soil.

Of course, you shouldn’t mistake your rose’s natural leaf cycle with something more serious. Rose bushes are deciduous, meaning their leaves change color and drop in the fall just like all non-evergreen species.

Yellow Leaves On Roses And Brown Spots

While you might think that diagnosing this combination would be easier than finding the cause of yellowing foliage alone, that’s not always the case!

Multiple things can cause rose leaves to both turn yellow and develop brown spots. Before you panic, however, I recommend addressing any potential issues with the rose’s environment or care.

There are two relatively common diseases that cause yellowing and dark spots to form on rose leaves: black spot and Cercospora leaf spot (CLS).

A black spot is identified by large yellow patches filled with splotches of brown or black leaf tissue. Often, these dark splotches resemble moles in shape and color.

CLS is very distinct, causing yellow spots with dark brown borders to appear on the rose’s leaves. While this disease was previously only seen in the southern United States, its range seems to be growing.

Both are the result of fungi. Fortunately, the prescribed treatment for each disease is also the same.

You can prevent fungal growth by keeping rose leaves as dry as possible. Existing infections can be treated with standard fungicides.

Yellow Leaves On Roses In Pots

Yellowing leaves are just as common, if not more so, in potted rose varieties and this is usually caused by over or under fertilizing nutrient deficiencies in the soil, or insufficient watering.

Identifying and treating yellow leaves in a potted rose is often a bit easier since you have greater control over its environment.

How To Fix Yellow Leaves On Roses

To return your roses to full health, you first need to determine the true cause of the yellowing leaves.

I always encourage growers to consider each of the following potential causes first. Once you’ve identified the reason for your rose’s lackluster appearance, you can take steps to prevent additional yellowing, remove the damaged foliage, and stop it from happening again.

Overwater Or Underwatering

Moisture is the most common culprit of roses with yellow leaves. Depending on the growing conditions of your particular rose species, either overwatering or underwatering could be to blame.

Fortunately, a keen eye can tell the difference between a rose with too much versus too little water. Overwatering tends to cause drooping, yellow leaves all over. Meanwhile, underwatering results in dry foliage that turns brown along the edges before leaves turn yellow.

Keep in mind that yellow leaves can show up even if your watering habits haven’t changed. This typically happens when environmental factors like extreme heat or drought change your roses’ water needs.

How Often Should Roses Be Watered?

On average, roses should be watered once or twice per week.

But the real key to happy roses is watering based on the moisture levels in the soil rather than a set schedule. For example, daily watering is often needed during particularly hot and dry weather, especially if they are planted in pots or containers.

You should water roses so that only the top two or three inches of soil ever dries out.

Over-Fertilizing

Over-applying fertilizer can absolutely lead to discolored foliage. What usually happens is that the rose simultaneously takes up too much nitrogen, phosphorus, and/or potassium while not receiving enough copper, manganese, and other micronutrients.

Over-fertilized roses tend to produce leaves that turn yellow or brown along the margins. You’ll probably notice additional signs like rapid growth, an overabundance of foliage, and fewer blooms than normal.

When over-fertilization is suspected, I suggest doing three things:

  • Take a good, hard look at your rose fertilizer’s label
  • Reconsider your previous fertilizing schedule
  • Examine the area around your rose bush for sources of run-off

Chances are, you’ll find that your chosen fertilizer formula or application schedule wasn’t up to snuff. Even landscape roses can fall victim to run-off from other feeding schedules that are taking place in your garden such as liquid lawn fertilizer.

Can Too Much Nitrogen Cause Yellow Leaves On Roses?

Excess nitrogen in the soil sometimes causes rose leaves to turn yellow at the tips. If nitrogen is to blame, you’ll notice this yellow foliage quickly turns brown and may even die back completely.

With that said, excess nitrogen alone is rare in landscape and container roses. More likely, your rose is receiving too much of several nutrients.

So, I wouldn’t assume nitrogen is the sole cause of your rose’s yellow foliage unless you’ve confirmed it with a soil test.

What Is The Best Fertilizer For Roses?

Roses can be fed using organic fertilizers like compost or aged manure or with a high-phosphorus fertilizer.

When selecting the best rose fertilizer, look for an N-P-K ratio like 5-7-2 or 18-24-16. This will ensure the healthy development of those all-important blooms, as well as ensure a strong root system and plenty of lush foliage.

Granular and liquid fertilizers are both appropriate for rose bushes. If using a fertilizer that dissolves in water, be sure to water the soil directly, avoiding the rose’s foliage and stems. Excess product here will make your roses susceptible to burn or scorching, which may result in yellow leaves too.

Soil Conditions

Roses planted in soil that is too acidic or alkaline cannot take up nutrients properly. This is why the symptoms of improper pH — i.e., yellow foliage — manifest as nutritional deficiencies.

The ideal pH for roses is around 6.0 to 6.5. This is within the normal range for native soil in most regions. However, I still recommend testing your soil’s pH level (preferably before planting).

It’s possible to adjust soil pH using amendments like agricultural lime (to increase alkalinity) or aluminum sulfate (to increase acidity). These amendments are much more effective when used before anything is planted in the soil. Keep in mind that adjusting native soil pH typically requires ongoing maintenance.

Soil quality can also directly impact your rose’s ability to absorb water.

It sounds counterintuitive but symptoms of overwatering may have little to do with your own watering practices. Instead, it could be a sign of poor drainage.

Whether planted in a container or the landscape, roses should be placed in loamy soil with large amounts of organic matter. Avoid soil that contains high concentrations of clay or sand.

Of course, container roses should be provided with plenty of drainage holes. Be careful not to clog these holes by filling the container with pebbles or another material that could obstruct excess water from running off.

What Nutrient Deficiency Causes Yellow Leaves?

If you suspect your rose leaves are yellowing from a nutrient deficiency, nitrogen is the most likely problem. Rose leaves that lack nitrogen will gradually lighten — each leaf will be a uniform color — until turning completely yellow. This typically occurs from the bottom of the plant and moves up.

Older leaves that turn yellow or brown along the edges may be the result of a potassium deficiency.

If you notice only your rose’s newest leaves are yellow, especially if the leaf veins remain green, then an iron deficiency is the most likely cause.

Pruning Roses

Once rose leaves turn yellow, there’s no going back. Removing damaged leaves improves the overall appearance of the plant. It can also help the rose recover from whatever caused the yellow foliage in the first place.

Removing Yellow Leaves from Roses

Yellow leaves can be removed at any time of year. But if your area is experiencing extreme heat, cold, or drought, I find that waiting for milder weather provides better, long-term results and recovery.

Most rose varieties have leaves with several smaller leaflets. What we generally think of as an individual rose leaf is actually just a small part of the true leaf.

When removing damaged foliage, I recommend pruning entire leaves rather than individual leaflets (even if only some of the leaflets are affected). Chances are, the adjacent leaflets are also suffering even if they don’t yet show physical symptoms.

pruning roses with yellow leaves

Pruning Roses With Yellow Leaves

It is safe to perform routine pruning on roses with yellow leaves. Anything more than some mild yellowing is a clear sign the rose is suffering.

Prioritize pruning parts of the rose with yellow foliage over healthy, green leaves. Remember that only green leaves can perform photosynthesis, and your rose needs a minimum number of these leaves to survive.

Final Thoughts On Yellow Leaves On Roses

With just a little investigation and careful observation of the symptoms, it is easy to identify the cause of your rose’s yellowing foliage. This unsightly discoloration of leaves can normally be narrowed down to one of the following:

  • Too much or too little water
  • Improper fertilization
  • Poor drainage
  • Incorrect soil pH
  • Fungal disease

When a rose starts turning yellow out of seemingly nowhere, it can throw both amateur and experienced gardeners for a serious loop.

Yellowing leaves are often the earliest sign that trouble is afoot in your rose bed. The problem is that yellow foliage can be caused by many things. And, as with anything related to plant health, time is of the essence.

Even if your rose is as green as ever, knowing the most common causes of yellow foliage will let you jump into action at the first sign of distress. The saying “prevention is the best medicine” is true for plants, too!

So, let’s break the myth that they’re difficult to care for by discussing the most common reasons (and simple fixes) for yellow leaves on roses.

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