Rose bushes are extremely popular in home gardens because of their beautiful, showy flowers and heady fragrance. With stronger hybrids that grow easier and more robustly anyone can grow roses now. Where there are roses, pests will come to dine on these bushes.
Aphids, rose sawflies, thrips, slugs, Japanese beetles, spider mites, rose cane borers and leafcutting bees all love to eat roses. Inviting ladybugs, lacewings and birds to your garden will generally help control populations of insects that snack on roses and other garden plants.
The following are 10 of the most common bugs and insects that will eat your roses, along with many ways to treat and repel them. By recognizing the damage these pests cause and treating them correctly you can save your roses from becoming a statistic.
The Clemson Cooperative Extension says a thorough and regular inspection of your roses increases early pest detection. When pests are noticed, start with physical means of control before moving on to chemical destruction. Even then try to use the least destructive method possible.
Wherever there are plants, you’ll probably find aphids that feed on them. Except of course in the weeds that I just can’t seem to get rid of…nothing will touch them! Aphids are found on nearly every continent and have been a gardener’s nemesis since the dawn of gardening.
There are hundreds of different aphid species and several colors ranging from yellow to black. They all have one thing in common though; they multiply ridiculously fast and will drain your plants dry if left alone. They especially love roses.
These squishy, tiny, pear-shaped pests feast on rose leaves, buds, and stems. You’ll likely notice their damage by the shriveled up, curling leaves, and brown dried up appearance.
You might even notice a shiny, sticky sap-like substance on the leaves or a constant supply of ants crawling up the rose canes.
Ants are attracted to the honeydew that aphids secrete as they feed. Honeydew is a sweet byproduct these pests produce that the ants feed on, and in return, they offer protection to the aphids.
If you are interested, consider checking out these 6 reasons why you have aphids in your yard.
How To Get Rid Of Aphids On Your Roses
If you have a healthy ecosystem and don’t use many broad-spectrum pesticides you may not have to worry about aphids too much.
Mother Nature has a way of treating these plant juice-sucking pests on its own. Ladybugs, lacewings, hoverflies, and other predatory insects can keep aphid populations in check.
Invite the aphid eating bugs in
By planting flowers and other plants that attract plenty of predatory insects you may not ever have to worry about an aphid infestation. You have more important things to do than fight aphids on your rose bushes.
Some aphid-eating insects such as the green lacewing and hoverfly will feed on the flower nectar as adults, then lay eggs where they notice aphids. These insect nymphs and ladybug larvae are the unsung heroes of aphid decimation.
Plants that attract beneficial predatory insects to your garden include:
- Common yarrow and fern-leaf yarrow
- Queen Anne’s lace
- Carpet bugleweed
- Lemon balm
- Butterfly weed
- Sweet alyssum
Simply plant some of these plants near your roses or other plants that are susceptible to aphids and watch all the beneficial insects go to work.
If you want more tips for attracting insects such as ladybugs, read our article on 4 ways to attract ladybugs to your yard!
Use diatomaceous earth to get rid of aphids
Diatomaceous earth is the fossilized remains of microscopic ocean creatures called diatoms. What this stuff does is causes minuscule cuts in a bug’s exoskeleton which will make them dry out into tiny, hollow, bug casings.
Diatomaceous earth is safe for plants but will prevent and get rid of existing aphids. It comes in a fine powder and will have to be reapplied periodically, especially after watering or rainfall.
Use Neem Oil Or Soapy Water Against Aphids
Neem oil sprayed directly on aphids will get rid of them immediately. You’ll have to be sure and spray the undersides of the rose leaves and in the petals, as there are a lot of hiding places aphids can go.
You’ll also have to spray again after a few days to a week to take care of any remaining or recently hatched aphids.
Simple dish soap added to plain water in a sprayer will also take care of aphids. Pour in a few drops of plain dish soap—stay away from bleach, antibacterial, and other additives—into a bottle of water and spray away. The soap clings to the aphids and suffocates them.
You can also read our full list of scents that aphids hate for other tips on how to repel them!
2. Rose Sawflies Or Rose Slugs
Rose sawflies are small, sweat-bee/wasp-looking flies that don’t do any damage to your roses, it’s their babies, the rose slugs that can devour entire rose plants. Rose slugs are slugs or caterpillars—which they resemble—but a small, green grub. Don’t get mad at me, I didn’t name them.
The larvae are only about ⅛” when they are born so you may not see them curled up and hiding among the leaves.
The damage they cause can look like the leaves have been bleached, or they can be completely skeletonized depending on how big the grub is. The smallest of the grubs will eat away the green cells and leave behind a discolored membrane.
A heavy infestation of rose slugs can defoliate an entire rosebush, so quick action is a must when you start to notice damage on your roses.
They are nighttime feeders and go into hiding during the daylight, so you may have a hard time seeing them. If you see bright green, small caterpillar-looking bugs, and skeletonized leaves, you’ve got a colony of rose slugs.
How To Treat Rose Sawfly Slugs On Your Roses
Getting ahead of these pests is key because there can be a few generations of rose sawfly slugs on one rose plant. They are active from spring into late summer so they have plenty of time to wreak havoc on your roses.
Pick ‘Em Or Prune ‘Em!
If you happen to see the curled up green grubs hiding out on your roses, you can simply pluck them off and drop them into a soapy water container. Of course, if you’re feeling rather angry at the damage they have caused, just squish them on the spot.
Using a flashlight and going out after dark will help you get these nighttime feeders.
Pruning off damaged leaves and branches can help not only the unattractive appearance but will get rid of some of the slugs as well. Just drop the cut pieces into a trash bag and seal it up, or burn them. Of course, before doing that, check with the fire department or the county to see if you need a burn permit.
Predators Can Do Your Dirty Work
Many insect-eating birds will eat a lot of your garden pests, including the slow-moving rose sawfly slug. Inviting these feathered friends into your garden can help to keep these green baddies away from your roses.
Add birdbaths, birdhouses, and leave some small trees or shrubs for the birds to visit and hide in. They will thank you by eating a lot of insects that can harm your plants. Adding feeders that offer insect feed is another great way to bring in predatory insectivores.
Diatomaceous Earth Again
This stuff works wonders on soft-bodied bugs and insects like the sawfly slug. If squishing them gives you the “willies” then simply sprinkle some diatomaceous earth on them and let it shrivel them up for you.
You can also keep sawfly slugs and most other insects off your roses by dusting them with diatomaceous earth. Bugs and insects that walk across the powder will get microscopic cuts that will eventually dehydrate them.
Give Rose Sawflies A Spritz Of Neem Oil
Another organic pesticide that won’t harm most beneficial insects and definitely won’t damage your roses is neem oil. You can spray the green worms directly or just apply the oil to the rose plant to treat them as they feed.
Neem oil doesn’t last long on the plants so if you continue to see new damage, you’ll have to treat again until all the sawfly juveniles are completely taken care of.
It’s Difficult To Prevent Rose Sawflies
Since adult sawflies have wings, it’s difficult to prevent them from landing on your roses and laying eggs. The eggs are tiny and can easily be overlooked, especially on larger rose bushes. If you do happen to see them, simply snip off the leaves with the eggs and dispose of them.
Other than watching out for eggs and noticing the damage that is caused by sawfly larvae, there’s not much to be done to prevent this pest.
Thrips are minuscule insects that can especially do a number on rose buds and flowers. You may have even seen them crawling inside the flowers but thought they were so tiny they couldn’t possibly do anything to the big rose bush.
When you see silver on your rose’s leaves or premature browning on your flowers, you may have an infestation of thrips. To find out for sure, hold a piece of white paper underneath a rosebud suspected of thrip damage and shake it. If tiny, brown bugs fall out, then you have thrips.
These pests are very hard to treat because they are so tiny, and they like to hide out in the numerous folds of rose buds. Sprays and powders can often miss them and will have to be reapplied frequently.
How To Get Rid Of Thrips On Roses
Don’t get too discouraged if you have thrips on your roses though, we’ll arm you with tools to treat these thrips!
Bring In The Predatory Insects
Thank goodness for insects that feed on these minuscule bugs, otherwise, they might ruin all the beautiful roses. Ladybugs, lacewings, and minute pirate bugs feed on thrips and keep their numbers under control.
Though we have already mentioned ladybugs and lacewings, they do often feed on thrips and to attract them is the same way mentioned before. Plant plenty of nectar-producing flowers that bloom in spring and summer. Many of these plants will also attract minute pirate bugs.
These beetles have folded wings and often a diamond-shaped white patch at the end of their wings. They are thrip thwarting beneficial bugs. If you see them patrolling your rose garden, don’t swat them, just let these insects go about their business because they are protecting your flowers.
All Purpose Bug Eradicators Work On Thrips
Here we go again, bring in the all-purpose diatomaceous earth or neem oil. Sprinkle the diatomaceous earth on the roses, paying special attention to the flowers, and it should knock the thrip numbers back. The same goes for neem oil.
Simply reapply occasionally or after a decent rainfall to get the thrips that took to hiding the last time you applied either of these methods.
Deadhead Spent Or Damaged Flowers
Deadheading—not following the your favorite band around the globe—is the process of cutting spent flowers off plants to force them to bloom again. While this doesn’t work for all flowering plants, roses take deadheading very well.
Cut off any spent rose buds as well as any that show signs of thrip damage. Then seal them in a plastic back and dispose of them. This helps to reduce thrip numbers, especially if they go into hiding when you spray.
Keep Weeds Under Control
Tall weeds offer wonderful hiding places for thrips. If the weeds reach up to the roses, then that’s even better for thrips.
These insects can’t fly so they have to walk everywhere, and one of the ways they get to your roses is by tall weeds or plants that touch rose branches.
Keeping your rose bushes mulched, cleaning up any weeds, and trimming low-hanging branches will drastically reduce the possibility of thrips invading these precious flowers.
To thoroughly get rid of thrips, you may have to employ a few of these steps to properly get rid of them once they have set their beady little eyes on your roses.
Slow-moving, innocuous, slimy slugs seem like they couldn’t harm anything, but they can and do cause substantial damage to roses. Slugs are especially abundant after very wet seasons, and as their numbers increase, so does the damage they can do to your roses.
Slugs will eat jagged holes and rough edges into the leaves. You’ll also see the silvery slime trails they leave behind as they slide from leaf to leaf. Slugs may be an unwelcome sight on your roses, but they are fairly easy to repel.
Slugs can be difficult pests because they come at night, read about the 7 places where slugs come from at night if you’d like so more info!
How To Repel Slugs From Your Roses
It turns out that slugs are fatally “allergic” to nearly everything. It’s a wonder these slimy creatures are so abundant, especially when you add in natural predators such as birds and toads.
While repelling and getting rid of slugs isn’t topping the list of fun hobbies, it can be straightforward.
Give Slugs A Shocking Experience With Copper
When slugs or snails touch anything copper, their slime coat creates a mild electric shock.
The shock is enough to prevent them from crossing anything that has copper in it. All you have to do to prevent slugs from getting on your roses is to wrap the trunks in copper tape or put a copper ring in the ground.
This Mil Thick Copper Tape can be wrapped around anything you want to keep slug free. The one-inch strip is long enough to keep any slug from crossing the barrier.
Make An Impenetrable Barrier
Not only does copper keep slugs away, but placing a line of diatomaceous earth, or even crushed eggshells around your roses will keep slugs out. Take the diatomaceous earth or crushed eggs shells and create a continuous line around your roses.
The egg shells work similarly to the diatomaceous earth as the sharp edges will cut the slugs’ soft bodies. At the very least, the barrier will make it too uncomfortable to slide across and they won’t pass.
A line of salt such as rock or Epsom salt will certainly keep them away too, but salts can sometimes damage your garden plants, so be careful if you plan on using this method to get rid of slugs.
Invite Slug Predators To Your Garden
Inviting birds will help because many bird species eat slugs. Toads are also slug eaters, and they are more active at night when the slugs come out of hiding. Invite toads by offering clean, chlorine-free water, and places for them to hide during the heat of the day.
Lizards, snakes, frogs, salamanders, and even beetles will feed on slugs and slug eggs. If you see any of these animals, leave them alone and let them take care of the slugs for you.
Go On A Nighttime Hunt
Fish out your flashlight, or headlamp and get out to the garden after dark. Slugs come out when the lights go down, especially when the nights are cool and damp.
They move so slowly that all you have to do is pluck them off your roses and plop them into your trusty jar of soapy or salty water!
Be sure to wear gloves when handling slugs. They won’t cause a problem to you, but they get very slimy, and no one wants that all over their hands.
5. Japanese Beetles
You’ll probably recognize these daytime zooming pests right off the bat. Their copper bodies and green iridescent bodies are hard to miss. They also have tell-tale stripes on the softer sides of their bodies.
One of the problems with Japanese beetles is they hate to eat alone. While they are munching on your roses, they release a potent pheromone that will attract more Japanese beetles to your roses. If left alone they could do significant damage to your roses and surrounding flowers.
Luckily Japanese beetles are only active during the summer and early fall months. Unfortunately, they multiply rapidly and hide in the ground where it’s difficult to stop them… if you don’t know how. Lucky for you, we can tell you how to get rid of them.
How To Treat Japanese Beetles On Your Roses
Since these flying beetles are so prolific, it’s a little difficult to get rid of the adults. Using trap plants is a great way to keep them off your roses, and you can cover your roses while Japanese beetles are active. Often the best plan of action is to treat Japanese beetle larvae.
Get Out That Trap Plant!
Trap plants are sacrificial plants that you want pests to eat instead of other ornamental or vegetable plants.
One of the best trap plants for Japanese beetles is geraniums. These beetles can’t seem to be able to resist geraniums, and there are compounds in them that paralyze the beetles.
When Japanese beetles eat geraniums they fall to the ground and stay there in a type of paralysis for a while. During this time they are sitting ducks for predatory birds, chickens, or for you to pick them up and dispose of them.
Just hang some geraniums near your roses when Japanese beetles show up and sweep, vacuum, or pick them up as they fall to the ground. Or let your feathered friends gobble them off the ground.
Pick Them Off Before Their Morning Coffee
Japanese beetles are as sluggish as I am in the early morning hours. If you get up before they do, go out to your roses and pluck them off the plants before they get moving. They are slow-moving when it’s cool and early, so they are easy pickings.
Cover Your Roses
Using fine netting to cover your roses during the feeding period of Japanese beetles will prevent them from munching on your plants. This Garden Barrier Netting can cover your roses and prevent these flying garden pests from ruining your roses.
The fine mesh lets in sunlight, air, and water while keeping the flying Japanese beetles from getting to your flowers. Since they can’t feed on them, they can’t spread their pheromones and won’t attract more beetles.
Once the beetles have moved on, remove the protective mesh and save it until next year—same beetle time, same beetle channel.
You can also pair this method with using scents that Japanese beetles hate to help detract them from the area!
Use Milky Spore On The Grubs
Before it gets too cold, Japanese beetles will lay their eggs in the ground. There the grubs will dig deep into the ground to survive the winter. Before the next generation emerges to feast on your roses again, treat your lawn with milky spore.
Milky Spore Grub Control Mix is one way to treat these pests. It’s a natural bacteria that infects Japanese beetle grubs and causes them to decay before they can emerge from the ground. By reducing the number of grubs, you also will see fewer Japanese beetles next year.
6. Spider Mites
Spider mites are tiny arachnids that spin strands of silk where they are, but instead of eating insects and bugs, they suck the fluids from plants such as roses.
You’ll notice them because of the thin strands of silk stretching from leaves or branches. If you have a magnifying glass or spectacular vision you might be able to see these tiny mites.
While a few spider mites aren’t much of an issue, if they are left to multiply unchecked, they can ruin your rose bushes.
How To Get Rid Of Spider Mites On Your Roses
Fortunately, if you have spider mites on your roses, the best ways to get rid of them are all-natural ways, and those methods are the most effective.
Introduce Predatory Insects To Your Garden
Treat spider mites the same way you would the other tiny, soft-bodied insects on our list. Unleash the ladybugs, lacewing larvae, and pirate bugs. The same beneficial insects that helped us take care of aphids and thrips will also finish off spider mites.
Follow the above instructions to invite these hungry insects to your rose bushes.
Wash The Mites With Soap And Water
Remember the spray bottle of dish soapy water? The same principle applies here. If you don’t already have a spray bottle set aside for your soapy water, go ahead and make one up to spray the spider mites.
Other Natural Methods
Neem oil and diatomaceous earth work wonders on spider mites, just like with aphids, so pick one or the other and get rid of the mites on your roses.
You don’t want to use chemical pesticides on spider mites, the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources explains why: When broad-spectrum pesticides are implemented against spider mites, many beneficial insects that keep spider mites in check are subsequently targeted.
These insecticides might not be very effective at controlling spider mites and could cause flare-ups in mite populations.
7. Rose Scale
Rose scale may be difficult to recognize at times because this insect goes through a metamorphosis as it grows to adulthood.
When they are young you might see small, fuzzy, white, or grey spots on the leaves or branches. In adults, the insects grow a hard shell over themselves and permanently attach to the plant.
Scale can spread over time and weaken the plant, or eventually drain it completely dry if they are not treated. Early treatment is more effective, but once they are attached there are ways to treat them.
How To Treat Scale On Roses
If you see the fuzzy “bumps” on your roses in early summer or late spring, treat them quickly because once they grow a hard covering over them, it’s a little more difficult to get rid of them.
Spray The Juveniles
Horticultural oils work on soft-bodied juvenile-scale insects. Simply spray them with the oil, making sure to get the undersides of the leaves where they hang out. Scale can cause sooty mold on your roses so quick treatment will help down the road.
Invite Rose Scale Predatory Insects
Ladybugs will often eat the soft-bodied scale insects before they become a part of the rose bush.
Praying mantises and parasitic wasps often help to take care of scale infestations, so if you see any of these insects on your roses, don’t spray or smash them. They are garden friends.
Remove The Affected Leaves
After about four weeks of crawling around in a fuzzy suit, the scale insects go through a metamorphosis and create a thick shell around them and attach themselves for the rest of their life to the plant.
Once this happens, they are much harder to treat. Pesticides and sprays are very minimally effective at this stage because they can’t penetrate the hard shell. The most effective way to get rid of scale once it fuses to the plant is to remove the leaves, limbs, or what it’s attached to.
Seal up any cuttings so the eggs can’t hatch and spread. You don’t want to compost them, because it may not get rid of the eggs and you’ll only have scale everywhere you spread compost.
Prevention Methods For Rose Scale
While there aren’t many foolproof ways to prevent scale, following these steps can mitigate the damage and keep their numbers low.
Plant your roses in areas that get a full blast of sun. Scale insects tend to thrive better in shady, cool, humid areas.
Keep your roses looking their best by providing the best care you can. Healthy plants are much better suited to deal with pests and the occasional insect intruder when they are strong and well-tended.
Give them plenty of water, sunlight, and fertilize them correctly by following the instructions. Often too much fertilizer can have negative effects and attract pests, so keep feeding to a minimum.
8. Rose Cane Borers
While these insects are a bit rare, especially if you let your roses grow naturally, they can still cause major problems if they bore deep into your roses. These pests were named rightfully because they will bore into the canes (branches) of roses.
The symptoms they cause are yellowing leaves, soft, wilted canes, or even death of the rose if they get deep into the main cane and roots. These boring insects go deep into the rose to lay eggs. The larva lives for about two weeks on aphids the adult wasp brings it and then it pupates.
While it’s good they feed on aphids, it’s not so good that they can ruin your roses in the process.
How To Get Rid Of Rose Cane Borers on Your Rose Bush
When you trim your roses, you might see perfect little holes drilled into the cut ends of the rose canes. This is the indication that you now have a rose cane borer larva inside. To get rid of it you’ll have to cut farther down the cane until you no longer see the hole.
Dispose of the cane, then seal the cut ends on the rose bush to prevent them from coming back. Use a hobby store tacky glue or a strong all-purpose glue. School glue isn’t good glue because moisture and rain will just wash it away.
Also, don’t use nail polish, or other strong chemicals. They could harm your rose bushes.
What If The Rose Cane Borer Is Deep In the Crown?
When the cane borer gets into the main stem, just above the roots, it can cause significant damage that might prove fatal. Since you can’t just cut it back and remove the cane borer larva, what can you do?
Use a needle, thin wire, or something similar to “inspect’ the hole. Don’t jam your instrument deep inside and cause more damage to your rose bush, you just want to permanently incapacitate the larva or possibly the borer itself.
Once that grisly business is completed, seal the hole with all-purpose glue.
9. Leafcutter Bees
Leafcutting bees are somewhat common, but they are the only pest in this list you could leave alone and they wouldn’t severely damage your roses. They are solitary insects and don’t bring about thousands of their insect buddies.
You may walk out and see almost perfect holes cut into the leaves of your roses, and wonder who took the hole punch to your prized roses. That’s what leaf cutter bee damage looks like. Fortunately, they only need a few pieces to make a nest.
They’ll cut a few pieces off the rose and move away. The damage is aesthetic and healthy rose bushes easily shrug off leaf cutter damage.
Leafcutting Bees Are Pollinators
Leafcutting bees are beneficial pollinators and once they have a few pieces of rose leaves for their nest, they will move on to pollinating more flowers.
Be sure not to use any pesticides, natural or not when you see half-moon or full-circle cuts in the rose’s leaves.
If you’d like, try using some of the scents that bees hate in order to confuse them and focus on other flowers!
10. Fuller Rose Beetles
Fuller rose beetles are a weevil type of insect that can cause severe damage to your roses. If you see leaves that have been eaten completely away except for the single, thick vein in the middle, you have these pests ravaging your roses.
Not only will the adults feed on the roses, but the larvae feast on rose roots. When both adults and juveniles feed on the same plants, the results can be devastating.
Adults look like small, wingless, rounded beetles. They have a slightly curved point at the front of their head, and they feed mainly at night. You may see the adults because they hide underneath the leaves during the daytime instead of retreating to the safety of the ground.
How To Treat Fuller Rose Beetles On Your Roses
When these beetles settle in, you’ll probably have to treat both the adults and juveniles since they both can cause major damage to your roses. One treatment will work for the adults, but not the juveniles.
Spray The Rose Beetles With A Hose
Prevent adults from getting to your rose bushes by trimming under the canopy. Trim the branches so that they don’t touch the ground or anything around them. This leaves the main trunk as the only access to the leaves.
Next, use a water hose and spray all the adults off of the leaves. Pay extra attention to the undersides where they may be hiding and knock them off your roses. Now wrap the trunk in double sticky tape or use other types of sticky traps to keep adults from climbing up.
Now Treat The Juvenile Rose Beetles!
These beetles lay eggs in the soil. When they hatch they feed on small feeler roots, but as they grow, they can girdle roots which limit the water and nutrients roses can absorb. This damage can be fatal if enough roots get damaged.
If the insects don’t finish off the rose, the weakened state leaves the rose bush open to fungal infections that could be the end of it.
Beneficial nematodes can be effective in treating fuller rose beetle larvae if you have a big infestation of them.
The nematodes go into the soil where the juvenile beetles live and get infected. Once they are infected, they won’t live long enough to emerge as adult fuller rose beetles.
When the larvae are not causing catastrophic damage to your roses, the best way to fight these pests is to focus on the adults, but a dual approach may be the best way to get rid of them.
That’s A Wrap!
Thanks SO much for reading. I hope this helped you just a bit on figuring out what the heck is eating your roses and how to stop them 🙂
Now, for a quick recap.
The 10 most common insects that eat roses are:
- Rose Sawflies / Rose Slugs
- Japanese Beetles
- Spider Mites
- Rose Scale
- Rose Cane Borers
- Leafcutting Bees
- Fuller Rose Beetles
Best of luck on keeping those pesky bugs off your roses!
Morse, Joseph G., and James E. Lindegren. “Suppression of fuller rose beetle (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) on citrus with Steinernema carpocapsae (Rhabditida: Steinernematidae).” Florida Entomologist (1996): 373-373.
Litman, Jessica R., et al. “Why do leafcutter bees cut leaves? New insights into the early evolution of bees.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 278.1724 (2011): 3593-3600.
Khosravi, Roya, et al. “Virulence of four Beauveria bassiana (Balsamo)(Asc., Hypocreales) isolates on rose sawfly, Arge rosae under laboratory condition.” Journal of King Saud University-Science 27.1 (2015): 49-53.
Chow, A., A. Chau, and K. M. Heinz. “Reducing fertilization: a management tactic against western flower thrips on roses.” Journal of Applied Entomology 136.7 (2012): 520-529.