Is Knockout Rose Down for the Count?

April 21, 2013 | By | Comments (66)
Knockout rose

Enough color to knock your socks off — that’s ‘Knockout’ rose. Photo by Steve Bender.

Introduced in 2000, ‘Knockout’ rose quickly became the best-selling landscape plant in the country. It had everything — showy, continuous blooms; compact growth habit; tough-as-nails constitution; and, best of all, no need to spray for black spot disease. But now, nature has tossed green kryptonite into Superman’s garden. And ‘Knockout’ rose may just get its bell rung.

A Deadly Threat
‘Knockout’ rose (the original single red, shown above, plus a bunch of newer colors) owes its uber-popularity to the belief that it’s the first “no maintenance” rose — perfect for the lazy gardener in all of us. People think it needs no watering, spraying, pruning, or fertilizing — EVER. It’s like an actual living plastic plant. You just stick it in the ground and it will bloom, bloom, bloom with zero care from you. How marvelous.

Unfortunately, this belief is dead wrong. ‘Knockout’ does need water, fertilizer, and pruning. And now it’s facing a disease so serious that its very survival is in question. Rose rosette disease.

Rose rosette

Rose rosette disease. Photo:

This is what rose rosette looks like and it’s not pretty. A formally healthy plant starts producing Medusa-like bunches of bright-red new shoots. The shoots bloom, but the flowers look distorted. As rose rosette spreads through the plant, the rose gradually dies back, until it completely croaks. Down for the count.

What Causes Rose Rosette?
Rose rosette is caused by a virus first discovered in the western U.S. around 1940. The virus is principally spread by tiny eriophyid mites — so tiny, in fact, that they literally blow into gardens on the wind. When they feed on a rose, they transmit the virus. At that point, the jig is just about up.

Now here’s a surprise. There was a time when rose rosette was considered a savior, not a plague. Any of you remember the infamous “living wall,” aka the multiflora rose? A vigorous, arching import from Japan, it produced pretty white flowers in spring and thousands of small, bright-red rose hips in fall. It grew so thickly that highway departments in the East and Midwest actually planted rows of it down highway medians. Even a tractor-tractor couldn’t smash through. Cattlemen also used it to contain cattle.

But you know what they say about good intentions. Birds ate the red rose hips and spread multiflora rose everywhere. It proved to be an awful, noxious weed. States banned it, but it was too late. The entire eastern U.S. was destined to be smothered by the stuff, unless a control could be found.

It was. Rose rosette disease.

Wahoooo!!! Rose rosette killed multiflora rose faster than a van filled with nuns kills a good kegger. Unfortunately, when rose rosette ran out of multiflora roses, it looked for something else to feast on. The target? ‘Knockout’ rose and other shrub roses. The first ‘Knockout’ roses to show symptoms were located where the highest concentrations of multiflora roses were growing — the East and Midwest. ‘Knockout’ roses in the South have it now too.

Can Anything Stop Rose Rosette?
Because rose rosette is caused by a virus, it eventually spreads internally to every part of the plant. Promptly removing the bright-red shoot clusters by cutting through healthy green wood below them may save a rose. But once a rose gets full-blown rose rosette, turn out the lights. You must pull up the rose, roots and all, bag it, and throw it out with the trash. Spraying will not work.

Conard-Pyle, the respected Pennsylvania nursery that introduced ‘Knockout’ roses, suggests pruning back the plants by 2/3 while they’re dormant in late winter to remove any overwintering mites and eggs in the bud crevices. This is especially important for large landscape plantings of ‘Knockout,’ because the more bushes you have, the more mites you have, and it’s easier for the virus to spread.

Now For Some Really Bad News
According to Grumpy’s sources, most rose species and their selections are vulnerable to rose rosette — not just ‘Knockout.’ So if your love your roses, keep your eyes peeled for weird-looking, bright red shoots. Don’t leave yourself open to a ‘Knockout’ punch.


  1. james craig

    I live on eastern Long Island. Have had KOR’s for 6 years. Never a problem.

    October 21, 2015 at 10:15 am
  2. PJ Bear

    If you purchase from the big box stores like Home Depot or Lowes..they usually have a one year warranty. Keep the planters and all tags they came with, along with your receipt, and return them within that year for a refund or replacement. Or..just go buy some new roses and take back your old diseased roses, but use the new roses tags and receipt. If they are going to knowingly sell diseased roses then it’s only fair you do a switch on them and get you some healthy ones. I do this because I won’t be cheated out of my hard earned money if I buy something diseased. Fight fire with fire I always say. =)

    September 1, 2015 at 10:42 pm
  3. Michael Herron

    I live in Decatur GA. I planted 30 knockout roses…20 of the got the virus. I had throw them all out.

    September 1, 2015 at 9:21 pm
  4. Steve Bender


    I agree with you 100%.

    August 6, 2015 at 2:15 pm
  5. Stuart

    It should probably be noted that this virus is a ROSE problem not just a Knock Out problem. It effects all roses and the source of it isn’t Knock Out, it’s multiflora rose. The reason people are attributing it so strongly to Knock Out is because those roses are the ones most widely used/planted, so of course you’re going to see the symptoms more often on that variety, because you more frequently see that variety in the landscape.

    August 2, 2015 at 9:49 am
  6. A Better Rose Than Knock Out | Everything Country

    […] Is ‘Knock Out’ Rose Down for the Count? […]

    July 31, 2015 at 5:50 am
  7. A Better Rose Than Knock Out | Southern Living Blog

    […] Is ‘Knock Out’ Rose Down for the Count? […]

    July 30, 2015 at 10:00 am
  8. Penny Stuart

    I bought 2 double knockout rosebushes couple of months ago and one of them is doing fine the other one was quite dead think I can do to revive it?

    July 29, 2015 at 3:28 pm

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s