Problems, pests and diseases

Why are the leaves curling on my rose bush?

Last updated on April 5th, 2022

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Roses are among some of the most popular plants for commercial and residential gardens. They bring with them the arrival of spring and maintain stunning flowering displays with energising aromas all year round. But what happens when the leaves start to curl, taking away from that otherwise beautiful display?

Curling leaves on a rose bush are indicative of a serious pest issue called rose leaf-rolling sawfly

Rose leaf-rolling sawfly

Don’t be fooled by discussions of weedkiller damage. The leaf-rolling sawfly is a much more likely culprit. Sawflies have caterpillar-like larvae that feed on your plants until they become adults. The adults have wings and take on the appearance of flies, even though they are in the same family as bees and wasps. 

These insects cause a lot of damage and not just to roses, they have even been known to strip gooseberries of all their foliage overnight. Firstly, the females lay their eggs into the leaflets and secrete chemicals during the process and this is what causes the leaves the roll. There are times no egg is laid but the leaflet still gets probed which results in the same curling. 

Out of these eggs emerge larvae, much like caterpillars that then feed on the inside of those rolled leaves. 

What are the symptoms?

How can you tell if you really do have a problem with a rose leaf-rolling sawfly?

The leaf margins will begin to curl downwards and inwards along the length of the leaves until they roll up completely into a tube. This will take place between April and June, and it happens within 24 hours of the egg being laid. 

You will notice pale green larvae inside the rolled leaves if you unfurl them, and the rolled leaves will remain curled throughout the summer. 

How can I treat the rose leaf-rolling sawfly?

If you notice the symptoms of rose leaf-rolling sawfly, you can a) do nothing if it’s a light infestation or b) use pesticide or non-pesticide controls. 

Light infestations are something most rose bushes can manage, with a small amount of foliage affected. But anything larger should be treated appropriately.  

Non-pesticide controls mean picking off the affected leaves as soon as you notice them, preventing the larvae from eating and maturing. However, removing a large number of leaves from your rose bush can be more harmful to its overall health than the comparative damage a maturing sawfly would do.

Alternatively, you can use pesticides but they might not be incredibly effective because they won’t prevent the female sawfly from laying eggs and won’t impact the larvae already inside the rolled leaves.

That said, vigilance and removal here and there of affected leaves can go a long way towards the overall control and maintenance of a healthy rose bush.

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