My Abraham Darby shrub rose and my little dog, Tobey.
If you live in a hot arid climate like me, chances are that your roses are feeling the heat and aren’t looking their best right now. While gardeners in cooler climates celebrate summer with beautiful rose blooms, the opposite is true for those of us who live in the desert. 
 
Roses actually grow quite well in hot, southwestern zones, and even though mine has a somewhat sunburned appearance – I’m not worried because this is normal.
 
You see, roses that are grown in the low desert regions, don’t like the intense sun and heat that summer brings. As a result, the flowers become smaller and the petals literally burn in the sun and turn crispy.  By July, you will likely not see any new roses appearing until October once the weather cools.
 
The rose blooms themselves aren’t the only parts of the roses affected by the summer heat – the leaves can come away sunburned as well.
 
When faced with brown crispy petals and leaves, you may be tempted to prune away the damaged leaves, but don’t.  
 
There are two reasons why you shouldn’t prune your roses in the summer.  The first is that pruning will stimulate new growth that will be even more susceptible to sunburn damage.  Second, the older branches and leaves will help to shade the growth underneath from the sun.
 
I know that is very hard not to prune away the browning leaves, but once September comes around, you can get out your pruning shears and prune back your rose bushes by 1/3. This will remove the sun-damaged flowers and leaves, stimulating new growth. 
 
 
Before you start lamenting the less than stellar appearance of your summer roses and feel that it is easier to grow roses in other regions, you would be wrong. Oh, certainly we have to deal with our roses not looking their best in the summer.  But, compare that with gardeners in other areas who have to deal with the dreaded Japanese beetle that shows up every summer and eats their roses. Or, how about those people who live in more humid climates and are having to deal with severe cases of blackspot or powdery mildew (white spots on the leaves).  
 
And lastly – we are fortunate to enjoy two separate blooming seasons for our roses.  In fall, when many other gardeners are putting their roses to bed for the winter, ours are getting ready to bloom a second time that year.
 
 
And so, I will ignore my less than beautiful roses this summer, because I know that they will look fantastic this fall 🙂
 
How about you?  Do you grow roses in the desert?
 
 
 
Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."

26 replies
  1. Debbie
    Debbie says:

    Thank you for this post! I live in Las Vegas and yes, they are starting to have small flowers..I'll have to hide the pruners from myself so that I won't trim them! Love your blog!

    Reply
  2. David Cristiani
    David Cristiani says:

    Great points – we often have 2 rose seasons in Abq, too, though our's don"t get thoroughly fried in summer dormancy, either. No mildew, not too-bad of water needs, and pretty amazing plants with just a little thought!

    Reply
  3. LotusStone
    LotusStone says:

    Thank you so much for this "honesty" post. My roses are not so pretty these days either, and your photos and reassurance make me feel SO much better as a newbie to the desert!

    Reply
  4. Aaron Dalton
    Aaron Dalton says:

    A useful post! Many of the roses in our neighborhood (Knockouts, natch) seem to be done blooming in Middle TN heat (low 90s most days).

    I don't grow any roses right now, but I do plan on adding some this autumn – either from the Earthkind series or maybe some Rugosas.

    It will be interesting to see how those fare in the Mid South heat.

    I thought the most useful advice was the part about NOT pruning off the damaged leaves in summertime. Sometimes it's important to know when to let a plant cope with adverse conditions on its own!

    Reply
  5. Becky P
    Becky P says:

    Great post. This is my first year growing roses, and with all the work and money we invested in our 11 bushes, the sun burn was making me panic. We've got some sunshade up but think we need a little more. It's been118 to 120 this week and was 117 the first wweek of May! Those poor roses gave had a rough start!

    Reply
  6. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    Hi Becky,

    It is especially tough the first summer, but take heart – the more mature a rose is, the easier time it will have. So, next summer should be much better. They may look terrible, but those that make it through will survive to produce beautiful blooms!

    Noelle – AZ Plant Lady

    Reply
  7. Gina
    Gina says:

    Ohh and oops! Well, now I know. I bought a climbing rose that already had sunburned leaves.. it only had one flower and one bud on it at the time. Shortly after planting, the first bud bloomed and one more appeared, then bloomed very briefly and now it’s been a month with no more blooms. I had been trimming off the dead leaves regularly (thinking at first that they might be diseased)… well, now that I know better, I will resist… so glad to find this blog, thank you!

    Reply
    • arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
      arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

      Hi Gina,

      I am glad that I was able to help. Roses definitely don’t look their best in summer but, are glorious in spring and fall. If you can give it some temporary shade from afternoon sun, that would be helpful until it grows larger.

      Reply
  8. Nana you Harris
    Nana you Harris says:

    Good morning
    I have 4 tree roses, they are totally burnt from this AZ sun.. I have no shade from the morning until about 4 pm. Well except a couple umbrellas. Are my roses a goner or will they come back in the fall if I keep watering them? Thanks so much, have a good weekend.
    Nancy, Gilbert Az

    Reply
    • arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
      arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

      Hello Nancy,

      They should come back. You can also help protect them through the summer by adding a little shade. You can do this with shade cloth or landscape burlap.
      Keep watering and lightly prune them back in September to help rejuvenate them.

      Reply
  9. Emily
    Emily says:

    Yes, I grow roses in the desert! They do well here, and you are so right about us being lucky that our climate prevents 90% of the ills that usually befall roses in other areas. I have mostly David Austin, old roses (Damasks, Bourbons, etc.) and a few hybrid teas.

    Most of my roses get some late afternoon shade, but I have a few that get more sun and yes, they do get a little crispy this time of year – but bounce back nicely every time. My biggest problem has been not realizing that when David Austin says “grows 3-4′ tall and wide” in his catalog, he means in England. Oops. I now have a huge raised bed full of 8′-10′ monster English roses.

    Thanks for sharing your photos, which will undoubtedly comfort those new to roses here and also, may a say what a cute dog you have!

    Reply
    • arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
      arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

      Hi Emily,

      Thank you for sharing your experience growing roses in the desert. I met up with the folks at David Austin roses last week and shared how their new roses are faring in my garden. ‘Olivia Rose’ is one of their newer varieties and is thriving better than all of my others!

      Reply
  10. Maria
    Maria says:

    My potted miniature roses are suffering from constant waves of spider mites the past month. AND they dont look good, very twiggy from so much leaf death. No matter how much neem oil and water I add to the pot, they keep coming back and I feel like I must remove the leaves to remove the mites!

    Reply
    • arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
      arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

      Oh Maria,

      It sounds like quite a problem. If the spider mites were firmly established before you started treating them, then it will be harder to get rid of them. Miticides or insecticidal soap are effective, but must be reapplied. If most of the leaf is damaged, then remove it. I hope this helps!

      Reply
  11. Karen Evans
    Karen Evans says:

    Hi and thanks for all the great info. I have a fairly new rose bush in a large pot on my patio. It was beautiful this spring when planted. I thought I was doing something wrong when my roses became small and leaves started turning brown. Now I know it’s normal here in AZ. Going out to buy a wheeled base for my pot so I can move it out of the sun in the afternoon. Glad I read your advice before cutting the brown leaves back. Should the roses be removed after blooming or leave them on as well? I have 3 small blooms presently. Thanks!
    Karen
    Mesa, AZ

    Reply
  12. Joyce in NM
    Joyce in NM says:

    I should have read this sooner. I garden at 4700 feet in Alamogordo, NM and have always had roses not do as well in summer but like you mention they flush in spring and fall. But here at this altitude they bloom still in summer. But this year we had higher than normal temps for longer than normal in July, with a lot of wind! This must have been a convection oven effect! Anyhow I kept cutting off the brown leaves and spent blooms. My worry is that my husband bought me 3 new roses in late spring (I normally only plant in the fall here. So those roses are looking so bad now. I did cover the 2 that look really bad with shade cloth. Should I use any plant food? They have barely any new growth and few leaves. Thanks!

    Reply
    • arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
      arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

      Hi Joyce,

      It has been a hard summer for the Southwest. It’s important NOT to prune when plants are struggling, since this makes things worse. They are struggling to survive and adding fertilizer will force them to try to grow flowers, diverting the resources the rose bush is using to survive. I would protect them with shade cloth and allow the brown leaves and spent blooms to remain, since they provide some protection from sun and wind. Hopefully, they will come back next summer. The first year after planting is the most crucial for plants.

      Reply
  13. Diana
    Diana says:

    I have lost 3 rose bushes to a fungal infection each time. I bought them from Moon Valley Nursery here in Mesa. they said they would survive the summer heat. My neighbor who is a master gardener lost a.couple of rose bushes this year too. I have given up on growing roses here in Arizona and stick to succulents. It is a shame because I love them so much.

    Reply
  14. Valerie Marsman
    Valerie Marsman says:

    I planted my roses in late spring and they did not do well in the summer. I put shade over them, extra water, and fertilizer. However, one rose bush (little white tea roses) I think died. It is very brown and dry. The other shed all of its leaves and I also think it might be on its way out, the green branches are starting to dry out (pink roses). The only one that survived is my red rose bush, some of the leaves are burnt and some others are very light green. Do you think my two other rose bushes didn’t make it? Do you have any suggestions on what I should do? The three roses are all near each other.

    Reply
    • arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
      arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

      Hi Valerie,

      Roses do best when planted in winter or early spring so they can begin growing before the heat of summer arrives. I’m sorry, but it is doubtful that they made it. Roses do quite well in the desert garden when planted during the cool season and it’s worth trying again.

      Reply

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