What’s Eating My Rose Leaves?

roseslug sawfly damage on rose
Roseslug sawfly damage on rose. Photo: UME/Ask an Expert

Q: My rose leaves have white spots and holes in them. What causes this and how do I treat it? Is there a natural remedy that does not involve powerful chemicals?

Answer: It looks like your rose has symptoms of sawfly damage. Check the undersides of the leaves and look for tiny green larvae that look like little worms or caterpillars. These are the juvenile stage of an insect called roseslug sawfly.

Roseslug sawflies are neither slugs nor flies. They belong to the same order of insects as wasps, bees, and ants (Hymenoptera). Adult female sawflies use their unique ovipositor (egg-laying part) to saw a small slit in a leaf or stem where they lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the leaf surfaces and cause an etched or scratched appearance. Some roseslug larvae chew through the leaves entirely. Damaged foliage turns brown and curls up as the season progresses.

bristly roseslug on rose leaf
Bristly roseslug (Cladius difformis). Photo: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org
bristly roseslug sawfly adult
Bristly roseslug (Cladius difformis), adult stage. Photo: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

In Maryland, there are three species of roseslug sawflies that cause damage to roses: the bristly roseslug sawfly, the roseslug sawfly, and the curled rose sawfly. Most of the feeding activity on roses in Maryland is seen in May and June, but some sawfly larvae can continue to be active until fall. Other insects, such as Japanese beetles, also cause chewing damage on rose foliage (typically in June-July).

Browning and leaf curling from rose slug sawfly damage. Photo: UME/ Ask an Expert

The best way to manage roseslug sawflies without chemicals is to monitor your plant(s) for damage symptoms early in the season (start looking in May) and manually remove any larvae (squish them or pick them off and discard them). A forceful spray of water from a garden hose targeted toward the leaf undersides can also get them off. Once dislodged, they cannot climb back up into the plant. Horticultural oil and Spinosad also work well against sawflies. Read and follow the product label instructions for the correct application procedures.

Two sawfly larvae are present on the undersides of rose leaves. Photo: C. Carignan

Predatory insects and birds help to manage sawfly populations naturally. Adding more flowering plant diversity to your landscape will provide food and habitat for beneficial animals that in turn help to reduce future pest problems.

Rose shrubs usually recover from sawfly damage eventually, as long as they are not struggling from other ailments or stressors such as drought.

Additional Resources

Sawflies | UME Home & Garden Information Center

Rosie Defoliators | Bug of the Week, University of Maryland, Department of Entomology

By Christa Carignan, Maryland Certified Professional Horticulturist, Coordinator, University of Maryland Extension Home & Garden Information Center. Read more by Christa.

Have a plant or insect question? University of Maryland Extension’s experts have answers! Send your questions and photos to Ask Extension.

One thought on “What’s Eating My Rose Leaves?

  1. Joseph Ryan June 15, 2020 / 7:37 am

    Thank you. Very timely for me. A new gardener in Virginia.

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