What’s Eating My Roses? It Might Be These 5 Insects

Are you wondering what’s eating your roses? Roses are tough, long-lived perennials, but are often targeted by certain pests. In this article, gardening expert and rose enthusiast Danielle Sherwood identifies the 5 most common pests you may find on your rose bushes, with advice on how to prevent and control them!

Insects eating roses that are growing in the garden.


 As the warmer weather of spring begins and roses start to produce tender new growth, their pests wake up too. They may announce their presence via holes in the foliage, distorted buds, sticky webs on the undersides of leaves, or even entire colonies of visible creepy crawlies. 

While rose breeders have made many advancements to produce plants that have increased resistance to fungal issues like black spot and powdery mildew, no roses have developed complete resistance to pests. They’re just part of nature, and learning to identify and control them will make your gardening experience a more pleasant one. 

If you see indicators of pest damage (or the pests themselves) on your roses, your first step is to figure out what you’re working with. Let’s examine the most common insects that may be eating your roses along with how to identify, control, and prevent them. 


A close-up reveals a vibrant plant with green leaves adorned by striking red serrated edges. The stems, however, are infested with a swarm of green aphids, clinging tightly to them, their tiny bodies forming a dense cluster
This common garden pest is the primary carrier of plant diseases and viruses among insects.

Aphids are frequently the first pests to appear in spring. They cluster in colonies near the top of fresh new growth. These tiny sacks of sap weaken roses by using their piercing mouthparts to suck out the plant’s nutrient-rich juices. 

Aphids usually appear in large numbers, making them easy to detect. They are small (about ¼ inch long) soft-bodied insects. They are pear-shaped and can be green, brown, pink, or yellow. 

Aphids produce 2 generations per year and are common worldwide. They are the number one insect vector of plant disease and viruses. While the groups of bugs are easy to spot, you may see other signs of aphid infestation. Curled leaves, sooty mold (a greyish fungus that is attracted to the honeydew produced by aphids), or disfigured buds are all indicators of aphids.

While aphids are a nuisance, they do not usually threaten the life of your roses. However, it’s only natural to want to kick these slow-moving sap suckers to the curb. First, make sure to identify them correctly. Then choose a strategy that will control them while maintaining the health of your roses and garden. 

How to Identify

Aphids are tiny (.25 inches or smaller) with light green, brown, pink, or yellow soft, pear-shaped bodies. They congregate in clusters on new rose growth. Curled leaves, deformed buds, and sooty mold indicate infestation.

How to Prevent

Aphids are usually controlled within 2 weeks by their natural predators. You can encourage the presence of birds and beneficial bugs (ladybugs, parasitic wasps, lacewings, hoverflies) that prey on aphids by:

  • Plant a diverse garden with attractive companion plants. Try yarrow, penstemon, and nepeta.
  • Repelling aphids or masking the smell of roses to confuse them. Consider interplanting with basil, marigolds, rosemary, and alliums.
  • Direct aphids away from roses by planting their favored plants as a trap. Try sunflowers, lupines, and nasturtium.

How to Remove

If you don’t wait to wait for natural predators to tackle your infestation (recommended as beneficial bugs provide long-term benefits to your garden):

  • Use a strong direct spray from your hose to knock aphids to the ground, making sure to also target the undersides of leaves. They are slow and dumb and cannot crawl back up.
  • Don’t mind a little ick-factor? Squishing them with gloved fingers works like a charm.
  • If the infestation is severe and continues to occur, you might consider an insecticidal soap (use with caution only on cool evenings to prevent harm to your plants and beneficial bugs).

Sawfly Larvae

A close-up view reveals the delicate beauty of a pink rose petal. The petal's edge is under attack by voracious sawfly larvae, nibbling away with their sharp mandibles, leaving behind a trail of destruction.
The damage from sawfly larvae is mainly cosmetic and does not harm the rose’s health.

Sawfly larvae, also called Rose Slugs, are just under ½ long with tan heads and green bodies. They look like little green caterpillars and chew on the undersides of leaves. Damage appears in tan blotches, transparent sections, or even wholly skeletonized leaves.  

Adult sawflies are in the wasp family. They produce one generation per year by laying eggs on leaf edges, which usually hatch in May or June. 

Fortunately, sawfly larvae damage is primarily aesthetic and doesn’t harm the health of your rose. However, if your rose foliage is skeletonized down to the veins, you may want to take action! 

How to Identify

If you see leaves with transparent spots, tan or white blotches, or little left but the veins, carefully check the undersides of foliage for tiny, light green caterpillar-like larvae with tan-orange heads.

How to Prevent

Sawfly infestations are prevented by:

  • Companion planting for a diverse garden that attracts their natural enemies like frogs, birds, ladybugs, and predatory wasps.
  • Including predator-friendly plants like sweet alyssum, thyme, fennel, and dill.
  • Monitoring your roses early in the spring to catch infestations.

How to Remove

Manual removal is the most effective strategy for sawfly larvae. You can:

  • Pluck them off and plunge them into a jar of soapy water.
  • Remove the entire damaged leaf and dispose of it
  • Use a high-pressure spray from your hose.
  • Coat leaves with neem oil (use only as a last resort as neem may harm sawfly predators)


A hand gently cradles a leaf with a prominent hole at its center, showcasing the leaf's compromised state. Black dots form a patch, further evidence of the damage inflicted. Other leaves surround it, all suspended from a branch, creating a serene, leafy backdrop.
Prevention should be the main focus when dealing with thrips.

Do your roses have silvery-brown streaks on the petals? Do you see deformed buds that fail to open?  Are your lightest-colored roses edged in brown? You might have a thrips infestation. 

Thrips are truly tiny (1mm or less) insects with dark wings and pale bodies that pierce rose foliage and buds to extract sap. The aggressive chili thrips prefers new foliage, leaving bronzey streaks. You are unlikely to notice them until the damage appears. 

Thrips like to burrow into enclosed petals of rose buds and blooms, making them difficult to target with sprays. Prevention should be the focus, as once infestations occur, they are very difficult to control. 

How to Identify 

Thrips are difficult to see with the naked eye. If you spy signs of damage on a bloom:

  • Open the petals and examine the interior to check for tiny fast-moving insects.
  • Try shaking a bloom over a piece of white paper. Watch for them to fall out. They will look like teensy, rapidly moving brown or black specks.

How to Prevent 

  • Thrips thrive in weeds and long grasses, so keep the area surrounding your roses clear of debris and prevent weeds with a thick layer of mulch.
  • Create an environment friendly to their predators with companion planting.
  • Use Blue Sticky traps to lure them away from your roses.

How to Remove

  • Monitor roses early in the season.
  • Cut off and dispose of damaged buds and foliage to prevent spread. Thrips live inside the buds, so this usually halts severe infestation.
  • If thrip presence can’t be controlled via pruning of damage, consider treating with horticultural oil or a mycoinsecticide like Botanigard ES. Thrips are resistant to most common insecticides.

Spider Mites

Underneath the rose plant's foliage, a sticky white webbing clings tenaciously. Amidst this web, a single pink rose stands out, while other stems appear as if their once-blossoming flowers have been abruptly severed. The blurred background is a tapestry of dark leaves, adding depth to the scene.
These tiny pests extract chlorophyll from leaves producing patchy foliage adorned with small yellow dots.

Spider mites are not actually spiders. They are microscopic, 8-legged bugs that earned their title from the sticky white webbing they leave on the underside of your rose’s foliage. 

Invisible to the naked eye, these minuscule pests suck the chlorophyll from leaves, creating mottled foliage with small yellow spots. Eventually, whole leaves turn brown and dull. 

They will reproduce quickly in warm conditions and overwinter in nearby ground debris in cold climates. Wind helps adults travel to new plants. 

To verify spider mite presence, check for their distinctive sticky white webs on the undersides of leaves and between stem tips. 

How to Identify

  • Look for dull leaves that are mottled with yellow or brown.
  • Check leaf undersides for tell-tale white webs.
  • Rub a leaf with suspected infestation between your fingers. If it leaves a rusty residue, spider mites are the likely culprit.

How to Prevent  

  • Look for dull leaves that are mottled with yellow or brown.
  • Check leaf undersides for tell-tale white webs.
  • Rub a leaf with suspected infestation between your fingers. If it leaves a rusty residue, spider mites are the likely culprit.

How to Remove 

  • Do not use insecticides. Spider mite problems often occur after insecticides are applied, usually because their natural enemies have been eliminated. Research shows that some insecticides actually encourage spider mite reproduction.
  • Remove any leaves with visible webs.
  • Hose off your rose thoroughly, making sure to hit the undersides of the leaves. Do this in the morning to allow roses to dry off, which will prevent fungal issues.
  • If not controlled via previously listed measures, coat leaves in garlic extract or clove oil. Do this on cool days (90 ℉ or lower) to prevent heat-related damage.

Japanese Beetles

A close-up captures a mature Japanese beetle perched upon a vibrant green leaf. The leaf, however, bears witness to the beetle's feeding frenzy, adorned with multiple holes outlined by a brown hue. These telltale signs reveal the beetle's voracious appetite and the leaf's unfortunate fate.
Cream-colored grubs in the soil eat turf grass roots, eventually transforming into large beetles.

Japanese Beetles are a major rose pest prevalent in the Eastern United States and slowly making their way west. They are native to Japan and not part of our natural ecosystem. 

These large beetles begin as cream-colored grubs in the soil that eat turfgrass roots. When grubs hatch into mature beetles in early summer, they can fly several miles to find a desirable host plant. The adults feed on over 300 plant species. They love to feast on rose blooms and foliage, causing brown-edged holes. Vulnerable young plants may experience stunted growth. 

Pesticides fail to provide long-term control of invasive Japanese Beetles, but that doesn’t mean you can’t manage them. Milky Spore, a bacterial control, works long-term to kill grubs in the soil, while manual removal tackles adult populations. 

How to Identify 

Japanese Beetles are easy to see and catch in the act of munching on roses. If a large, shiny copper and green beetle is on your bloom (and you live in the Eastern or Midwestern United States), you’ve probably got Japanese Beetles

How to Prevent 

If Japanese beetles are a known problem in your area:

  • Apply the natural bacteria Milky Spore in mid to late summer when grubs are active on the soil surface. This will kill grubs before they can mature into rose-eating beetles. However, it is known to be slow-acting and can take up to two years to be fully effective.
  • Invite their predators (birds, small mammals, spiders, assassin bugs) in with a biodiverse, pesticide-free garden.
  • Cover rosebushes with fine netting.

How to Remove

The only definitive way to tackle Japanese beetles is to remove them yourself.

  • Shake rose blooms (or manually pluck beetles off and plunge) into a jar of soapy water in the early morning when they are sluggish.
  • If you have too many roses for realistic manual removal, try spraying with a Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) product. This soil bacteria, once consumed on leaf tissues, will halt feeding by the beetles.
  • Treat with neem oil (this will require several applications) only on cool evenings to prevent harmful interaction with the sun that can damage plants.

Final Thoughts

While we all dread seeing infestations and resulting damage to our roses, most pests are a critical piece of the ecosystem. They are a food source for many natural predators. Poisoning them causes a ripple effect that impacts larger mammals and our waterways. 

The most effective prevention strategy for all rose pests is to create a garden with diverse plants. This creates a habitat for predators that will solve the problem for you. Unfortunately, invasive species like the Japanese Beetle will most likely need your intervention to keep them under control. Always try manual removal first, and use chemical controls only when other methods fail. 

For the healthiest garden, research and try methods with the least impact on plant health and helpful creatures first. You’ll soon have a more resilient garden that balances the pest-predator cycle naturally. Try a bit of tolerance to let nature do its work, and enjoy your roses!

A close-up of aphids infesting a green leaf. The tiny green aphids are voraciously feasting on the leaf, leaving a trail of small holes in their wake. The leaf's surface shows signs of damage caused by the infestation.

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