Knocked Out—and not in a good way

Knock Out in its natural state
Knock Out in its natural state

Guest Post by veterinary surgeon and master gardener James Roush/Garden Musings

I suppose that I should have expected it. Once Knock Out roses became ubiquitous in the suburban landscapes of America and moved beyond usefulness to cliché, I should have known that this paradigm-changing rose was inevitably destined to be even more misused, abused, and perverted; that it would be used in manners so hideous as to defy the imaginations of all gardeners born with even a vestige of taste.


I was still shocked, however, to stumble across the mutilated specimens shown here, these professionally scalped  green rectangles and balls that I fleetingly thought—at first glance—were privet or yews.  I was horrified to realize that these monstrosities were Knock Out roses, identifiable by the sparse murky red blooms visible at the back of the rectangular-shaped specimen.  For a brief moment, that recognition caused me to reach for my eyes in a fruitless effort to gouge out the offending images from my soul, but alas, too late, I was staring into the abyss of  Knock Out purgatory.


What was he or she thinking, this misguided landscaper?  I assume this job was “professionally” done since these misshapen demons lay next to the door and walkway of a large medical center whose working doctors and nurses are not likely to moonlight as hedge-trimming psychopaths. But the blobs were even trimmed wrong as hedges; the tops and sides wider than the bottom, shading out the lower leaves and creating naked stems and thorns.  Why remove the blooms?  Knock Out cycles rapidly enough that spent blooms go unnoticed amid the off-red tapestry of current flowers.  Does no one realize the value of orange rose hips for winter appeal?  Where do we go next to misuse this rose?  Knock Out topiary?  A nice Knock Out elephant with a red saddle on its back and a red stripe along its trunk?  A Knock Out clown face with bright red hair?

Please, those of you who just must plant Knock Out, at least give it freedom to still be a rose; to branch stiffly and awkwardly, to bloom a spine-grating red shade and to retain its dingy orange hips.  Give it the freedom to be more than another green gumdrop in our landscapes.  We’ve got enough shrubs that can be shaped at will into your favorite football mascot.  If ‘Knock Outs’ they must be, leave them unfettered and free to grow as they were meant to, as random unshaped colorful masses in our lawns.  Please.


  1. I don’t have any, but friends who grow Knockouts are very concerned they’ll continue to exist if rose rosette disease keeps spreading. Is it possible that these shrubs were showing signs of rose rosette disease and the distorted red foliage was cut off in an attempt to save them?

    • I doubt it. Shearing it off that high up would not likely be an effective rose rosette control method; and there’s even debate if you can save a rose at all by removing only the affected portions even when entire canes are lopped off. I’ve got one that I’m trying to save right now and I’m down to a single cane on an own-root rose.

      • I didn’t think that clipping was an effective method of control, but what I’ve read is that rather that pull out and destroy plants showing the diseased leaves, some crews use cosmetic pruning, hoping to delay the inevitable, and the debris is not disposed of properly.

        Sure hope it’s just the usual mania for geometric shapes. Down here square Loropetalum shrubs are all the rage in commercial plantings.


  2. I have observed the landscaping crew using hedge trimmers to cut back the Knockout roses outside my office building. Geometric shapes were the result. At the time, I was most shocked by the method.

  3. Well, James – unfortunately for all of us, what has been seen cannot be unseen. And don’t challenge people to come up with new crimes against planthood – it’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull….

  4. A good deal of the poorly maintained landscapes we see around the country arises from the clients unwilling to spend any money on intelligent maintenance. So untrained guys with a a mower, blower, weed whacker & electric hedge trimmers get hired for $60/month & it all goes to hell in 6 months or less. Your average homeowner or company really doesn’t care or know much about properly maintained gardens; they just want it “neat & tidy”. I’m a garden designer who also does speciality maintenance & while most of my clients appreciate & do pay my higher fees for bringing my brain & horticultural knowledge along with me, there are plenty more who are happy to have meatballed shrubs, lawns scalped down to 1/2 inch & butchered trees. ( just saw a Chinese Elm totally whacked that broke my heart)

  5. I have to agree with Nina. A commercial client whose mfg plant I maintain, I bet I easily spend 60-90 minutes in the spring to carefully prune the 5 roses I planted a couple of years ago which btw are not Knockouts. End result is a good Wow factor when they come into bloom. Too bad property managers and homeowners never consider that when hacking up their plant material into unnatural forms.

  6. I am about to lop off my yellow Knockouts on purpose. They have lost most of their leaves here on the Carolinas coast. The reds and pinks in the same area are fine.

  7. They are planted in too tight of a space too close to sidewalks. They get forcibly trimmed so people can get by without getting scratched. There is a red knockout in an a small bed with a roof overhang and it is the healthiest looking rose I have ever seen. And it is becoming a menence to passerbyers. .

  8. Breaks my heart seeing meatball roses but given many a customer’s requirement for “neat and tidy” (i.e. inexpensive) landscape maintenance, it was just a matter of time.

    Now meat-balled “Crimson Queen” Japanese maples, no word of a lie, would make anyone weep…

  9. This isn’t so much a post about abuse to a single plant but rather highlights a more serious problem with the landscaping crews in this country. Armed with power tools, they are single-handedly destroying any shot this country has at improving its gardening cred.

  10. Now see, this is what pisses me off about calling whoever did this a ‘professional’. Just because some idiot can blow through with a hedge trimmer does not make them a ‘professional’, whether they are paid to do it or not. It makes them one more paid idiot with a hedge trimmer. A true professional knows you don’t create balls out of roses (or azaleas, or camellias), and that you don’t leave the top wider than the bottom, and that you clean up all debris…
    Sigh. The other thing that pisses me off is that the person who planted those roses there would call himself a ‘landscaper’. ROSES next to a public walkway! I mean, come on, people. Roses? Thorns? Hello? Especially roses that easily grow six feet tall/wide? Let’s just hope this wasn’t in the plan of a so-called ‘designer’. Woof.
    Otoh, thanks for getting me all riled up this morning! I need a good rant every now and them!

      • Indeed you did, sir, indeed you did. Plants are individuals, in my humble opinion, and deserve to be treated as such. Instead we insist on disregarding their individual growth habits, and treat them in such a way as to make them all look pretty much the same. Hence the condition of ‘plant blindness’ that is so prevalent today. I actually consider it a bit of a disgrace that humans are so_________. (Fill in the blank… I’ve ranted enough!)

  11. I “inherited” a knockout when I moved to my new house, and they had planted it right by the garden gate/pathway. Big sigh. It’s getting moved this fall, and I hope it makes it because I actually enjoy the prolific flowers…just not the attack thorns. I keep it pruned in the normal way for roses, however…

  12. I’ve noticed that folks just don’t do any research about the eventual height & width of a plant which is why said plant gets the hell whacked out of it. Sheesh….

  13. Medical center? Maybe they also suddenly noticed, oh-my-goodness, BEES or something on the flowers and worried that their allergic clients might get stung.
    Which is actually a SERIOUS concern if you are allergic; I don’t mean to be facetious about that part of it . . . . but then why not something non-blooming, like privet or box, next to the sidewalk?

  14. New use for “attack thorns” – placing rose branches in my garden bed in early spring/late fall (whenever possible) helps deter the racoons and skunks that like to root amongst the bulbs and play in the ferns/hosta etc.. Foliage hides them in summer.


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