Crews work to remove and replace iconic rose garden due to disease

One of Allentown's natural attractions is under siege by an enemy barely visible to the naked eye. Mites have destroyed much of the city's iconic rose garden and now the race is on to replace the plants before the late-spring crowds arrive.

The Cedar Creek Parkway is a 102-acre slice of heaven on a sunny, late-winter day and it's Allentown Rose Gardens--a fixture around here since the 1930s--is the most popular attraction in the park.

FOX 29's Bruce Gordon found Marie Joseph and Esmeralda Abduourazak taking pictures Thursday. Esmeralda is just about to graduate from West Chester University, but grew up here and knows how popular the garden is for photos.

"Prom season it's hectic because so many people come out. People come out for weddings," Esmeralda said.

Sheri Bayne is a commercial photographer who's been coming to the rose garden for years.

"It's very relaxing and it's just an appreciation of earth and nature and all the colors that are produced," she explained.

Parks and Rec crews are digging up and burning more than 700 rose plants, which is 2/3 of the total garden following the discovery of something called Rose Rosette disease. It's a virus spread by tiny mites.

Karen El-Chaar says the mites cause large, discolored shoots to form covered with small thorns.

"When these mites have done their damage how does the rose look compared to the normal ones?" FOX 29's Bruce Gordon asked. El-Chaar responded, "Well, you won't have any flowers and the flowers are just shriveled pieces of."

To ensure the mites are gone, workers are digging out all of the rose roots and removing up to 9-inches of soil.

The goal is to replant new roses in new soil by mid-April and have the plants bloom just ahead of the crowds that arrive for prom and wedding season.