Guaranteeing Great Roses Next Spring

by Don Trotter


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Hello fellow Earthlings! Whew, it's getting chilly. That means it is about that time to start thinking of ways to ensure your rose garden is the envy of all that see it next spring. As cooler weather prevails and winter begins to set in our roses require only a tiny bit of our time to prepare them for a beautiful show when the days get long again. So let's take a little stroll out to the rose garden and get cracking.

Some of the most important things any gardener can do for their rose garden are during what is widely considered as their dormant period. It is true that in most parts of the country roses go completely dormant, lose all of their foliage, and may require some kind of protection from cold weather. In warmer climates, roses need to be encouraged to rest. This rest period allows we gardeners to do a couple of things that will give our roses a head start on growth in the spring and ensure that the essential minerals these fast growing plants require when the weather warms up. Many minerals are not provided in sufficient amounts if provided at all in most commercially available rose foods. This leaves only the soil to provide them. After a season of rapid growth and incredible blooms the soil is mined out of many of these minerals. If they are not replenished, the soil in the rose garden will slowly decline in quality and so will the quality of your roses. So it is at this time of year, when our roses are not actively growing that we can boost the mineral content of our soils.

Soil conditions around the country are as diverse as the colors roses come in. It is a good thing to know a few basic things about your soil. This knowledge will certainly make all gardening tasks easier in the future. The first and most important thing to know about your soil is if it is acidic or alkaline. This is easily measured and is known as pH, which is a measurement of hydrogen ions in soil. If the pH in your soil is low (below 6.5) it is considered acidic. If your soil has a high pH (above 7.5) it is considered to be alkaline. Regionally, soils in areas where frequent summer rains fall have a tendency to be acidic. Soils in more arid climates have a tendency to be alkaline. In acidic soils, the use of lime is often practiced to bring soil pH closer to neutral (7.0) and in more alkaline soils, sulfur is use for the same purpose. These two minerals play an important part in soil and plant health.

Liming, the application of calcium carbonate to soil is also a way that gardeners with acidic soils bring more available calcium to their plants. Calcium is not normally available in any abundance in acidic soil conditions. Sulfur applications in alkaline soils not only lowers pH but it frees up other minerals such as iron for plant use. The addition of minerals such as calcium and sulfur along with other trace minerals can really ensure that your roses have sufficient soil minerals available when they get back to the business of growing. I like to consider all of the essential minerals that plants need for healthy growth and do my best to supply adequate quantities of these minerals in the fall or winter depending on how cold it gets in a particular area. The colder the area the earlier in the fall I would do this. I have a recipe for mineral supplementation to the rose garden that works very well in all climates and will guarantee a great crop of roses next season.

  • 3 parts Lime or Fossilized Kelp (acidic soil)
  • 3 parts Fossilized Kelp or Gypsum (alkaline soils)
  • 1 part Soft Rock Phosphate
  • 1 part Sul-Po-Mag (sulfate of potash magnesia)

I apply this mixture to the soil around each rose in a ring about 12-16 inches from the center of the plant. Use one cup of this mix per rose. For large climbers and shrub roses, two cups for each plant is suggested. By putting these minerals on the soil during the time when the roses are dormant you will be giving the soil ample time to assimilate these minerals. When your roses are growing these minerals will be fully available to them. The materials I use are easily found at most garden centers. Fossilized kelp (Kelzyme) is a new material that supplies abundant micronutrients and is an amazing substitute for Lime or Gypsum for calcium supplementation. Kelzyme, until recently has only been available to farmers and can now be obtained from Environmental Health Sciences (800-833-1379 ask for Heidi). I have been using it for several years on roses and have found it to be a superior material for the natural rose garden.

Once you are done putting down the mineral treatment add a layer of compost or mulch on top of the soil between 3-4 inches thick and forget about your roses until pruning time. Your plants require no other feeding until your first spring fertilization. Next time we will be discussing dormant care of your deciduous fruit trees. See you in the garden!


Got questions? Email the Doc at Curly@mill.net. Don Trotter's natural gardening columns appear nationally in environmentally sensitive publications. For lots more helpful tips check out Don's books The Complete Natural Gardener and Natural Gardening A-Z. His new book Rose Gardening A-Z is due out in Feb 2001. They are available at all bookstores and on line booksellers from Hay House publishing hayhouse.com

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