Feeding Roses

by Don Trotter


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Hello fellow Earthlings, and welcome back to the rose garden. In this third part we will be discussing rose nutrition and feeding your roses naturally. So let's take a walk out to those roses once again and get ready to feed them with health foods!

Roses grow very fast and thus use a lot of food to continue to produce bloom after bloom over a period of up to eight months out of the year. This has been the great sales pitch of the chemical fertilizer producers in an effort to get you out in your garden every seven to fourteen days using their products on your roses. I can't spend that much time fertilizing and most people won't do it even if they are regular users of these chemical products.

Natural/ organic fertilizers are released after the natural biodegradation process occurs in the soil thus enriching the soil as the rose plant is fed with a balanced supplement. Natural fertilizers are also often very long lasting thus minimizing the release of carbon dioxide from the soil. The use of chemical fertilizers in residential as well as agricultural and industrial applications is responsible for a great deal of greenhouse gas escaping from our soils. When natural fertilizers are used a process known as carbon sequestration occurs. Carbon is the universal filter, sponge and storage facility for toxins and assists in the creation of environments where organisms can survive with a greater degree of health. Remember that most filters that remove impurities form water are different grades of carbon. When soils digest natural fertilizers they do so with bacteria and a number of microorganisms. Organic matter is turned to food and plants can achieve a greater level of health in these conditions. No speed is lost, nor are roses any smaller or fewer in numbers when fed naturally. Naturally fed roses are healthier, and thus are more trouble free.

Natural rose foods are used less often due to their slow rate of release into the soil. This means, of course, fewer trips into the garden to feed, which means less work, which means smaller cash expenditures on fertilizers. This equation certainly seems logical.

Several good organic rose foods are produced on the open market. Whitney Farms produces the most recognized natural rose food, and it is very good. The Grow More Company also produces a superior rose food that can be purchased at many garden centers around the country along with the Whitney Farms rose food. Over the years I have developed a rose fertilizer that works very well and is used less often than all of the commercial brands. It has been broadcast on the television, and radio, and it appears regularly in a score of local newspapers and magazines. The recipe is as follows:

  • 1 part Hoof and Horn Meal
  • 1 part Seabird or Bat Guano
  • 1 part Cottonseed Meal
  • 2 parts Soft Rock Phosphate or Bone Meal
  • 1 part fossilized kelp (Kelzyme) or Kelp Meal

The resulting plant food is applied to the roses at a rate of one to two cups per rose (depending on size and age) every sixty days. During an eight month growing period that is only four applications to ensure proper plant nutrition.

Not only will this rose food do its job feeding your precious plants, but it will improve your garden soil while it works to feed your rose bushes. All of the components in this recipe are available at farm and garden supply stores.

I would like to address the users of Epsom Salts in the feeding of their roses. I know that it works, but after the salt builds up to toxic levels then other problems begin to show up. I suggest the use of Sulfate of Potash Magnesia instead of Epsom Salt as a magnesium source. Sul-Po-Mag is very inexpensive and goes a long way. You are also applying more that just magnesium. This mined mineral compound is rich in potassium, which we know as the third number in commercial fertilizers and its disease fungus fighting capabilities. The small amount of sulfur in this product is very useful for reasons previously discussed. One cup per rose during the dormant period will do all of the things that Epsom Salt does without the salinity and the problems associated with salinity. Sul-Po-Mag breaks down more slowly so the plant gets a regular supply of these nutrients. Epsom Salts are 100% water soluble and what isn't immediately used by the plant is either washed form the surface of the soil during rain or is leached away by rain or irrigation. Sul-Po-Mag can be purchased at many garden centers and farm supply stores. This product is only applied once a year.

In closing, I would like to stress the importance of a good layer of organic compost or mulch in the rose garden. This is fuel for the many organisms that make soil rich and healthy. Any commercial compost can be used but homemade is the best (isn't that always so?). Remember that organic matter is the food of earthworms. More compost equals more earthworms, which equals more porous soil that accepts water better and doesn't dry out nearly as fast, which means savings on the monthly water bill.

Next time we will be discussing some natural care tricks that will save you time and money in the rose garden. 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 more tips check out Don's books Natural Gardening A-Z and The Complete Natural Gardener available at your local bookstore or at all on line booksellers. Coming in March Don's new book Rose Gardening A-Z will be out. All are from Hay House Publishing www.hayhouse.com

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