Keeping Your Roses Spring Fresh

by Don Trotter

Hello fellow Earthlings, and welcome to another visit to the rose garden. In this discussion we will discover how simple it is to maintain your precious roses in an actively growing state through the summer months. So let's take a stroll out to the rose garden and take a look at how we can keep the queen of the garden spring fresh without any chemical hygiene sprays.

During warmer weather roses can have tendency to use up all of the available fertilizer in the soil very quickly. This can result in a slowing of growth because of this lack of available nutrition and unnaturally rapid growth as a response to feeding in a soil that is depleted of nutrients. This is one of the best reasons to use natural fertilizers. Natural/ organic plant foods last a very long time and reduce the instances of nutrient depletion. They are also beneficial to the soil and to microorganisms that assist your roses in their efforts to resist stress, pests, and disease. Chemical fertilizers may claim to be long lasting but do nothing to benefit the soil conditions where the roses are growing. These plant foods actually increase the effects of stress on your roses. Chemical fertilizers can often exacerbate the problems associated with compacted soils that are common in the gardens of most tract homes and in silty or clay soils. Compacted soils do not allow for very good penetration of water. This problem can cause roses to suffer from water stress because water cannot reach very deep. This can also cause your water bill to skyrocket because of the need for constant application of water to supply essential moisture to the roses. Runoff is also increased when soil is compacted. This can cause nutrient loss down the gutter and into the storm drains which ends up in our lakes, streams and in the ocean causing those all too familiar "Contaminated" signs to pop up like weeds on our beaches. Regardless of the claims made by most chemical fertilizer manufacturers, roses prefer to be feed slowly and reliably and will respond favorably to this kind of care. And you don't have to feel partially responsible for polluting the surf.

Several types of natural/ organic rose foods are available at your local garden center. Whitney farms; Grow-More and a couple of other companies make good granular formulas especially formulated for roses. Good old fish emulsion is a stinky but effective liquid rose food. I have a mixture of materials that has proven very effective for roses and has been promoted on television and radio Curly's rose food mix is easy to make from easily obtained materials. The mixture is as follows:

  • 1 part cottonseed meal
  • 1 part seabird or bat guano
  • 2 parts bone meal
  • 1 part gypsum or lime, depending on soil pH
  • 1 part hoof and horn meal or feather meal
  • 1 part kelp meal

Apply this amazing rose food at a rate of one cup per rose every 60 days. That is less that 5 times as often as chemical fertilizers and you can apply it without fear of collateral damage to our environment. The best way to apply this fertilizer is to ring your roses about twelve inches to eighteen from the center of the rose bush like a donut. A layer of mulch (of course) will also benefit your roses immeasurably.

By reducing the instances of stress on your roses and allowing them to feed from a constantly available source of food you will find that your roses have fewer pests and diseases than other that are fed with commercial chemicals. This will also reduce your dependence on potentially dangerous insecticides and fungicides. By reducing or eliminating the need for these "quick fixes" you will be able to explore some of the more interesting parts of ecosystem management like beneficial insects for insect pest control and soil management for increasing soil fertility and disease suppression. This is where gardening becomes a passion for the stewardship of your land as much as a passion for flowers, fruits and vegetables. A deeper understanding of what really makes plants grow evolves from this understanding.

Natural and organic plant foods, composts and mulches help to form humus. Humus increases soil particle size and stabilizes the balances of air and water in soils. This is one of the many ways that using natural products can benefit the whole garden and not just the roses.

Got Questions? Email the Doc at
Check out Donald Trotter's books Natural Gardening A-Z, The Complete Natural Gardener and Rose Gardening A-Z at

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