Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fertilizing Roses

(you can click on the photos to enlarge)

Today is the beginning of spring, even though it does not feel like that. The weather is down right nasty here in Southern California in the moment. It was gray and gloomy all day long and now it is raining out of buckets. But usually this kind of weather subsides quickly and the sky will open up to a clear blue color and wonderful sunshine, again. Besides this the rain will make the roses bloom even more prolific in the spring flush, so I am not really complaining.

I intended to finish fertilizing my roses growing in the ground this weekend (there are only three more left to feed in the backyard), but due to work and the weather I had to postpone that. Even though I am not done fertilizing yet, I still would like to post about how I fertilize and mulch my roses and was thinking I show it to you step by step. 

The rose I used in this post as an "example rose" is Pope John Paul II, a gorgeous white Hybrid Tea rose with great fragrance. The rose is pruned and looked like this on February, 27th this year. As you can see it is just beginning to leave out and this is a good time to lay down fertilizer.

Starting out with weeding the rose is important, because otherwise if you put down the fertilizer you not only feed the rose, but also the weeds, which will grow even more happily. It is a little hard to see (the light conditions were less than ideal on the day when I took the pictures), but on the photo above the rose is weeded and the soil is loosened up, which provide better airflow to the roots.

The last years I mostly used E.B. Stone Organics Rose and Flower Food (5-6-3). I am sticking to that brand, because it has proven to work well in my garden. But I also have to admit, that the main reason I am using this one is, it is simply the only organic rose fertilizer my local nursery is carrying. I bought also another organic fertilizer called Bio Start (3-4-3) produced by Growmore, which was recommended and sold by the San Diego Rose Society, last year for the first time. I could not notice any difference in the effects both fertilizer had on my roses. In addition to the fertilizer am giving my roses also E. B. Stone Organics Alfalfa Meal.

So the next step is to spread the organic rose fertilizer (the gray-brown stuff you can see around the base of the rose) I usually give each rose 1 1/2 cups. But that number can go up to 4 cups depending on the size of the rose and if the rose is having root competition of any kind, because in that case the roots of the other plant (mostly large palm trees in my yard) are eating the fertilizer, too.

After that I put down the alfalfa meal (has a green, yellow mustard color, which is now almost completely covering the rose fertilizer). Usually I use 2 cups per rose, but again I increase it up to 4 cups depending on the size of the rose and if there is any root competition from other plants. Alfalfa meal is thought to be promoting basal growth in roses. Since it is so important that the roses renew themselves I think, it is worth to make the extra effort and feed them with alfalfa meal. Of course I don't have any scientific prove, but I seem to observe more basal can break three to four weeks after giving the roses the alfalfa meal.

Then I scratch the rose fertilizer and the alfalfa meal into the soil. Organic fertilizers need to be broken down by microorganisms and that only can happen if the fertilizers are in good contact with the soil. 

Now it is time to put down a decent layer of compost. Here in San Diego it is recommended that the compost or mulch layer should be 3 - 4 inches thick ideally. The main reason is to cool the soil when the heat arrives and to conserve water, but another reason to spread compost generously is that is also breaks down and feeds the roses long term. It also improves the quality of the soil in general over the time. The drawback for me is, that since I do not have my own compost heap, I need to buy the compost and that can get quite pricey. To get a layer of 2 - 3 inches down around each rose it needs a whole bag of compost like you can see on the photo on top. My wish is to start my own compost bin to at least produce some compost by myself for the garden.

The photo above you can shows that half of the ground underneath the rose is covered with compost already. What a difference it makes visually. I think, a garden that is mulched with compost looks so much nicer. To me it is also amazing how much our poor soil has improved already after only three years of gardening, in the areas where I mulched with compost diligently.

Here (photo above) the whole ground around the rose is mulched with compost now. At this point the compost is also watered down well. It helps to get the fertilizer, which is underneath the compost, quicker into the deeper layers of soil and therefore closer to the roots of the rose. Now you can just sit back, wait, and watch the roses grow.

The image above is taken just two days ago. You can see roughly three weeks after fertilizing how much growth the rose has gained. The new leaves are strong, healthy and grow with vigor.

For me there is no question that my roses in the poor soil that we are having benefit from fertilizing a lot. Roses are also known to be heavy feeders and that is no surprise considering the amount of blooms that they are producing, which is another argument to feed your roses properly. Ideally I repeat fertilizing my roses after the spring flush is over, but I do not always get around to do it.

Happy spring to all of you, my dear readers!

See you in the garden!



  1. I love seeing this step by step..thank you so much!

  2. Thanks for this post. Your rose looks so wonderfully healthy.


  3. That's a lot of fertilizer. What cups do you use for measuring? I usually use much less, but probably more frequently than you. I use E.B. Stone too, for rose food, they don't sell large alfalfa bags here, so I just buy those online. I am looking forward to spring flush pictures:)

  4. I have decided that my modern roses aren't performing as well as they could because I'm not fertilizing them enough or at the proper time. This is something that I have vowed to pay more attention to, to help my roses grow to their best potential. I feed with organics in the summer and fall, but I will start the season with chemical fertilizer because our Virginia soil is too cold and the micro-organisims are inactive in April when the roses should get their first feeding ... so they will get Southern States 10-10-10 vegetable fertilizer with micro-nutrients to get them going.

  5. That is why you have amazing roses. They are getting the royal treatment. All those organics make me hungry for blooms...

  6. Darla, thanks, I am glad to know that you liked my step by step approach in this post.

    FlowerLady, thank you, Pope John Paul II is one of the two absolutely healthy roses in my garden. No blackspot ever and no mildew. Most of my roses don't come even close to his disease resistance.

    Masha, so you think that is a lot of fertilizer that I am feeding to my roses?! If I look at some of them I feel it is not even enough to make them grow to their full potential. I still believe that I have very, very poor soil in the first place and secondly that is doesn't hold nutrients well, which might go hand in hand.
    I am using a regular household measuring cup, you can actually see it on the two photos with the rose fertilizer and the alfalfa meal. It is right in front of the bags.
    It probably would be better, if I would fertilize my roses more frequently, but I just don't seem to have the time.

    Hardwood Roses, I agree with you from my own observation that the modern roses need even more food than the Old Garden Roses, even though I think, that the latter bloom also less prolific when not being fed properly. Here in SoCa the soil is usually warm enough so that the microorganisms are able to break down the fertilizer for the roses. But this year is relatively cold and it looks like that the roses are not getting access almost promptly after fertilizing to their food. I am willing to put up with this though, since I committed myself to garden organically only. I am wondering if an initial feeding with organic liquid fish fertilizer would make a difference. I don't know if the microorganisms need to break that type of fertilizer don't first, too, to make it accessible for the roses.

    Stephanie, thanks for your compliment regarding my roses, makes me blush... I can't hardly wait for more blooms myself.


  7. That last picture proves how happy your roses are! Loved the way you broke down your fertilizing schedule. One year I fertilized all my roses, but I forgot one bed. They didn't bloom much and I couldn't figure it out until I realized they had been missed! Made a believer out of me!

  8. This was a really helpful post. I'm going to try to take better care of my roses this year. I do usually fertilize them twice during the summer, but I haven't tried alfalfa meal or the additional compost. What a huge difference it's already made to your rose.

  9. HolleyGarden, thanks, so you have done a "fertilizing experiment" :-)? Very interesting that you saw the difference between the roses, which have gotten the fertilizer and the ones, which didn't so clearly.

    Catherine, I am happy that you find my post helpful! I really do think that putting down alfalfa meal makes a difference in the amount of basal cane break. You might just want to try it and observe if you see more basal growth than usual. You can't bring out enough compost into a garden in my opinion. For my poor soil it really makes a big difference.

  10. I'm new to your blog and I look forward to following your posts. I love organic gardening and mainly grow edibles in my little garden, I'd like to grow more flowers but I'm out of room! When I move and it will be soon, I'm planning to plant more flowers and roses – my dream is to have a cottage garden. By the way I love E.B. Stone Organics, I use their flower/vegetable transplanting mix. I'm from Calif. mountains so I garden in high altitude. I hear you about gloomy and cold weather. I wish it would warm up already, hurry up spring! Have a great week.

  11. Hi Priscilla, thanks for visiting my blog and becoming a follower. I am pleased to read that you are also an organic gardener :-)! Unfortunately I haven't been growing many edibles yet, except tomatoes, but I would like to get more into it. I would love to grow my own lettuce. Wishing you that you will get your cottage dream garden with edibles, flowers and roses, soon!