Feeding Roses For Maximum Growth and Flowering

Let us for a moment consider that feeding roses is slightly different than feeding any other kind of flowering shrub.

We ask a rose (assuming it is a hybrid tea or repeat blooming rose) to produce more flowers and spend more energy than we ask of our single blooming shrubs such as Forsythia or lilac.

Note that these instructions do NOT apply to feeding roses that are shrub roses or those that only bloom once a season that you treat as a garden shrub. Those plants get a yearly application of compost first thing in the spring with the rest of the garden plants.

rose mardi gras

Rose 'Graham Thomas' Courtesy Wikimedia

We want our roses to be very healthy so they will be able to repel the continual assaults of insects and diseases. We ask this because roses tend to be front and center in our gardens and we inspect them daily. Compare this to the inspection you might give your lilac bush or other bushes (unless they wind up attacked or losing leaves or something else extraordinary). You do not inspect other shrubs daily and expect them to produce all season long.

Chemical Feeding

Those in the chemical school of rose gardening tend to feed their roses once in the early spring and then again right before or right after the first flush of blooms has started. The exact timing depends on the rose grower.

They believe that this feeding will produce a healthy and vigorous rose. It does promote growth (no argument there) but I question whether the health of the rose is good under this kind of regime. The amount of kinds of chemical spraying that they do tends to lead me to believe that the soil and the plants are not as healthy as they could be.

Recommendations for Feeding Roses

Here's what I recommend:

I believe that compost brings our soil to life and a rose will be healthier if you use compost as your main source of food. We know that excessive chemical fertilizers kill off soil microorganisms and my main intent in gardening is to have a healthy soil so my plants will be healthy. So compost is the main source of food.

I usually apply this in the early spring as soon as the frost is out of the ground. It is "extremely scientific application" :-) A normal sized tea rose gets two or three shovels full – throw around the base of the plant. Whap! Whap! Whap!

I'll likely do it again in mid summer right after the first flush of blooms is done. Three more shovels full.

What Can You Substitute For Compost?

Another thing I have done is to feed with a liquid fish emulsion in the early spring and then again after each bloom flush is over. As above, this is with multiple blooming roses and not shrub roses

There is no substitute though for ensuring a high level of organic matter if you want your roses to be very healthy. This is most easily done by using a deep mulch or adding compost every year.

Book cover tender roses

Container Roses

Roses in containers where microorganisms have a hard time living, because of the city chlorinated water, get a weekly feeding of fish emulsion. This food, rich in micro nutrients, promotes incredible growth and blooms.

I feed containerized roses right up to frost as I don't usually try to overwinter them.

If I'm trying to overwinter a rose in traditional systems, I'd stop feeding roses, both my container and in-ground roses, by the end of July so the rose canes (woody stems) would have a chance to "harden off" and get tough for winter.

If I'm growing a deep planted rose as I do, then feeding roses continues right through to frost because the canes of the everblooming rose will be cut to the ground.

Again, shrub type of roses get fed once in the spring.

Online Rose Shopping

A wide variety of rose plant resources from multiple suppliers - do not buy seeds (too good to be true category)

All of Doug's Ebooks including how to grow roses in tough climates

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