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 '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.
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
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.
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
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.
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