Roses are hungry plants. If they had voices, they would be crying out, “Feed me!” like the man-eating plant Audrey II in the musical, “Little Shop of Horrors.” While you don’t need to go to the lengths the hapless Seymour did to keep Audrey II happy, you will need to provide your roses with fertilizer if you want a green, healthy plant with an abundance of flowers.
During winter dormancy, roses require no fertilizing. It’s time to feed your roses when the first signs of new leaves appear in the spring. Depending on where you live, this could be anywhere between March and May. When your rosebush is showing a flush of reddish, new foliage, that’s the time to give the first feeding of the season.
There are probably as many methods of fertilizing as there are rosarians, but if you are like many gardeners, you are looking for a straightforward, easy plan that minimizes work and maximizes bloom.
• The easiest method of fertilizing is to buy a slow-acting, granular fertilizer like Osmocote, Miracle Gro Shake n’ Feed or Bayer All in One, and sprinkle the recommended amount around each rosebush. Water into the soil and your fertilizing is done for months.
• Follow up with a second feeding in the early summer, and you have fed your roses for the year, unless you live in the most mild-winter areas such as Florida or Southern California, where you will provide one more feeding in early fall.
While following the lazy man’s system will certainly get the job done, if you want the healthiest bushes with the best flowers, or if you simply enjoy getting more involved with your gardening, you can take your rose feeding to the next level.
• Start with a good, all-purpose organic granular fertilizer. Some easily found brands are Whitney Farms, Dr. Earth and Jobe’s Organics. Scratch a quarter cup of fertilizer in a ring around each rosebush, keeping the ring at least 6 inches away from the base of the plant. Ideally, your fertilizer should form a thin covering around each bush, in a band around 12 inches wide.
• Add a quarter cup of Epsom salt to the ring around each rosebush. Epsom salt is an excellent source of magnesium, and will help strengthen your rose’s canes.
• Bone meal provides extra phosphorus, which promotes more flowers, and calcium, which helps strengthen roots. Use one-quarter cup of bone meal.
• Finally, a cupful of alfalfa meal will give nitrogen to your roses, greening up the leaves. Alfalfa meal also helps convert nutrients in the soil so they become more available to your roses.
Work these amendments lightly into the soil around each rosebush, then cover with an inch or two of organic compost, such as Kellogg’s Gromulch. Water thoroughly, and hose off your rose’s foliage to wash away any fertilizer that may have blown onto the leaves.
• In early summer, repeat the application of all-purpose organic fertilizer and Epsom salt. If you desire, add a quarter cup of blood meal or fishmeal to the mix. These both contain extra nitrogen and trace elements to give your roses energy for rapid growth. Blood and fishmeal do not smell good, and can attract unwanted animal attention, so water in very thoroughly after applying.
• If you are in Florida, Southern California, or any other very temperate, mild-winter area, give one more feeding of the all-purpose fertilizer in early fall.
You can follow the above schedule for fertilizing your miniature or container-grown roses, but cut all quantities in half.
Well-fed roses are healthy roses. Your roses won’t ever demand human victims, like Audrey II, but if they could talk, they would definitely ask you to keep them satisfied with an annual fertilizing schedule that provides for their nutritional needs.