Rose Feeding in Five Easy Steps

Fertilizing or feeding roses is a topic that I could discuss, argue, and negotiate for hours. There are pros and cons of using organic or conventional fertilizer, liquid versus granular, manures, and compost and more.  But hey -- that is what Google is for!

Instead I'm giving you some basic recommendations that will take care of your roses basic needs. You decide if you want to use strictly organic fertilizers, or blend them with conventional ones. I’ve used both with excellent results. And of course, I highly recommend our own custom-blended, naturally-based Select Rose Food (22-5-15 + Minors with 50% slow-release nitrogen), which I've designed to help you grow lush healthy roses in coastal BC.

  1. Soil: Feeding depends on your type of soil. As a rule, roses prefer a rich clay loam, but one that is well drained. The soil on our Langley farm has a very low pH (acidic) clay soil that grows amazing roses. We do have a problem with a high water table, and have added drainage to the land and all rose beds.

    Roses will thrive in many types of soils, though, from sandy to clay. And like many plants, they prefer a pH that is slightly acidic (5.5 to 6.8 is ideal). Higher pH levels (closer to or over 7) mean the soil is neutral to alkaline, and it can cause many nutrients to be "tied" up. Rose varieties sensitive to higher pH levels can show pale chlorotic foliage.

    If you are having significant problems with rose or other plants in your garden, you can opt to have your soil tested in a lab to get to the root of the problem.

  2. Spring Feeding: Wait until the ground warms before you feed. This is around mid-April in coastal BC. Sunshine and nature push spring growth, not fertilizer dumped over cold soil.

    Use our Select Rose Food, or another quality granular rose food at the label rate. Often, that rate is about one handful per established rose bush. Use a bit more for larger rose plants, climbers, shrubs, and less for a smaller bush. These granular fertilizers are usually designed to slow-release, and should be sprinkled around the root zone of the bush and gently raked in.

  3. Summer Rose Feeding: Early summer, just after the first flush of blooms in June, is the time to give your roses their second feeding. To keep things simple, you can use the same all-purpose rose food that you used in spring.

    After you rake in the summer rose food, water thoughly. Roses are actually very drought resistant, but they will perform better and flower more if you water them during dry periods. If the soil is bone dry, the plants will not benefit from their summer feeding. Water again in about a week's time.

  4. Liquid Feeding: Using a liquid-type fertilizer between your seasonal feedings is a wonderful way to improve your roses' health and flowering. There are too many of these products on the market to even begin to comment in full. However, my roses LOVE fish fertilizer. The brand that works best for us has been Orgunique BioFish 3-1-2. It’s an excellent 100% organic fertilizer that you water around the plants and spray on the foliage to give your roses a real pick-me-up.  I use BioFish on all our roses in containers and garden beds.

  5. Mulches: There are loads of great mulches you can add to your rose bed. They a wonderful for keeping the roses happy and the soil moist, but they also provide nutrients and improve soil structure. Home compost is great, but you can also used aged manures, aged bark mulch, coco fibre products, and a vast assortment of prepared bagged mulches. If you wish to study in depth about mulches and manures, hit that Google button and have fun!

Feeding Container Roses

Please read Container Growing to best understand how to fertilize your potted roses. In brief, use long term (three to four-month) slow release fertilizers, combined with regular applications of a very mild liquid fertilizer, such as BioFish.

A Warning About Over-Feeding

Most people over-fertilize their gardens. The number one cause of rose death I've seen is due to over-feeding. Over-feeding usually happens when a keen gardener plants a new rose, and rather than giving it a chance to root and grow, tries to force the growth with extra nutrients.

So back off! Keep your plants well watered when new, and add a "reasonable" amount of water and fertilizer when established, as described above. You can learn more about what to do with brand new roses from my Planting page.