Hydration and Feeding of Roses

Hydration and Feeding of Roses

By Stan V. Griep

Native Colorado Rosarian 40+ years 

Consulting Rosarian Rocky Mountain Area

The Rose Society of South Australia – Honorary Member

Award Winning Rose & Floral Photographer


Two very important aspects to growing good, happy and healthy roses are feeding them and watering them well.


First we will take a quick look at watering the roses, also know as hydrating them. Some roses, such as Tuscan Sun, will let you know right away when they need a drink. Other roses will tolerate things for a long while and then, seemingly all at once, look sick and droopy. The key to the watering function appears to be like many other things in our lives, as it has to do with some good record or time keeping. Making note of the last time the roses were watered on a calendar takes little time and is a great help to our already overloaded memory banks! Some folks use a deep watering device to water their roses, some have things all set up on automatic watering systems and others, like me, water their roses with a watering wand. When I water my roses I simply fill the “banquet bowls” I have formed around each bush until the water starts to puddle a bit, then move on to the next bush. I go back to the rose I just watered, watering it until the puddling starts a second time for each rosebush. By allowing the first watering to soak in well before the second amount of water is applied the water is going deeply into the soils around each rosebush. In times of drought and as a water conserving measure on my part, I will often conduct some moisture meter tests around the rose bushes when I think it may be time to water them again. I push the water meter probe down all the way into the soils surrounding each rose in three different locations to see what moisture readings I get. These readings will give me a good indication of whether I really need to water the rosebushes then or if the watering will wait a few days. By conducting the moisture meter tests I am making sure the rosebushes have good moisture down deeply by their root systems yet not watering when the need really is not there. Such a method conserves the precious water as well as keeps the rosebushes well hydrated.


Some important items to consider in the area of watering our roses are;


  1. Be sure your rosebushes are well watered/hydrated before the application of any pesticide.
  2. When the temperatures are in the 90s to 100s keep a close eye on watering your roses. It takes no time at all for heat stress to set in. Watering daily may be in order.
  3. Watering your rosebushes by hand in some manner gives you a golden opportunity to look over each one well. Finding an insect, fungus or other problem early is priceless when gaining control over the problem.
  4. Mulch around your roses to help hold in the very important moisture.




Feeding our rosebushes enough, truly giving them all the nutrients they need, is of great importance if we want healthy rosebushes that produce a bounty of wonderful blooms. There are just about as many rose foods or fertilizers available these days as someone could think up a name for. Some of the rose foods or fertilizers are organic and will not only have food for the rosebushes in them but also materials that enrich the soils. Enriching the soils as well as taking good care of the microorganisms that dwell therein is a very good thing indeed! Healthy well-balanced soils allow the root systems to take up all the required nutrients better, thus creating a happier, healthier more disease resistant overall rosebush.


Most chemical rose foods/fertilizers have what is needed for the rosebush but need a little help with the materials to enrich and build the soils. Using some alfalfa meal along with the food/fertilizer of choice is a great way to give both the rosebushes and the soils some important nutrients. Rotating the type of chemical food/fertilizer used is recommended as well. Continually using the same food/fertilizer, or one with exactly the same makeup, can lead to a build-up of unwanted salts in the soils. (Being sure that you maintain good drainage around your roses will help prevent such salts build-up as well.) Along with adding the alfalfa meal, at the time of first (spring) feeding or my last feeding of the season (no later than August 15th in my area), I will add some super phosphate and potash. Generally, in my opinion, you want to look for a rose food/fertilizer that has a well-balanced NPK rating no matter what brand or type it may be. In the water-soluble types I have used Miracle Gro for Roses, Miracle Gro All Purpose and Peters All Purpose. Any of them for that are specifically for roses or for all-purpose use will work well as long as the N-P- K ratios are not too out of balance. (Remember: N is for Up, P is for Down and K is for All-Around.) Making the decision as to which product to use becomes one of personal choice. When you find something that works well for you, stick with it. The main thing is to keep the rosebushes well fed and healthy so that they have plenty of stamina to make it through the winter/dormant season here in Colorado (or in your location) as well as blooming nicely for us during the growing season. A good rose food here locally is one called Mile Hi Rose Food, it is getting to be a bit costly so perhaps trade off on applications with another rose food of choice, such as; Gro-Rich Rose and Perennial Food. Both are available through most area greenhouses or nurseries here in Northern Colorado and both have alfalfa meal in them. I have personally had very good results using the Gro-Rich Rose and Perennial Food. A bit of Kelp Meal seems to help with their overall performance too along with what is already in the rose foods I mentioned.


I tend to stay away from the “systemic” rose foods/fertilizers. Not because they do not have all the nutrients needed for healthy roses. The chemicals in the systemic type foods/fertilizers cause me some concern. I have stated in other articles that I do not want to drive away any of the worms or micro-organisms in the soils around about my rosebushes, as they are a major component of what make the soils environment suitable for my roses to thrive. Since I have no well-founded proof that these products will not have a negative impact on my rosebushes soils environment, I see no reason to take the risk of using them, unless perhaps overrun with an insect problem that cannot be controlled by any other means.


In our busy lives we want something simple, quick and easy to do most chores. Thus there is more time for enjoyment and less time having to work with or nurture our roses and other plants. Some parts of that thought process are okay while other parts carry some very real problems in the long run for our rose beds and gardens, such as; spotting a problem at its earliest stages when it is far easier to gain control over. So as not to get too far onto a soapbox I will let you make up your own mind on the products used.

Just be careful with the products you choose to use, spend some time not only reading the “how to apply” portion of the label but the “entire” label, preferably before buying the product.

You might just be amazed at what you were about to use on your wonderful rosebushes or place into the “root zone” environment of your rosebushes and flowers homes.


Remember to water your rosebushes well either in the early evening or morning before application of any pesticide and I highly recommend doing so before feeding time as well. Water your rosebushes well again after feeding, they will love you for it.


The time spent tending to your roses and other gardens will bring forth at least equal rewards. Even if you call it “working in the garden”, it is work that brings forth many a blessing as well.


Enjoy your roses and your gardens!





Sexy Rexy - Floribunda Rose - Photo By: Stan V.Griep
Sexy Rexy – Floribunda Rose – Photo By: Stan V.Griep

Fertilizer Notes

Fertilizers Notes:
            By Cactus Joe


  1. Organic fertilizers need time to release their “goodies”. The organic nitrogen is not available to plants until they are converted to soluble inorganic forms. Microorganisms in the soil do this job. You, therefore, get a natural form of slow release fertilizer. The release of nutrients is dependent on the population density of the microorganisms that are around to do the job and how active they are. And they work at different rates depending on the soil conditions – temperature, availability of moisture, aeration, etc. Which is just about perfect, since plant growth and nutrient needs increase as the temperature rises, just at the same time when microbial activities increase. These fertilizers, therefore, need to be applied early in the season, because it will take some time for the nutrients to be made available to the plants. How long? This depends – on the type of fertilizer, the soil type, and the ambient temperature. A good practice is to apply a mixture of bone meal (for phosphate) or super phosphate, blood meal or fish meal (for nitrogen) and alfalfa meal in early spring, generally when the first Spring pruning is done and the winter protective mulches are pulled back.


  1. Synthetic fertilizers in general release their ingredients relatively quickly. Unlike organic fertilizers, whose ingredients are stored in the organic non-soluble form until released by microbes, the synthetic fertilizers have ingredients that are soluble, and tend to leach out quickly with the rain. Thus application of these after the roses are showing unfurled leaves is recommended.


  1. The prices of the different synthetic fertilizers depend on the percentage concentration of the nitrogen, phosphate and potassium in the fertilizer and on how the ingredients are packaged. The cheaper ones probably are dissolved and released relatively quickly, whereas some of the mid-range priced ones are a “slow release” granular (but not in the encapsulated form of Osmocote, which is very expensive). Keep in mind that the faster the fertilizers are released, the more likely they are to cause damage due to root burn, and the more quickly they get leached out with rain and watering.


  1. In plant growth and health, both non-mineral and mineral nutrients are essential. The non-mineral nutrients of carbon, oxygen and water are freely available in air and water. These are fixed by the process of photosynthesis, using the sun’s energy. There are 13 mineral nutrients of which there are three primary macronutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (the NPK in your fertilizer label) – and three secondary macronutrients – calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S). The secondary macronutrients are usually available in sufficient amounts in most soils, but are more likely to be deficient in sandy soils. When we add lime, we are adding calcium and a bit of magnesium. When we use organic materials – compost, grass clippings – we provide sulphur. The remaining 7 mineral nutrients are micronutrients. These are essential elements that are only needed in small to minute amounts – boron (B), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), chloride (Cl), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo) and zinc (Zn). If you use lots of organic material, notably from the compost pile, you will be providing plenty of these micronutrients.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              But some fertilizers are packaged with small amounts of these, just to be sure. In general, if you have great, organic rich soil, additional application of micronutrients may not be necessary. It’s a different story, however, with container growing – over time, these minerals will be depleted with repeated waterings (and rain). Regular application of a soluble fertilizer is recommended as it has these micronutrients for container grown plants.


  1. Until the soil has built up enough of organic components to its composition, the virgin soil is usually lacking or short of the mineral macronutrients. When plants first grow on those soils, their growth “sucks” those macronutrients out of the soil, depleting the soil quickly. That’s where the bulk of fertilizing comes in – to constantly replenish the soil of these nutrients, especially at times of vigorous and rapid vegetative growth. Of these macronutrients, nitrogen (the N in NPK) promotes top growth – stems, foliage. It contributes to chlorophyll production, which gives the green color of healthy plants. More chlorophyll means increased photosynthetic capability therefore more plant growth. (Memory Note:  N = UP, P = DOWN and K = ALL-AROUND)


  1. Phosphorus (the P in NPK) promotes root development and increases flowering ability and bloom size. This is useful when you are planting that new mail order bare root rose in the garden, or when you are transplanting. It helps the plant establish faster by helping it grow a good root system quickly. Once established, it continues to help the plant maintain a good root system and promote flowering.


  1. Potassium (the K in NPK) is multi-functional. It promotes disease resistance and improves drought and cold tolerance. It helps in improving root development and promotes photosynthesis. I apply high-potassium fertilizer in late fall/early winter to improve cold hardiness. Some would recommend an application in early summer to improve tolerance to excessive summer heat, or for recovery from pest damage. 


  1. Most of you probably know (but some may like to know) that the three numbers, e.g. 6-8-6, refer to the percentages by weight respectively of the elements nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the fertilizer. In another example of NPK of, say, 20-10-4, the respective compositions of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are 20%, 10% and 4%. A laterally thinking gardener would jump out of his chair and exclaim, “Hey! That’s only 34%!” Well, yes. Because the rest is made up by other ingredients, largely fillers. The fillers help you spread the fertilizers more evenly. Moreover, the choice of the filler determines how quickly the fertilizer gets released into the soil.



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