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ingrid_vc

Does Anyone Here Grow Roses Without Fertilizing?

I haven't been fertilizing because it's just not easy for me any more, although I do mulch with soft leaves from our trees around the roses, and as the lower layers decompose that will hopefully nourish the roses to some extent..

I'm just curious whether any of you don't fertilize and still achieve acceptable results. I don't require that all my roses be covered with blooms, and in my country setting I think fewer blooms somehow tie in more naturally with the wilder surrounding landscape.

I'll be very interested to learn what your practices are.

Comments (27)

  • Hans
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Ingrid, I don't fertilize my roses in a direct way. However I use a mulchlayer of about 2 inches made of composted shredded leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds and a small quantity of chicken manure. I compost this mix for six months and in april I use it as a mulch. It feeds my soil for the remainder of the year and is practically gone by the end of the year. In my climatzone and clayish loamy soil it works fine. I guess a more sandy soil that drains really fast, regular fertilizing may be neccessary.

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked Hans
  • Sheila z8a Rogue Valley OR
    7 years ago

    I read, Ingrid, on the Earthkind trials that they are doing approximately what you are doing and that many roses will thrive with this treatment. Something about your wild setting fits in my mind too with a more natural rose growing style. On this forum, some lovely gardens are using a more heavily fertilized route that I associate more with cutting gardens and Hybrid Teas. If you sprinkled some organic rose fertilizer around or one of the Tones, hopefully your garden would still be as lovely. I think it might be hard on plants to fertilize without corresponding generous watering. There are lovely modern roses I don't think would look natural in your setting or mine. Something about the leaves look plastic and artificial. I'm sure this is all a matter of taste and setting but whatever you are doing please keep it up. I think yearly compost or mulch would be nice for your roses, but I don't want to overburden your Husband either.

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked Sheila z8a Rogue Valley OR
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  • jacqueline9CA
    7 years ago

    I try to throw a handful of Osmocote on each rose as I prune it in the Winter, and I also put down at 2 inch layer of compost mulch at the same time. That's it for feeding. However, most of our large climbers, especially those in the more wild areas of our property, don't get anything other than the natural leaf drop from lots of trees and bushes in the Fall (I DO NOT clean that up except on the more formal beds & lawns). They are doing fine - think about it, plants grow fine in the forests without someone running around and fertilizing them! The gardens where every leaf which drops is regarded as a "mess" which must be cleaned up are the ones which might have to provide some fertilizer.

    Jackie

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked jacqueline9CA
  • User
    7 years ago

    Great thread, Ingrid, and a thing that's beeen on my own mind recently a lot, but too tired now to get into the subject and read thoughtfully replies. But let's keep this thread going. I'm at a bad spot with this stuff: poor soil, lack of funds, dwindling physical resources; gotta get a handle on this. But YES, WE CAN !!!

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked User
  • nippstress - zone 5 Nebraska
    7 years ago

    I'm in a bit of mixed opinions in my yard about this. In answer to your question, I don't fertilize my roses in a systematic way except for the chance of a one-a-year handful of alfalfa sometime in late spring. I plant new roses with alfalfa for sure as well as a little Osmocote if they are not bands, but I'm not at all systematic with any fertilizer later in the year and they seem to do fine.

    However, I'm reluctantly concluding they may do notably better with fertilizer. In 2013 I was systematic in the spring about putting out about a cup of 10-10-10, a cup of Ironite, and a couple of handfuls of alfalfa around my established roses in late spring. That was the one and only year the roses really exploded and the neighbors commented on the displays everywhere. I also had a lot of surviving cane, which made a huge difference in my zone. Last year was the test case where (from pure laziness) I didn't do any spring fertilizing except new plantings, but I had a lot of surviving cane. I was expecting a bumper year like 2013 and was sadly disappointed. I reluctantly conclude the fertilizer made a difference so I'm planning some for this spring.

    Part of the dilemma (beyond being lazy and having too many roses to enjoy the fertilizing) is that even in 2013, the roses seemed exhausted after a June explosion and did very little anywhere in the yard for July and much of August. I rather think they were waiting for more food and sulking in response, or the fertilizer made them push out such a bloom cycle that they needed 6 weeks to recover. I really do not have the energy or inclination to fertilize 1000 roses more than once a year, but I might throw out some alfalfa or put some fish fertilizer on the high performers now and then (but I probably won't, since I sort of plan that each year and never get around to it).

    Bottom line for me is they do fine without fertilizer, but might need an added boost to do great. In your drought zone, I might actually be cautious about pushing roses to do great if they were at risk for blooming themselves beyond the water capacity. Your garden is so exquisite that fine is still gorgeous, considering all the companion plants well suited to your environment.

    Cynthia

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked nippstress - zone 5 Nebraska
  • portlandmysteryrose
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Well, as long as we're all confessing. Yes, I grow roses without fertilizing, too. I do have a few of what Aqua Eyes calls "pot pets" which get a handful of food now and again, but my tough OGRs, Hybrid Musks, polyanthas, Austins and such get by on compost and water. I've skipped mulching in really busy or financially tight years, too, sometimes two years in a row. After 15 years of neglect at this residence, most of my roses are still (knock wood) growing and blooming. The delicate ones get passed along to those with the time and energy to coddle them. It might be fun to start a thread listing our roses that thrive with neglect. Carol

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked portlandmysteryrose
  • smithdale1z8pnw
    7 years ago

    carol..... I compost (homemade) my garden once or twice a year & consider myself to be feeding my plants. I don't do it per plant just put it all over the bed & let the rain soak it in. I feed my raspberries chicken manure in Jan the same way, come April it's all absorbed. I'm a lazy gardener & it works.

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  • fduk_gw UK zone 3 (US zone 8)
    7 years ago

    Timely topic! I managed to shovel a couple of barrows of my composted manure mulch this evening before it got too, too dark - am guiltily aware the bulk bag is rather awkward for my neighbors access atm.

    I don't know. I have a mental divide between soil and thus plant feeding and actual fertiliser which I am aware is to an extent is a division that only exists in my mind. I'm willing to invest in soil feeding because my soil is somewhat 'worked out' due to decades of leylandii sucking the life out of it and untill I started ploughing as much organic matter in as possible, grew very little bar docks and dandelions.

    But feeding specific plants is another matter. I have tried alfalfa pellets and it did boost growth, but I had more disease and more unhelpful insects too - possibly sappy growth attracted them?

    I am also not keen of promoting more growth then the plant can sustain, which I expect would be a concern for you Ingrid, even before you get into buildup issues with fertilisers.

    But I can equally see the sense in what Cynthia was talking about, where if I got the gist correctly, early feeding promoted growth that then had time to harden off sufficiently to improve the plants winter resistance.

    And then there are the roses that won't bloom at all unless you feed them - Guinee and Baron Girod de l'Ain being prime examples for me.

    I think in general it's really not necessary to feed roses to get them to bloom - it's when we want them to repeat bloom heavily that it becomes an issue.


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  • vesfl (zone 5b/6a, Western NY)
    7 years ago

    I don't currently have too many roses so I use a simple organic fertilizing approach, but I remember Michael Shoup of Antique Rose Emporium talking about how long ago they quit using synthetic fertilizers and instead started to apply only a hardwood bark mulch 2-3 times a year and also spraying with compost tea. And he said that in this way, by building good soil and encouraging good microorganisms that make plants disease resistant, they basically emulate the mother nature with great results .

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  • titian1 10b Sydney
    7 years ago

    Haha Sheila. I'm 68 and won't be able to get a walker up and down all my steps (95 in total). I'm envious.

    Ingrid, I do fertilise, so am of no help to you I'm afraid. I do think it must depend a lot on your soil though. I would have thought with your decomposed granite it would be necessary. FWIW I use Sudden Impact for Roses. I used to do it 3 or 4 times a year (including a winter dose of SeaMungus). But the last couple of years, due to being incapacitated and, particularly this year, a lack of rain, I've only fertilised twice. I do spread home made compost around too, but that goes first on the fruit trees (why??!! as the birds get the fruit), so the roses rarely get any.

    Trish

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  • nippstress - zone 5 Nebraska
    7 years ago

    Good point, Trish - the soil you start with does make a huge difference, and as Fduk points out our primary focus should be on feeding the soil first regardless of whatever else we do. I forgot to mention that I'm spoiled in that I start with pretty good loamy soil, and I mulch throughout the year with 3-4" of dry leaves that break down and further feed the soil. If there's enough moisture, I can replace bulbs that the squirrels dig up into the soil several inches deep by just scratching in with my fingers lightly. I'm spoiled, so I don't need to fertilize like people with sandy soil might.

    Fduk is also right that healthy cane going into the winter helps survival, and that's most of the reason for my fertilizing the new plantings so faithfully. By the time they've survived one winter, they're mostly on their own, but I really ought to feed my finicky or wimpy roses selectively (yes, I have Guinee too) or they will refuse to bloom or get beyond 12". I'm OK with that amount of work for fertilizing because it avoids obvious negative results. My dilemma is whether to fertilize beyond this to get them to repeat bloom heavily, and there are enough potential consequences affecting bloom that may counteract the benefits for me. Still, I secretly want my roses to look like Trish's and SHE fertilizes...

    Manure would be ideal and I have a friend just north of town that raises cattle so I could have an unlimited supply of dig it yourself manure. However, even though I'm a relative spring chicken here at 55, the herniated disks in my back aren't too crazy about hauling cow poop straight from the source, on top of all the planting. Maybe I could invite her cows over for brunch and use the direct deposit method, with some lawn trimming service into the bargain.

    Cynthia

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  • titian1 10b Sydney
    7 years ago

    Cynthia, I would love to think it's my roses you're thinking of...... but I doubt it! I've seen photos of yours, and there's no way mine compare. I hope you have a good season this year - I seem to remember reading that your conditions haven't been good for a couple of years. I probably don't need to fertilise much once mine are established, as I'm very lucky here with soil. I have a few inches of loam over clay. I use leaves as mulch too, and supplement with sugar cane mulch. It breaks down very quickly though, so I might try something else.

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked titian1 10b Sydney
  • Rosefolly
    7 years ago

    I fertilize once a year, something organic, whatever is on sale. But I mulch like mad which makes the soil very healthy. It would not work for growing vegetables. It wouldn't work for raising exhibition quality roses. It wouldn't work for someone with a sandy soil that won't hold on to nutrients, either But it works fine for me and for my garden.

    Rosefolly

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  • Cori Ann - H0uzz violated my privacy
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    What an intelligent conversation! I guess I am one of the babies since I'm in my 40s? I am so lucky to have found this forum. You are each like rose mentors, the keepers and sharers of wisdom. ;)

    Before, when I only had a few roses, azaleas and companion plants I didn't fertilize. Lots and lots of mulch, and always checking the soil for worms as a gauge if it was healthy or not, but no fertilizing. I was happy with all of my blooms and the health of my plants and trees.

    This year I did just recently fertilize, but it was based on a soil analysis... and I only fertilized with N and P since everything else was very, very high.

    I think that if it rained like this each year in CA, and if i was being 100% truthful I may be more inclined to push the flowers to their limits and fertilize to greedily and selfishly see more blooms, but I also care about the entire ecosystem and am aware that it really wouldn't be best for the full permaculture of the yard, so hopefully I would still keep that in mind.

    But since we are usually drought central, I just don't see the point of fertilizing when the water we have to give may not support that much growth anyways. My thinking could be totally wrong and backwards... but my soil analysis said my soil is great, the worms here seem to get nice and fat and really like making babies, and the plants seem very healthy with just the mulch and not needing a lot of fertilizer... so I think I'm doing pretty good. :)

    I was amazed at what alfalfa did when I tried it through. And I am trying to grow some alfalfa from seed so I can use it on my plants... and I'm also thinking of doing a few worm bins to farm the native worms I have in my yard.

    Wonderful topic Ingrid. I'm really enjoying reading all of your responses.

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked Cori Ann - H0uzz violated my privacy
  • Melissa Northern Italy zone 8
    7 years ago

    Love this topic. I have soil that's all clay in most of the garden. I dig holes and amend them with lots of organic matter, old hay in my case, plant, then mulch with more old hay plus whatever further organic matter the ground supplies. So far, over the years we've probably added a hundred tons of hay to the garden.

    A year or two ago I scattered urea thinly over the garden. Generally I don't fertilize; that was exceptional, an experiment. As long as an area of the garden looks puny, I mulch with more hay; and all the organic matter from the garden, unless scarily diseased, goes back into it: prunings are chopped into small pieces and left under the roses, and sheared and pulled weeds and grass are left where they grew. I mulch thinly so a ground cover of annual grasses, vetch, and so on, can grow in the beds.

    Most of my roses I would characterize as frugal. They might do better with fertilizer; I don't know. The limiting factor in my garden is water. We don't water after the first year, and water is such an important factor for bloom that I can't exclude its effects to judge the success or lack of it of my soil preparation methods. In those parts of the garden where we've achieved ground that seems fertile, the flowering and the overall condition of the plants are good enough for me. The last two years, when we've benefited from abundant rain, the garden has been the best I've seen since I started gardening almost thirty years ago. I agree with what others have suggested, that whether or not fertilizing is desirable depends on one's native soil, and possibly on rainfall. But I suspect that organic mulch benefits every garden.

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked Melissa Northern Italy zone 8
  • Sheila z8a Rogue Valley OR
    7 years ago

    I've always heard water is the foremost critical need for roses, before fertilizer. Mulch would help every garden, I'm sure, and the fertilizer is less critical.

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked Sheila z8a Rogue Valley OR
  • ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9
    Original Author
    7 years ago

    I so enjoyed each reply and am so glad I raised this question. I wanted to give a "like" for each post, but after a few I wasn't able to. Sometimes houzz is so weird!

    Decomposed granite, very few worms, none in some places, drought, scorching sun, no fertilizer - it sounds ideal for growing cacti rather than roses. I believe that for the first five of the ten years I've gardened here there was definitely less intense solar radiation and we had adequate winter rains. I fertilized with alfalfa meal and hand watered in the dry season and it all worked reasonably well. Then came the drought and stronger sun. I can remember in the winter season being able to be in the sun any time of the day; now if it is sunny even in the morning my skin begins to burn in a few minutes. I live in the same place but the garden changed drastically. Drip watering helped but it was too late for some of the roses. One thing I have done for the last two or three years is to have a large bowl in the kitchen sink to catch water from washing fruits and vegetables, rinsing dishes etc. Coffee grounds, vegetable peelings, overripe fruit etc also go in there and that's poured around the roses and for mulch I use leaf litter from garden trees, and any garden litter, except for large, thorny canes, is left to lie on the ground. Fortunately we've finally had some wonderful winter rains that have soaked the ground deeply. I can see that I'm not the only one with physical limitations, for whatever reason, but I believe that we've found ways to still have satisfactory gardens that give us great pleasure. The prima donna roses no longer reside in our gardens and fussy plants of any kind have committed suicide. That's okay, there are stalwarts that hang in there with us.

    I hope there will be more responses. It's so fascinating to learn the different ways that you all cope with the challenges of soil, climate, drought and other problems. There is no perfect environment but I've seen many gardens here that are still incredibly beautiful.

  • titian1 10b Sydney
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Ingrid, I couldn't post or even 'like' earlier. It occurred to me reading your post, that your garden is like you, elegant, gentle and generous, despite the very difficult conditions you've got to overcome.

    Cori Ann, your mention of worms had me remembering that when I first gardened here (6 years ago) I never saw a worm. I dug some very large holes for roses I'd ordered, and amended the soil with a lot of cow manure. It wasn't really loam either, but a hard,somewhat stony mix of dirt and clay. 2 or 3 months later, when I planted there were quite a few worms. This has been the case all over the garden, which makes me wonder - did the worms come in the manure? How lovely for you that you have all those years of energy ahead to carry on with your passions.

    Trish

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  • Cori Ann - H0uzz violated my privacy
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Trish I personally think the worms start appearing when we start improving the soil... kind of like "if you build it they will come." But sure... some little baby worm coccoons definitely come in the manure too couldn't they? When we moved in here... the soil was awful and barren. It was desolate. I could dig and dig and never see anything living or moving. The yard had been neglected for a long time. Then we solarized the lawn... and after that we sheet mulched with cardboard, leaves and bark mulch. And I waited. After some time, I finally started seeing some worms. I waited to plant until I saw enough worms and life in the soil that it seemed healthy. Now it's just filled with life. There's slime molds (they're a good thing even though they have a weird name), tons of worms, mushrooms, birds, etc.

    The worms seem happy here now. They're everywhere. I tend to gauge the soil fertility by how many I find while digging... they're no science to that, but it makes sense to me. :)

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked Cori Ann - H0uzz violated my privacy
  • Natasha (Chandler AZ 9b) W
    7 years ago

    Being a newbie I have a lot of energy so far... And in addition to this I had compact rock-hard clay everywhere under the layers of gravel. My first holes for roses were almost like clay pots buried in the dirt. Now I can see life in my soil even mushrooms! This spring I was putting new roses and I saw earthworms! I was happy as a kid :) My belief that they came with compost that I add with planting and then mulching my roses. I shall be careful with any other kind of mulch, can't use any bark chips as scorpions would love love love it... and we have tons of them. And I fertilize. Organic. Trying to build healthy environment. Trying to help my plants to withstand this insane heat and I know they will help me in return with this heat as well, as I will have less reflected heat from this gravel at least. Seems like I fertilize at least twice a year, before heat and after. May add some liquid fertilizer in between. Some roses respond really well to that as this spring I get new basal growing on some of them. Maybe with the time being and more mature garden I will get more lazy... who knows...

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked Natasha (Chandler AZ 9b) W
  • humble5zone9atx
    7 years ago

    I throw kitchen scraps in the garden all the time even old bread, cracker and cereal. I started fertilizing with fish emulsion and the roses love it, exception Abe Darby

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked humble5zone9atx
  • mariannese
    7 years ago

    I have heavy clay soil, quite fertile but too heavy so I add bagged coarse cow manure and composted bark in early spring more to improve the structure of the soil than to fertilize. I always mean to give more to the remontant roses later in the year but seldom get round to it. It should be done before the end of June here, at least a fertilizer with nitrogen and I am usually too busy at that time, the height of our gardening season.

    I Norwegian rose grower and author of rose books, with the largest selection of Austins in Norway, never fertilizes.

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked mariannese
  • ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9
    Original Author
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Cori Ann, I wish I had been as wise and patient as you. We basically had five separate regions of grass separated by concrete walkways and should have done exactly as you did, except for the cardboard, which never breaks down here due to lack of adequate rain. I was just too eager to get a garden started, and when you don't do it right in the first place it will never be as good. No looking back though, I'll work with what I have now.

    humble, you've given me the idea of using fish emulsion on some of my reluctant new growers, like Plum Perfect, Love Song and Carding Mill.

    Marianne, your garden is one I admire greatly so whatever you do must be enough. Part of it of course is the design, for which I have no talent. I can get away with that since most people around me don't seem to garden at all!

  • Cori Ann - H0uzz violated my privacy
    7 years ago

    Well... as you may know I was patient with the front yard, but had the back yard bulldozed and chainsawed while I cheered from the street... so that was instant gratification. ;) I'm definitely not used to being referred to as patient, but thank you. It is usually not of my qualities, as I'm very eager most of the time like you. :)

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked Cori Ann - H0uzz violated my privacy
  • rathersmallbunny
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I love this thread! And now I feel emboldened to share an embarrassing secret: for the last two years, I haven't fertilized my roses other than to pour old aquarium water on them when it's time to clean out the goldfish barrel. And...I also ask my little boy if he would mind peeing in an old cut-off milk jug from time to time, which I then mix with lots of water and apply as dilute urine on the earth (careful not to splash the plants). I read about this dilute urine method from another composting forum.

    Before this, I used to fertilize with handfuls of alfalfa pellets and chicken manure 2x a year. Is there a difference? Not really. There were probably slightly more blooms when I was fertilizing more heavily, but I have been pleasantly surprised with the goldfish water/dilute urine method (although it's a little embarrassing to share!). The roses have by and large been more healthy and produced less overly soft green growth that tends to attract aphids. In fact I had to stop my son from loudly telling a neighbor who was admiring the roses that "It's all because of my pee, that Mummy collects!" :)

  • Alana8aSC
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Haha- I love it! Thanks so much for sharing! We rose lovers sure do some crazy stuff sometimes- I use to mix a concoction using beer..I don't fertilize like I probably should anymore but everything seems to do well. I can't keep compost around my roses for the chickens scratching it away- I've read bantams are better and don't do such damage as the larger chickens, but atleast they are fertilizing as they are scratching..I reckon..I do try to put compost/manure around them still, but like I said it doesn't stay, I have to work twice to try and put it back..I also have rabbit's and put that out there as well. I've tried getting some tree mulch, but have had trouble getting any, so I'm about ready to give up on that..