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How to fertilize Your Roses
by Jerry Yoneda


This Series of 'Jerry and June' articles was written to show that there is more than one way to perform each and every task in rose growing. The format is a humorous dialogue between two members of the Utah Rose Society, who have VERY differing views on rose growing. With a bit of experience, The novice will eventually develop his or her own unique way of growing roses. As the old adage says: "There is more than one way to skin a cat". And from the point of view of the long term rose grower "...if it ain't broke don't fix it."


Jerry: I'm here with my knife and fork although I'm not sure my stomach will take the haggis.

June: I asked you here to discuss how to fertilize roses. And besides what the heck is haggis?

Jerry: Webster describes haggis as a pudding (that is popular especially in Scotland) that is made from the heart, liver, and lungs of a sheep or calf minced with suet, onions, oatmeal, and seasonings and boiled in the stomach of the animal. So when I got your message about some concoction using cottonseed, blood, fish, and bone meals I assumed you were making haggis.

June: No I just ran across the Ramblin' Rosarians instructions for making his "Fragrant Formula"and these are some of the required ingredients. To make the formula you need 3 ample yards of compost material or leaves, 100 lbs. of coarse organic stuff like ground pine bark or cottonseed hulls, 100 lbs. of cottonseed meal, 100 lbs. of alfalfa meal or pellets, 50 lbs. of bone meal, and 50 lbs. of fish meal. First you make a pile of the coarse material in any area suitable for composting. Then you add the light ingredients a little at a time and turn with a pitch fork. You mix well and moisten lightly. You then turn it with a fork twice a week for two weeks. A sharp ammonia odor will escape the pile if it is working properly. A different dead odor will be emitted if there is not enough coarse material or if the mix is too wet. The formula will be ready in three weeks and two shovelfuls should be giving to each established bush. The Ramblin' Rosarian warns that too much moisture will cause the mixture to turn to slime.

Jerry: If it weren't for the smell the pile does not sound much worse than the haggis. Of course as some rosarians say roses are pigs because they will eat anything, even Haggis. Because they eat anything the best fertilizer for roses is whatever is on sale.

June: I know you do not favor organic fertilizer because it costs much more per pound of nutrient. But as you know I am interested in soils and organic fertilizers improve soil properties.

Jerry: It is not entirely true to say I don't use organics, it would be safer to say I prefer inorganic and foliar fertilizers. Two years ago I used 500 lbs. of alfalfa pellets and 25 lbs. of blood meal on my roses, and last year I used 400 lbs. of the pellets and a seaweed extract in my spray material once a month. This year I have ten pounds of fish meal ready to go. Just think if you bury some bananas for phosphorous and some of this other organic stuff you could have a real feast. Oh , poi!

June: Not with the puns again!

Jerry: Oh come on, as you know poi is made from taro, so you could say my little play on words was all in the cards.

June: If you believe in cheaper is better than why do you use organics.

Jerry: I did not say I believed in cheaper is better I said some rosarians believe that it makes no difference whatever you feed your roses they will eat it. And as you said organics improve the texture of the soil, and additionally they help feed the microorganisms in the soil which break down the nutrients so the roses can utilize them. Also when alfalfa decomposes it produces triconatol a growth hormone. Furthermore, I do a heavy foliar feeding once a month and I was doing a light feed once a week in my spray materials, and as you know foliar fertilizers can be expensive but they do give rapid results. Since I have changed from funginex to Banner Maxx as my principal spray I will only be spraying every other week and therefore, I will be doing a light foliar feeding about once every two weeks so I am augmenting my fertilizer program with an increase in organic fertilizers. Also if you exhibit, you need to be careful with your foliar feeding because leaves on the top will receive a larger share of the spray and and you will get the Joan Crawford look.

June: I can't wait to hear this one.

Jerry: What I mean the size of the leaves will taper from the top to the bottom and not from bottom to top as is normal. In other words you get Joan Crawford. Maybe if I said that good old Chicago look, you would understand.

June: Oh! Now I get it, you mean big shoulders.

Jerry: At least I won't have to shoulder all the blame for this pun.

June: I give 1/4 cup of magnesium sulfate and 1 cup of alfalfa to each of my roses in spring how much do you give?

Jerry: I place the material in a bucket and just scatter it around depending on how much I have or want to use. I don't believe an exact measurement is the crucial. As I told you once as a chemist I am an experimenter its you engineer types who think there must be an exact plan to everything. In the first week of the month I give a heavy foliar feed, the next week something organic: alfalfa pellets, fish meal, etc. the next an inorganic fertilizer: magnesium sulfate, a balanced fertilizer, etc. and on the final week of the month I give the plants ammonium nitrate as our soils tend to be nitrogen deficient.

June: I also believe in the use of alfalfa or manure teas, where you let an organic fertilizer ferment in water for about a week before adding about a gallon of the solution to each bush.

Jerry: Personally I think that stinks.

June: You don't believe in the value of organic teas.

Jerry: No I mean they stink. You had better have a big yard or your down wind neighbors will hate you. Just for your info did you know that after the British were hooked on tea by the Chinese, they began bankrupting their treasury because the Chinese insisted on payment in gold. So the British, being the fine upstanding people they were, smuggled opium poppy seeds out of China, began growing them in India, hooked the Chinese on the opium (the use of which had been outlawed in China), and got all their gold back.

June: I tend to have iron troubles, do you?

Jerry: As a nurse you should know that that's mainly a woman thing.

June: No I mean our alkaline soils tend to cause iron chlorosis, what do you use to treat this problem?

Jerry: Have the cleaners put extra starch in the collars when they iron them?

June: I think you have houseatosis mixed up with ring around the collar. Now all kidding aside what do you use for your roses that are exhibiting iron chlorosis problems.

Jerry: usually add sequestrene 330 to my spray materials including my monthly foliar feed. For those roses that are stubborn I scatter sequestrene 138 on the ground around the rose bush. The chelating agent in the 138 is more affective then the one in the 339 and will not decompose to iron oxides when in contact with alkaline soils. The sequestrene materials are effective because they contain the iron in a chelated form. The 138 is fairly expensive in that 2 lbs. costs over $50 so I try to be frugal with it.

June: I too am beginning to believe in the value of using a foliar spray and am writing an article about it.

Jerry: The average home gardener can put a dressing of a balanced fertilizer on his bushes when pruning and a second application after the first bloom cycle to promote rebloom.

June: For gardeners with limited time, the fertilizer of choice for is a slow release fertilizer, such as Osmocote, which can be applied once a year.

Jerry: In other words growing good roses is easy. It's growing excellent roses that takes extreme measures.

June: Do you have any other secrets.

Jerry: Well exhibitors swear that a little zinc improves bloom substance. Of course if you add too much you get the Pepto Bismol look.

June: Now what?

Jerry: Your white roses will turn pink

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