Rose Fertilizer Basics, Tips, & Options

Wondering about rose fertilizer? Fortunately feeding these lovely plants isn’t as difficult as it may seem.

Rose fertilizer is a nutrient-rich product applied to rose plants to support growth and flowering. There are both organic and synthetic fertilizers, plus different methods of application including powdered, granular, water-soluble, and liquid fertilizers. While florist and exhibition roses are fed several times a month with a rotation of different products, the best rose fertilizer for garden roses tends to be a granular slow-release balanced rose fertilizer applied once in early spring and again in late summer/early fall. Regular applications of compost and/or organic mulch are also helpful.

Read on to learn all about rose fertilizer!

Rose fertilizer
Rose fertilizer basics, tips, & options

Rose Fertilizer: The Basics

Rose fertilizer is used as an integral part of overall rose care to help maintain the health and vitality of roses. There are a variety of different types of rose fertilizers available, including organic and synthetic options. While synthetic options are still widely available, more gardeners are now moving to organic products as they are generally more sustainable to produce and less likely to burn plants or pollute the wider ecosystem. Using rose fertilizer regularly and paying attention to potential problems can help keep your roses blooms healthy, reduce leaves from yellowing and ensure the plant remains productive all year round.

When choosing rose fertilizers, it is important to pay attention to the nutrient content to be sure that your roses are getting the nutrients they need. You should also be aware of the potential side effects of using rose fertilizers and make sure to follow the directions carefully to avoid any problems.

The best time to use a rose fertilizer is when you first plant your roses, as this will help them get off to a good start. As your roses grow, you should continue to use slow-release organic granular fertilizers once or twice a year to keep them healthy and productive. With proper care and attention, your roses will thrive and provide you with beautiful blooms for many years to come.

“If you do choose to supplement with fertilizers, I would most definitely recommend going with an organic product, that is, one derived from natural sources rather than being synthetically manufactured. Some good choices include blood and bone meal, chicken pellets, liquid fish fertilizer, compost tea, seaweed, worm castings, and kelp-based products.”

Roses Without Chemicals, by Peter E. Kukielski

When To Fertilize Roses

Roses in the garden are generally fed twice per year with a slow-release fertilizer. Fertilize roses once in early spring with a balanced slow-release fertilizer designed to last for 3-4 months. Fertilize again in late summer with a slow-release fertilizer that isn’t too high in nitrogen.

Save the first spring feed for when the rose plants are showing the first signs of spring growth (tiny leaves appearing). It also makes sense to wait until the average last frost date is no more than a month away, as sometimes roses can show a bit of growth during mid-winter warm spells. Try to avoid fertilizing roses when temperatures may drop below freezing.

Feed roses again with a slow-release organic fertilizer in late summer once the nights start to become a bit cooler. Roses in hot climates go into a semi-dormant state during the hottest days of summer but begin to actively grow once nighttime temperatures cool down. Rose plants are also dormant in winter in climates with cool or freezing winters. Don’t feed during these dormant times (let the plant rest). Read more about fall rose care here.

“Roses like lots of food. Add fertilizer to boost growth prior to flowering.”

Reliable Roses, by Philip Harkness

Rose Food Application Frequency

Whether you are planting new roses or simply want to maintain the health and vitality of your existing plants, it is important to use a high-quality rose fertilizer. Here are some frequencies for common rose fertilizers.

Dr. Earth® Total Advantage® Rose & Flower Fertilizer

Dr. Earth® Total Advantage® Rose & Flower Fertilizer is usually applied every 8 weeks (every other month) during the growing season.

Jobe’s Organics Granular Fertilizer for Roses & Flowers

Jobe’s Organics Granular Fertilizer for Roses & Flowers is usually applied every 6 weeks during the growing season.

Espoma Organic Rose-Tone Rose & Flower Food

Espoma Organic Rose-Tone Rose & Flower Food is generally applied every 4 weeks/monthly during the growing season.

Down To Earth Rose & Flower Mix

Down To Earth Rose & Flower Mix is generally applied every 4 weeks/monthly during the growing season.

Foliar Feeding For Roses

Rose fertilizer is not only commonly used when planting roses to help them get off to a good start, but it can also be applied regularly throughout the growing season. One popular method of distributing fertilizer to your rose bushes is called foliar feeding, which involves spraying liquid fertilizers (often seaweed-based, like this popular kelp foliar fertilizer) directly onto the leaves.

There are a few advantages to using foliar feeding for roses. First, the leaves quickly absorb the liquid fertilizers, which can help your roses get the nutrients they need more quickly. Additionally, foliar feeding is a less invasive method of fertilizer application than conventional methods such as soil or root feeding.

However, there are also some drawbacks to using foliar feeding for your roses. First, it can be difficult to evenly distribute the fertilizer, which can lead to problems such as leaf burn. Additionally, foliar feeding can be more expensive than other methods of fertilizer application.

If you decide to use foliar feeding for your roses, be sure to follow the directions carefully and avoid spraying the leaves in direct sunlight, as this can lead to leaf burn.

“Liquid seaweed-based fertilizers do wonders when applied as a foliar spray. The foliage turns a darker green, the colors on the blooms become more intense, and the canes are hardier. Overall, the plants are happier. Liquid seaweed is rich in potassium, minerals, and trace elements, and they even contain some growth hormones. It’s also very good at making these nutrients available to the plant.”

Everyday Roses: How to Grow Knock Out and Other Easy-Care Garden Roses, by Paul Zimmerman

Use Organic Mulch For Rose Beds

Promote a thriving soil ecosystem by mulching regularly with organic mulch. You can use homemade compost, bulk composted plant matter, or bagged organic compost as organic mulch. If you prefer the look of a wood mulch, top the compost with hardwood mulch.

Organic mulch is a great way to keep your rose bed healthy and free of weeds. Organic mulch is made from natural materials such as leaves, bark, or straw. It is safe for both humans and the environment, making it a popular choice for gardeners who are looking for sustainable options. Organic mulch also helps improve the soil quality by adding nutrients and protecting the roots of your plants.

When selecting organic mulch for your rose bed, be sure to choose materials that are free of chemicals or other pollutants. Additionally, you should avoid using fresh grass clippings, as they can contain high levels of nitrogen that can burn your plants.

Apply a layer of organic mulch around your rose bushes to help improve the health of the soil and protect the roots of your plants. Be sure to replenish the mulch regularly as it breaks down over time. Leave the old decomposed mulch in place and simply place a new layer of hardwood mulch on top every year or two.

Important Nutrients For Rose Plants

Roses are heavy feeders and require a variety of nutrients to maintain their health and vigor. The three most important nutrients for roses are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plant growth and helps produce lush, green foliage. However, too much nitrogen can cause rose plants to produce excessive foliage at the expense of flowers. Organic materials such as alfalfa meal, coffee grounds, and grass clippings are typically high in nitrogen.

Phosphorus is important for root growth and helps produce strong, healthy stems. It also encourages flowering and can increase the number of blooms produced by a rose bush. Organic products like bone meal and rock phosphate are typically used in packaged products to add phosphorus.

Potassium is essential for overall plant health and helps roses resist disease and pests. It also helps produce strong stems and abundant flowers. Popular natural sources of potassium include langbeinite and greensand.

When selecting a fertilizer for your rose plants, be sure to choose one that contains a balance of all three of these essential nutrients. Additionally, you should avoid using a fertilizer with a high nitrogen content late in the season, as this can cause problems such as leaf burn or simply growing too much foliage at the expense of flowers.

How To Fertilize Roses

Fertilizing new rose plants is an important step in helping them to establish strong roots and grow into healthy, thriving bushes. There are a few different methods you can use when fertilizing new rose plants, including foliar feeding, root feeding, or top dressing.

Foliar feeding involves spraying liquid fertilizer directly onto the leaves of your rose plants. This method can be helpful in getting new plants off to a strong start, as it can help them get the nutrients they need more quickly. However, there are also some drawbacks to using foliar feeding for newly-planted roses. First, it can be difficult to evenly distribute the fertilizer, which can lead to problems such as leaf burn. Additionally, foliar feeding can be more expensive than other methods of fertilizer application.

If you decide to use foliar feeding for your newly-planted roses, you should be sure to follow the directions carefully and avoid spraying the leaves in direct sunlight, as this can lead to leaf burn.

Another option is root feeding, which involves placing granular fertilizer around the base of your rose plants. This method is less likely to cause problems such as leaf burn, but it can be more difficult to evenly distribute the fertilizer.

Top dressing is a third option for fertilizing newly-planted roses. This method involves applying a layer of compost or other organic matter around the base of your rose plants. Top dressing is a more sustainable option than some other methods, as it allows you to put nutrients back into your soil while also adding bulk organic matter.

When fertilizing newly-planted roses, be sure to select a high-quality fertilizer that contains a balance of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Additionally, carefully follow all application instructions so that you don’t over- or under-fertilize your plants.

“Overfeeding with quick-release products isn’t good for garden roses.”

Everyday Roses: How to Grow Knock Out and Other Easy-Care Garden Roses, by Paul Zimmerman
Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a gardening expert and founder of Home for the Harvest. She's also an engineer and certified permaculture garden designer. Mary Jane has been featured by publications such as Real Simple, Mother Earth News, Homes & Gardens, Heirloom Gardener, and Family Handyman.