How to Feed and Care for Roses

From a single blossom to bushes blanketed with blooms, no flower speaks to a gardener's heart quite like roses. Whether you're a beginner or you've been gardening for years, you can grow these rewarding flowers with ease. Classic symbols of beauty and romance — and the U.S. national flower — roses aren't finicky, but beautiful rose gardens don't happen on their own.

Some old-fashioned roses and shrub types thrive with minimal care and few nutrients, but most modern roses benefit from regular feedings — especially if your gardening goals include an abundance of luxuriant blooms and glossy foliage. By feeding roses to match their changing needs throughout the growing season, you can help your roses be all that they can be.

Getting Young Roses Started

Young, newly planted roses can be sensitive to fertilizers, but gentle liquid nourishment feeds developing roots and helps establish new roses. Feed young roses an organic, fish-based fertilizer, such as OMRI-listed Alaska Fish Fertilizer 5-1-1, to get them started right. Avoid using common, water-soluble, houseplant fertilizers on roses at any stage; the fast-acting, high-nitrogen formulas can burn rose roots and leaves, even on tough, mature, rugosa-type roses.

Feeding for Spring Growth

When established roses break their dormancy in late winter and early spring, their nutrient reserves need a lift. But always hold the first feeding until roses show at least 4 to 6 inches of new growth and a set of five to seven leaves. Don't rely on the calendar; look to your roses instead. When you see this growth, you'll know roots are able to process fertilizers.

For early season feedings, use a complete fertilizer that's high in nitrogen, relative to phosphorus and potassium. This means the first number of the three numbers on the fertilizer label should be higher than the other two. That number reflects nitrogen, the plant nutrient that encourages strong stems and leafy, green growth.

For an added advantage, give your roses extra magnesium and sulfur in the form of Epsom salt — arosarian secret weapon. These two nutrients, both essential to rose growth, enhance the plant's ability to use other essential plant nutrients and encourage vigorous, healthy roots and flowers. About two weeks after the first regular feeding, gently mix Pennington Epsom Salt plant nutrient into the soil around the base of your roses, according to label instructions, and water well.

Setting the Stage with Buds

As rose buds show themselves and grow, the focus changes from stems and leaves to buds and emerging blooms. Help your roses make the shift by increasing nutrients that encourage roots, flower development and all-round health.

A complete, balanced fertilizer — with all three numbers the same — has equal percentages of nitrogen for green growth, phosphorus for roots and flowers, and potassium for overall health. Lilly Miller All Purpose Planting & Growing Food 10-10-10 combines traditional, fast-release plant foods with natural, slow- release nutrients to support balanced growth and prepare for blooms ahead, while feeding your roses for up to six weeks.

Follow that feeding with a liquid dose of Pennington Epsom salt about two weeks later. Mix with water, according to label directions, and then spray your roses — foliage and all. Work early in the morning, so that leaves dry well before nightfall. This helps prevent fungal diseases that can affect roses and other plants. Repeat every two weeks through the season.

Supporting Prolific Blooms

Show-stopping flowers take a lot out of plants, unless they're fed properly. Keep roses fueled for magnificent blossoms with a bloom-enhancing, high-phosphorus food designed for the purpose. Pennington UltraGreen Colorblooms & Bulbs Plant Food 15-10-10 gives roses an extra boost of phosphorus, the higher middle number. This blend of traditional and natural plant foods contains alfalfa meal, a rosarian favorite for added vigor, and feeds roses for up to eight weeks.

Liquid, fish-based products, such as Alaska 5-1-1 give roses added support for abundant blooms and glossy foliage all season. This gentle, ready-to-spray, organic fertilizer provides a double boost, feeding through the roots and straight through the leaves to keep your roses pumped and producing. 

Finishing the Season

With fall at the door, roses don't need new growth; they need to prepare for winter. Nitrogen-containing fertilizers used at the beginning of the season can encourage unwelcome growth this time of year, inhibiting dormancy and leaving roses vulnerable to winter damage. For the season's final feedings, give roses a nitrogen-free fertilizer — with the first number "0" — that contains phosphorus and potassium. This supports strong root development, encourages resilience, and allows roses to harden off properly before winter.

Stop feeding roses about six weeks before the average first frost in your region. In cool, northern climates, this means stopping in mid-to-late August. For some warm-climate gardeners, this may mean feeding into October. Alaska MorBloom Fertilizer 0-10-10 provides the season finale with gentle, fish-based nutrients that encourage all-round health and vigorous below-ground growth.

By feeding your roses what they need, when they need it, you can enjoy the rose garden of your dreams. From strong spring growth and plentiful buds to spectacular blooms and healthy dormancy, the Pennington, Alaska and Lilly Miller lines of fertilizer products can help keep your roses beautiful and productive year after year.

Always read the product label and follow instructions carefully.

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Alaska, Lilly Miller, and UltraGreen are registered trademarks of Central Garden & Pet Company. Pennington is a registered trademark of Pennington Seed, Inc.