Roses are a very popular flowering shrub. They do require a lot of care, but that is part of their charm. Here is all you need to know about fertilizing your roses to have them look their best.
Why Fertilize Roses?
Roses need a lot of nutrients to produce bloom after bloom. No soil can adequately meet the nutrient needs of modern roses. You need to fertilize if you want lots of blooms.
The fertilizers I recommend are good for all roses, including tea roses, knockouts, and modern roses.
How Do I Know If My Rose Needs Fertilizer?
If you do not fertilize your roses, they will be stunted, have small blooms, and not have very many blooms.
What Nutrients Do Roses Need?
Roses need sixteen nutrients to stay healthy. They get carbon from the air, oxygen and hydrogen from water, and the rest from the soil.
The big three nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. They need calcium, sulfur, and magnesium in smaller amounts. Roses need trace amounts of iron, copper, boron, manganese, zinc, chlorine, and molybdenum.
For more information on fertilizers, see my article.
What Type Of Fertilizer Do Roses Need?
Rose fertilizer comes in several different forms. What form you use is a personal choice. Here is what each form has to offer.
Liquid fertilizer comes in ready-to-use sprays or in concentrates, which have to be mixed with water before spraying.
Concentrates are more expensive initially but are cheaper per application. Both start working immediately but have to be repeated every week to two weeks.
Some liquid fertilizer is applied to the leaves of the rose, called foliar fertilization. Others are intended to drench the soil around your rose bushes.
Water Soluble Fertilizer
Water-soluble fertilizer is a granule that dissolves completely in water. It is then applied like a liquid fertilizer.
Granular fertilizer looks like little rocks. It usually has slow-release fertilizer in it. Some may also include fast-release fertilizer.
Slow-release granules start to fertilize your rose in a week to two weeks. The fast-release fertilizer starts working immediately. Most granular fertilizers must be watered well to activate them.
A spike fertilizer is a granular fertilizer that is shaped in the form of a spike. The spike is hammered into the earth near the rose and feeds it for a month or longer.
Slow-release fertilizer is coated with a substance that gradually breaks down over time. As the substance breaks down, it releases nutrients to the soil. This type of fertilizer can last months, reducing the need to reapply it.
Organic Versus Synthetic Fertilizer
In nature, microorganisms break down organic matter and nutrients into forms that are usable by plants. These are absorbed by the roots and nurture the rose. Organic fertilizers feed these microorganisms.
Synthetic fertilizers contain nutrients that are already in a form that the plants can take up. They work faster than organic fertilizers but do not feed the microorganisms that give soil its structure.
If the rose is suffering from an acute nutrient deficiency, synthetic fertilizers will work faster. Otherwise, I prefer organic fertilizers because I feel they work with nature and maintain the health of the soil.
What Should I Consider When Choosing Fertilizers For My Rose?
Here are some things I consider before choosing a fertilizer.
The rose’s fertilizer ratio isn’t as clear-cut as a lawn or some vegetables. I chose a fertilizer made for roses that has all three major nutrients as well as micronutrients.
I also don’t use an acidic fertilizer because roses prefer a soil pH that is a little acidic, but not as much as blueberries, so an acidic fertilizer meant for berries will make the soil too acidic.
In an ideal world, I would buy the best rose fertilizer with premium ingredients and ignore the price. In reality, I buy the best rose fertilizer I can afford.
Premium ingredients tend to be more bioavailable than cheap ingredients, so I have to use less fertilizer. A budget fertilizer is much better than no fertilizer, however, so use what you afford, but realize that cheaper fertilizers won’t have the same results premium fertilizers will.
Form is something of a personal preference. I prefer liquid fertilizer for pots because it is easier to use, but I prefer granular fertilizer for in-ground and raised bed roses. I like the slow-release feature of most granular fertilizers because I don’t have to use them as often as liquid fertilizers.
Top 5 Best Fertilizers For Roses
Here are my picks for the best fertilizers for roses.
1. Miracle-Gro Water Soluble Rose Plant Food – Best For Roses In Pots
Miracle-Gro Water Soluble Rose Plant Food is my pick for the best fertilizer for roses in pots.
It has an NPK ratio of 18-24-16 and also contains copper, iron, manganese, and zinc. Miracle-Gro Water Soluble Rose Plant Food dissolves completely and easily in water.
This fertilizer is endorsed by the American Rose Society. If you are not satisfied with the roses that grow while using this fertilizer, you can get your money back within six months.
You can use this product with a watering can or a hose-end sprayer. It starts work immediately and should be used every seven to fourteen days.
This fertilizer is not organic. Keep out of reach of children and pets.
Horace Hagedorn and Otto Stern founded Miracle-Gro in 1944. They hired an agronomist to develop a fertilizer to strengthen Stern’s plants so they would survive shipping. Hagedorn bought out Stern out of the company in the 1980s. Hagedorn merged Miracle-Gro with Scotts to form a new company called Scotts Miracle-Gro in 1995. Hagedorn’s son was installed as the CEO. Civil War veteran Orlando McLena Scott founded Scotts in 1868 in Marysville, Ohio. He wanted to provide weed-free seed to farmers in his town. Scott began selling seeds to homeowners after the turn of the century. Scotts Miracle-Gro sells products throughout the United States and Canada, including the original storefront in Marysville. They own many other brands, as well.
For indoor plants, mix ½ teaspoon of fertilizer with one gallon of water. Use every two weeks instead of water.
For outdoor plants, mix 1 ½ tablespoons of fertilizer with 1 ½ gallons of water. Soak the soil around the rose plant every seven to fourteen days. If you have a lot of roses to fertilize, you can fill a Miracle-Gro Garden Feeder with the fertilizer and attach it to your hose. One- and one-half pounds of Miracle-Gro feeds about 600 square feet. Soak the soil at the base of the roses. Do not get the fertilizer on the rose plant. Repeat every seven to fourteen days.
I prefer liquid fertilizers for container roses because they are easier to use. Miracle-Gro Water Soluble Rose Plant Food is perfectly formulated for roses and is endorsed by the American Rose Society, so I feel good using it.
I prefer organic fertilizers but would make an exception in this case. I would use a granular fertilizer for outdoor roses because I do not have to apply it so often.
Trying to use a hose-end sprayer to apply the fertilizer without getting it on the roses is hard. A box of Miracle-Gro Water Soluble Rose Plant Food lasts quite a while.
- Dissolves easily in water
- Endorsed by the American Rose Society
- Not organic
- Has to be used frequently
2. Espoma Organic Rose-Tone 4-3-2 – Best Organic Fertilizer For Roses
Espoma Organic Rose-Tone 4-3-2 is my pick for the best organic fertilizer for roses.
It has an NPK ratio of 4-3-2 and also contains calcium and magnesium. In addition, it contains Espoma’s patented Bio-Tome, consisting of cultures of beneficial soil microbes, and humic acid from Leonardite, the best source.
The soil microbes convert the nutrients in Espoma Organic Rose-Tone 4-3-2 into a form plants can easily use. In addition, the microbes and humic acid improve the structure of the soil around the roses, making it easier for the roses to grow healthy, deep roots.
This fertilizer is certified organic and is made sustainably in the United States. It is safe for people and pets.
Espoma was founded by Herbert G. Sanders in 1929 in Millville, NJ. In 1946, his production area burned. He wasn’t sure what to do and took a trip to decide. When he returned, his employees and friends were already clearing the site for reconstruction. Sanders decided to rebuild. Clarence Wolf and Daniel Fenton, founders of the Holly Society of America, approached Espoma about making a good fertilizer for their hollies. This was the first specialty fertilizer made by Espoma. Realizing that other plants needed specialty fertilizers, Espoma developed many different types of fertilizer. The Sanders family still owns Espoma. It is currently the leading producer of organic fertilizers for the retail and lawn trade. All of Espoma’s products are produced in the United States and are distributed throughout the United States and Canada.
For new plantings, remove half the soil that came out of the hole and mix 3 cups of Espoma Organic Rose-Tone 4-3-2 with it. Return the soil to the hole, making a cone for the rose plant to sit on. Spread the roots around the cone. Fill in the hole with the remaining soil. Water the soil to settle it, then fill the hole in with the rest of the soil. The grafting knuckle should be just below ground level.
For established plants, start feeding when growth begins and continue monthly through September.
For single plants, spread 1 ¼ cup of Rose-Tone around the drip line of the rose and mix it with the first inch of soil. Water the soil well.
For rose beds, spread six pounds of Rose-Tone over 100 square feet and mix in the top one inch of soil. Water well.
For container plants, mix two cups of Rose-Tone per cubic foot of soil for new roses. For established roses, mix one teaspoon of Rose-Tone with the soil per three inches of pot diameter along the edge of the pot. Water well.
I like Espoma products. Using organic fertilizers makes my soil better. Granular products are easier for me to use without getting them on the rose plant and burning it.
I also appreciate only having to apply this fertilizer once a month instead of every two weeks. Rose-Tone is a bit pricy, but I believe it is worth it.
- Applied monthly
- Pet and children safe
3. Jobes 04128 10 Pack Organics Rose Fertilizer Spikes – Best Spike Fertilizer For Roses
Jobes 04128 10 Pack Organics Rose Fertilizer Spikes are my pick for the best spike fertilizer for roses.
It has an NPK of 9-12-9 and chlorine. Most of the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are released slowly, but some of it is fast-release to start working immediately. The slow-release fertilizer starts working about two weeks after being hammered into the ground.
The spikes are activated by the fungi and microorganisms in the ground. These fertilizer spikes feed your roses for eight weeks at a time. They are very convenient, and you do not have to worry about the fertilizer running off and polluting waterways.
They are recommended for use on all rose types. These spikes are organic. They should be kept away from kids and pets.
Jobe’s Company was started in 1969 when they released a tree spike fertilizer. Jobe’s was bought by Easy Gardener in 1997. Jobe’s Organics was launched in 2007 by Easy Gardener. Easy Gardener was bought by Centre Lane Partners in 2015. They rebranded the company as The Jobe’s Company in 2016. The Jobe’s Company is headquartered in Waco, Texas, and makes the fertilizer there and in Kentucky. The Jobe’s Company distributes its 200 fertilizers and other gardening products across North America.
To use Jobes 04128 10 Pack Organics Rose Fertilizer Spikes, water the soil well before hammering the spikes in about one to two inches under the soil.
Space the spikes ten to twelve inches away from the rose bush. Use two spikes for a rose bush that is two feet in diameter, three for a rose bush that is three to four feet in diameter, and four spikes for a rose bush that is five to six feet in diameter. For climbing roses, use one spike per two feet of height. Repeat every eight weeks.
I like spikes because they are easy. You just hammer them in and forget them. Sometimes, the spikes crumble and break in the package or when hammering them.
If you have a lot of roses, you may go through a lot of packages of the spikes. Moderately expensive, ten spikes won’t go very far if you have a lot of roses. Be sure you space the spikes equal distances from each other around the dripline of the rose.
I prefer granules because they are cheaper and easier to use, but if you like spikes, this is the spike for you.
- Easy to use
- Can break in the package or when hammering into the ground
4. Neptune’s Harvest Fish Fertilizer 2-4-1 – Best Liquid Fertilizer For Roses
Neptune’s Harvest Fish Fertilizer 2-4-1 is my pick for the best liquid fertilizer for roses.
It has an NPK ratio of 2-4-1. The unique cold process takes North Atlantic fish and preserves all the nutrients found in a fish, including the oil, proteins, vitamins, amino acids, and enzymes. It is just like dropping a fish in the planting hole of your rose.
Unlike a fish emulsion, this product does not smell bad when mixed. It does have a strong odor straight out of the bottle.
The nitrogen and other nutrients are chelated so the rose bush can absorb them easily. Neptune’s Harvest Fish Fertilizer 2-4-1 is certified organic. Keep out of reach of kids and pets. Do not take it internally, or it will make you sick.
Ocean Crest Seafoods, Inc. owns Neptune’s Harvest. Anthony Parco, Sr. founded Ocean Crest Seafoods in 1965 to distribute the finest North Atlantic fish from the port of Gloucester. Normally, the waste after the fish is filleted is dumped into the ocean. That is seventy percent of the fish. Parco founded Neptune’s Harvest to use the parts of the fish that would be wasted to reduce the pollution of the port. Parco and his companies have turned an environmental hazard into an environmental benefit.
Before using Neptune’s Harvest Fish Fertilizer 2-4-1, shake the bottle well. Mix only the amount you will need that day, and do not let the liquid lay in a pot’s saucer or drip pan, or it will concentrate and burn your rose.
For indoor roses, use one tablespoon of fertilizer in each gallon of water. Use every two to three weeks.
For outdoor plants, use one fluid ounce in each gallon of water. Saturate the soil around the rose or use it as a foliar feed by spraying the leaves until they drip. If you are foliar feeding, do so early in the day. Repeat every two to three weeks.
I like Neptune’s Harvest Fish Fertilizer 2-4-1. While it does smell pretty powerful in the bottle, I did not smell it after I used it on my plants.
My dog was very interested in the area even after the fertilizer dried, so if you have roses where your pets play, you might want to use something else to fertilize them.
The gallon jug is fairly expensive but makes a lot of fertilizer. It also comes in a quart bottle if you only have a few roses.
Neptune’s Harvest Fish Fertilizer 2-4-1 starts working immediately, and you can start seeing results in as little as twenty-four hours.
- Contains all the nutrients in fish
- Uses parts of the fish that would go to waste
- Certified organic
- Can attract pets even when dry
5. Dr. Earth Total Advantage Rose & Flower Fertilizer – Best Overall Fertilizer For Roses
Dr. Earth Total Advantage Rose & Flower Fertilizer is my pick for the best overall fertilizer for roses.
The NPK ratio is 4-6-2, and the fertilizer also contains sulfur. In addition, Dr. Earth Total Advantage Rose & Flower Fertilizer contains TruBiotic, a group of beneficial soil microbes and mycorrhizae, beneficial fungi. Both of these improve the soil and make the nutrients in the fertilizer more available to the plants.
In addition, humic acid, minerals, carbohydrates, and proteins are added. Dr. Earth certifies this fertilizer as non-GMO and as certified organic. This fertilizer is people and pet-safe when used as directed. It contains no sewage sludge or chicken manure. This formulation was personally developed by the founder of Dr. Earth.
Milo Lou Shammas founded Dr. Earth in 1991. Dr. Earth produced the first probiotic soils and fertilizers in the United States. Dr. Earth pledges that if something is not sustainable or does not have a positive impact on the environment, the company will not do it. This pledge is the reason they do not use fillers like chicken manure. All of the ingredients in Dr. Earth’s fertilizers are premium ingredients. Dr. Earth uses human-grade food scraps to create compost that is processed into fertilizer. The Sustainable Food Trade Association is sponsored by Dr. Earth.
To use Dr. Earth Total Advantage Rose & Flower Fertilizer when planting in-ground or raised bed roses, spread 1 ½ cups over ten square feet. Alternatively, you can put ¼ cup in the planting hole for a one-gallon plant or one cup for a five-gallon plant. Use seven cups for fifty feet of row. Use at planting and every eight weeks during the growing season. Water in well.
For established plants, use one cup for every ten square feet or 3 ½ cups for fifty feet of row. Mix in the soil and water well. Apply in the spring, again after the first blooms fade, and again in midsummer.
For new container roses, mix one tablespoon for each quart of potting medium or ½ cup for a five-gallon pot. Mix with the soil and water well. Apply every other month during the growing season.
For established roses in pots, mix two tablespoons for each gallon of soil or ½ cup for five gallons. Mix the fertilizer into the soil and water well. Apply every other month.
Dr. Earth is a reputable company, and this fertilizer really makes roses bloom.
I like that it is made sustainably and uses human-grade food scraps that would otherwise go to waste. I feel like the certified GMO-free claim is disingenuous because no fertilizers contain GMO products. In addition, unless they separate out all the products containing corn or other grains, some GMO food scraps get composted. The final product may contain no evidence of GMOs, however.
- Made of human food scraps
- A little greenwashing
When to Fertilize Roses?
When you fertilize your roses is as important as what you fertilize with. Here are some things to consider.
By Time Of Day
You should fertilize your roses in the morning before ten a.m. This allows any moisture you get on the foliage to dry before nightfall, which helps prevent disease.
While you should not ever allow fertilizer to touch your rose bush unless it is designed for a foliar feed, many fertilizers require water to activate them. You should always water your roses early in the morning so they dry by nightfall.
Stages Of Growth
Roses are heavy feeders. You should get a soil test to find out what nutrients are in your soil before planting your roses. Your Extension agent can give you directions and tell you where to send your soil.
The results will tell you what nutrients to add to your soil. Follow these recommendations before planting your rose. The first year, feed monthly after planting with a mild fertilizer until a month before the first frost date.
Every year after that, begin fertilizing when the shoots reach four or five inches in early spring. Fertilize every two to four weeks after that, depending on the directions on the fertilizer you use.
Liquid fertilizers will need to be used more often than granular fertilizers. Some spikes and granular fertilizers may only need to be used two or three times per growing season. Fertilize all summer. Stop fertilizing a month before your first frost date.
Time Of Year
The exact time of year varies depending on where you live. Generally, you start fertilizing a month after pruning your roses. Spring comes to the southern United States before it comes to the northern United States and Canada. Here are some sample fertilization schedules in three states.
Texas is a big state with several different climates. These directions are for Central Texas.
In mid-February, as the ground begins to warm up, fertilize your roses. In mid to late March, give your roses another feeding. Begin feeding every six to eight weeks with granular fertilizer or every two weeks with liquid fertilizer. Feed for the last time on September 1. Do not fertilize again until spring.
California also has many climate zones. These directions are for San Luis Obispo County.
Fertilize in February after pruning established roses. New roses are planted in January or February, and you should fertilize the ground before planting them. In March, once the growth is two to four inches long, fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer. In October, apply the last application of fertilizer for the year.
Roses in Iowa are fertilized three times a year. In the spring, when the growth is two to four inches long, fertilize for the first time. When the roses start blooming, fertilize again. Apply the final fertilizer in July. Do not fertilize after July 31.
How Do I Fertilize Roses?
How much fertilizer and how often depends heavily on the form of the fertilizer and the specific brand you are using. Follow the directions on the fertilizer label.
In general, you fertilize with liquid every two weeks. Granular fertilizers with slow-release fertilizers may only be used every three months. For five specific examples, see the directions I give for each of my best fertilizer picks.
Can You Over-Fertilize Roses?
You can over-fertilize roses in two ways. If you apply more fertilizer than the directions say, you can burn your plants. If you apply fertilizer more frequently than the directions say, you can also cause problems.
Too much nitrogen results in lots of foliage but few blooms. Fertilizing too late in the year will result in lots of new growth that will die in the first freeze.
Stop fertilizing for the year about one month before the date of the first frost in your area. Your Extension agent can tell you when this is.
Homemade Fertilizer for Roses
You can make fertilizer for roses from things around your house. As long as you make sure you supply all the nutrients your roses need, making your own fertilizer will let you customize your fertilizer for your soil conditions.
Here are some common ingredients in rose fertilizer.
- Coffee grounds
- Tea leaves
- Fish or a fish fertilizer
For Phosphorus and Potassium
- Banana peels
- Bone meal
- Fish also has phosphorus and potassium in it.
- If you want to use eggshells to add calcium, you must grind them into a fine powder. Crushed shells don’t help.
- If your soil is low in magnesium, you can mix a teaspoon of Epsom Salts into a gallon of water and pour it around your roses. Do this once, as too much magnesium can make your roses sick.
- Never use dog or cat poop on your roses because it can spread diseases to you and your pets. Never use raw manure on your roses because it will burn your rose bushes. Always compost the manure before using it.
Rose Fertilizing Tips
Here are some tips to help you fertilize your roses properly.
- Wear waterproof gloves when fertilizing your plants so the fertilizer doesn’t get on your skin.
- Never get fertilizer on the stems, leaves, or flowers of the rose unless you are using a foliar feed formulation. In that case, apply to your roses until the fertilizer starts to drip off the rose leaves.
- Store your fertilizer in a dry, cool place where children and pets cannot get into it. Don’t store your fertilizer in a shed where it will get hot or freeze.
Caring For Your Roses Throughout Their Lifecycle
Roses need more than fertilizer to thrive. Here are some care tips to keep your roses healthy.
- Roses love the sun. Plant them where they will get at least eight hours of sun a day.
- Roses require one inch of water a week. If the weather is very hot, they may need more water.
- Newly planted roses should be watered every day for two weeks, then every three to four days for a couple of weeks, then once a week.
- Mulching your roses with three inches of hardwood mulch around the bushes will help conserve moisture and keep weeds down.
- Roses are classified as species roses, which are wild roses, heirloom roses, and modern roses.
- Heirloom roses are roses developed before 1867, while modern roses were developed after 1867.
- Get quality plants from a reputable seller. Cheap roses tend not to do well and often die.
- Roses can be bought bare root or in pots. In either case, rose bushes should be disease free and show signs of green on them.
- Soak the roots of bare-root roses in a bucket of warm water for up to twenty-four hours before planting to help them begin to absorb water.
- Roses must be planted in well-draining soils, or they will get root rot.
- Plant bare-root roses at least three feet apart so the air can circulate between and around them. This helps prevent diseases.
- Plant roses with soil around their roots by digging a hole twice the diameter of the root ball and six inches deeper than the root ball.
- Roses have many pests and diseases. Inspect your rose bushes regularly to catch problems early.
- Common rose pests are aphids, caterpillars, spider mites, and thrips. Many of these can be managed with cultural and biological controls, so chemicals are not necessary. Others, particularly thrips, may need chemicals if the infestation is severe.
- Earthkind roses need very little fertilizer and resist most pests and diseases.
When I grow roses in pots, Miracle-Gro Water Soluble Rose Plant Food is the fertilizer I use. This fertilizer is endorsed by the American Rose Society. I think Espoma Organic Rose-Tone 4-3-2 is the best organic fertilizer for roses. Espoma is a company I trust to provide good fertilizer for my plants. If you are a fan of spikes, I recommend Jobes 04128 10 Pack Organics Rose Fertilizer Spikes. These spikes are convenient and easy to use. I think the best liquid fertilizer for roses is Neptune’s Harvest Fish Fertilizer 2-4-1. It is cold processed to keep all the nutrients in fish intact. Finally, I think Dr. Earth Total Advantage Rose & Flower Fertilizer is the best overall fertilizer for roses. You will see lots of blooms with this fertilizer.