Methods of Fertilizing
Do What's Easiest for the Job at Hand
by Kitty Belandez

(From Rose Ecstasy, Publication of the Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society, September 1999, Kitty Belendez, Editor.
Reprinted in The Charleston Rose, October 1999.)

In the Beginning
When I first started growing roses and only had a dozen plants, I used Ortho granular fertilizer that only required that I sprinkle on 1/4 cup around each bush and then water it in afterwards. This particular granular also included a systemic insecticide. This method was fine for monthly feeding of just a few bushes, but after a couple years when I had accumulated over 50 bushes, the granular fertilizer was becoming too expensive to use. And I did not like putting all that insecticide into the soil every time I fed my roses. I wondered what it was doing to my earthworm population.

The Bucket Brigade
Then I discovered the water-soluble fertilizers such as Miracle-Gro, Grow More, and organics such as fish emulsion. This seemed to be less expensive and faster acting than the granular, but I had to mix them one tablespoon per gallon of water and carry one bucket at a time around to each bush. It didn't take long to find out that this method of feeding 50 roses was A LOT OF WORK. In fact, all this lifting and carrying eventually caused an injury that required me to have major surgery.

The Siphon Device
Soon, I heard about the siphon device (Hyponex or Siphonex). This $10 device attaches to your faucet, with a tube that extends down to a bucketful of fertilizer that has been mixed at a 16:1 ratio. You then attach your garden hose to the siphon device and when you turn on the water the concentrated fertilizer is then supposedly sucked up and delivered to your roses at the correct concentration. This method worked pretty good until I had collected over 100 rose bushes. However, the siphon had a tendency to get clogged up whenever I used fish emulsion, and I had to make sure that the device was thoroughly cleaned out after each use. Also, I was never really convinced that the device was always delivering the correct ratio of fertilizer to my roses, since I have a very high water pressure (everybody's is different), and the water pressure would drop drastically as the device would start to clog up. I finally got fed up when I just could not keep the device unclogged, even though Bob frequently took it apart and cleaned out the siphon hole with a tiny needle. Still, the siphon device is a good tool for feeding less than 50 roses with only water soluble type fertilizers such as Miracle-Gro. But I do not recommend using it for dispensing fish emulsion or other thick fertilizers.

The Submersible Pump
Well, a few years later, I suddenly found myself with 350 roses. I had gotten frustrated whenever I tried to feed my roses with the siphon device and had to fight with it all the time to keep it free flowing. Then I heard that others were using a submersible pump (also known as a "sump pump"). This sounded intriguing, and for $60 1 decided I would give it a try. I had heard that it was a real time saver, and with 350 roses I surely needed to save some time.

With the sump pump, you mix up your water-soluble fertilizers at the appropriate ratio, according to the directions on the package, in a 30 or 50 gallon can. So, for a 30-gallon can, you will mix 30 tablespoons of Miracle-Gro with 30 gallons of water in the can. The pump is electric and so must be plugged into an electrical outlet. We use an outlet in our garage, and since the cord on the pump is short, we need to also use an extension cord. Before feeding your roses, do a "count test" to see how many seconds it takes to fill up a one gallon bucket. For example, I count to 8, which is how long it takes for the pump to dispense one gallon for my hybrid teas, and count to 4 for a half-gallon (or 2 for a quart) to be dispensed to the miniature roses. Depending on the size of your yard, you may need to use a long garden hose to reach all your roses.

Carl Mahanay gave us a gigantic 55-gallon drum that we are now using. We have to fill up this drum three times to feed all of our 350 roses (more than half are minis). The submersible pump is an incredible time and work saver if you have more than 100 roses. It takes us just one hour to feed all of our roses. It was taking me at least twice that long with the siphon device. We use it to dispense Miracle-Gro, fish emulsion, iron, and even epsom salts, with no clogging problems. Every time I use the pump, I marvel at its efficiency.

Hose-End Sprayers
There are other options for fertilizing your roses. Some people use hose-end sprayers. I do not like these for several reasons. First, I prefer not to foliar feed my roses, which is what you will do if you use the hose-end sprayer. I have never had good luck with foliar feeding, and when I did, the foliage got burned. Secondly, I do not trust the accuracy of this type of dispenser, because I am not certain that my roses are getting the precise ratio of fertilizer. And third, with 350 roses, I would be constantly filling up this sprayer, which would be too time-consuming. I suppose that a hose-end sprayer could be useful for people who have only a few roses, but I would be careful to only feed in the coolest part of the day to avoid foliage damage.

Pump Sprayers
These sprayers are meant for application of pesticides, and I do not recommend that they be used for fertilizing your roses. You want to get the fertilizer quickly to the roots, and with the pump sprayers you have to do a lot of pumping which is also a lot of work.

Time Released Fertilizers
So now we have come full circle back to hand distribution of granular fertilizers. For the rosarian who just does not have the time to feed roses on a regular basis, a time-released fertilizer such as Osmocote may just suit his/her needs. There are a number of different formulations available, such as 3- month, 6-month, and 9-month. These fertilizers need to be applied by hand, and they will slowly break down and dispense the fertilizer over a long period of time. However, they are very expensive, especially if you have a lot of roses. Be sure you are buying the correct N-P-K for roses.

Hand Application of Organics
We still have to apply the organics such as alfalfa pellets, blood meal, kelp meal, and compost by hand. But, with all the time I save with my pump, I have time left to feed my roses lots of organics, too. They love it!

* Editor's Note. Additional information on the submersible pump was requested and received from Kitty Belendez. She states, "The pump model we have is made by Flotec and is 1/6 HP. It is about the size of a small loaf of bread. We also use it to pump out our swimming pool, as it can pump 1300 gallons per hour. It costs about $60."