By Jimmy Speas
(From The Winston-Salem Rose Society Clippings, September 1999)
Many of you have only a small garden, and often I am asked what kind of liquid fertilizer to use. Roses love water and for an extra treat, almost any type of food can be added to the water. I use three types of containers to mix whatever liquid food I am making.
For a small bed of miniatures (about 10), I use a 5-gallon bucket with a lid. It is important that some "food," such as alfalfa pellets or manure, sit and steep a few days (even up to two weeks) to make a better "meal." (Beware of the smell; roses seem to enjoy the "juice" more the worse it smells!) Remember, your roses want a meal, not just an appetizer. I add one cup of alfalfa pellets or one shovelful of manure, fill the bucket with water and cover. I stir it every day or so and then give each miniature bush 1/2 gallon. Within a few days, the leaves "green up" and new growth begins.
For a larger bed of 16+ old garden roses and about 24 miniatures, I use a 32-gallon plastic trashcan with a lid that I picked up at Wal-Mart for $5. I mix six cups of alfalfa pellets or three big shovelsful of manure and let this steep for at least a week, stirring occasionally. I give one gallon of the liquid to each old garden rosebush, and 1/2 gallon to each mini.
Then for my hybrid tea and floribunda beds, I use 55-gallon plastic barrels with 12 cups of alfalfa or six big shovelsful of manure. I let this steep for 2 weeks and give each bush one gallon. Sometimes I add one tablespoon of Epsom Salts per bush to the liquid; do not get it on the leaves when feeding because the salts can cause leaf burns.
Some weeks I just use fish emulsion that I buy by the gallon ($18 last year at Manning Milling Company). I use one tablespoon per bush when mixing in the 5-gallon bucket, one pint in the 32- gallon trashcan, and two pints in the 55-gallon plastic barrels. Minis still receive 1/2 gallon and all other roses get a full gallon. Peters, Miracle-Gro, K- Gro, or any type 20-20-20 liquid fertilizer can be mixed and used immediately. There is no need for it to steep and the essentials are readily available. No matter what type you use, liquid fertilizer is easy to mix and to apply and it is very cost effective. So, no matter if you have 1 bush or 100, get out your nose plugs and become your roses' favorite chef!