Monday, January 21, 2013

January feeding

Our rose society’s award-winning newsletter, Rose Rambler, offers great articles and practical information every month from September through May, a definite perk that comes with membership. One of the most useful pages is the monthly check list. It’s a neat reminder of what should be done in the garden in the next month. All I can say is that’s it’s a good thing I retired because I have never had time to read them in time for them to be useful – until this month! I did not know that “many rosarians recommend applying organics in January so they can be broken down by microbes and become available to the plant in early spring.” (Don’t forget, since spring comes earlier here, this timing is specific to Florida.) So I’ve been doing it wrong or at least not optimally because in previous years I have applied my organics around the end of February or early March when I was spreading horse manure compost and mulch. Last year I did manage to read one item on the check list. “Apply 1/2 cup of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) per medium bush 30 days prior to pruning.” So this year I was prepared to get an early start.

Since feeding time is upon me, last Thursday I took a rather long ride to Newberry to Growers Fertilizer Corp., because they sell their own sewage sludge for $6.13 for 40 pounds. That’s called half price compared to Milorganite!! That made the trip worthwhile, and I bought 10 bags which hopefully should last a few years. I also got 50 pounds of Epsom salts which I applied on Friday. This year I don’t have access to my usual Purely Organic Rose Food, since I finally ran out of my stash, and I figured what was available at Lowe’s, Rose-Tone, would be more expensive than I wanted, but the only organics that Growers had was cottonseed meal (50 lb for $30). This made me decide to make my own “complete food”. I bought the cottonseed meal and went online to find a recipe. Here it is.

Use equal parts of:

Alfalfa Meal – NPK 2-1-2
Fish Meal - NPK 10-6-2
Cottonseed Meal – NPK 6-.4-1.5
Blood Meal – NPK 12-0-0
Bone Meal – NPK 3-15-0
Sludge – NPK 5-3-0


Naturally, there were problems with this recipe. First, I couldn’t find alfalfa meal, only the usual pellets, and I opted to wait until after pruning to apply them. Soybean meal is an option, too, but I couldn't find that either. Also, couldn’t find fish meal, but I did find a smallish bag of Kelp Meal at Seminole Feed. It’s a good source of trace minerals, and roses love seaweed. I also opted to not include the blood meal and sludge at this time because they are immediately available to the plants, and I don’t want them growing yet – anymore than they already are anyway. The weatherman says we’ll have 32 degrees tomorrow night, and certainly more freezes and harder freezes are coming. I also added sulfur and greensand to the mix. Sulfur not only lowers pH, but it also Greensand is slow-acting potassium, and I was ecstatic to find it at Seminole.

So in a 5-gallon bucket I added 4 cups each of the red items and 1/2 cup each of the kelp meal and sulfur (which was a total guess on my part) and mixed them thoroughly. (I'll probably put the rest of the kelp meal in the fish hydrolysate that I'm going to make that I learned about in another Rose Rambler article this month. No more bottled fish emulsion!) I repeated this three more times to fill the bucket as full as I could carry it. It turned out I used four buckets (plus a little) to feed all the roses, daylilies and about two-thirds of the azaleas. I still have more left of all the ingredients. Since the Purely Organic used to cost $25 for a 50-lb bag and I needed 2 bags, I probably didn’t save much if any money doing it this way, but I had no choice and I’m happy.

50 Pounds of Epsom salts and 400 pounds of sewage sludge - oh, goodie!

It’s not as critical to scratch organics into the soil as it is for chemicals because the microbes manage to find them as long as they’re touching soil, but it is advisable to water everything afterwards. Since my back hates scratching it in anyway, I kill two birds with one stone with a hard stream of water from the hose. I just have to be careful not to obliterate any delicate plants in the process with my bad aim. I did good today – everything got mixed, applied and watered in and no plants were blasted apart...and DH took me out for Chinese!

As I moved along, I dug up a few Purple Coneflowers that were invading the space of some roses. (I told you they’re thugs, didn’t I? Beautiful, but they don’t play nice in this small garden especially when planted by the dozen.) Then I noticed that one of my two ‘Fred Ham’ daylilies had gotten huge and was too big for its space. How convenient that I had just taken out a coneflower on the other side of ‘Madame Abel Chatenay’ from ‘Fred Ham’. So I split off two big fans from Fred and planted them in the newly vacant spot on the other side of MAC. I’m so pleased that I’ll have twice as many of these large, gorgeous daylily blooms this year.

By way of follow-up I think I told you that I had bought a bareroot rose, ‘Heirloom’, at Aldi the other day after I had bought a grafted ‘Hot Cocoa’ at Lowe’s. Well, the modern-rose bug has given me an awful bite, and I’ve been scratching the itch. I checked both Aldi stores for more bareroots, but they were sold out. The other Lowe’s had no roses, so I hit my Lowe’s again on Sunday. I found two with labels, ‘New Zealand’ and ‘Moondance’. Referring to on my trusty smartphone in the garden center, I discovered that both of these roses are described as “very disease resistant”. Now, one location’s very disease resistant rose may be another location’s black spot magnet, but what the heck, there aren’t that many very disease resistant modern roses out there, so I grabbed them. (Remember…I don’t spray fungicide.) For $7 each I got two beautiful, fragrant roses, albeit a bit bedraggled. I guess it’s true…if you buy them, space will appear, because I am finding places for them in the garden, either in the ground or in pots. On Sunday at the rose society meeting Annie said for $6 each she got Oklahoma, Mr. Lincoln and another fantastic hybrid tea rose (darn! what was the name?) at the Home Depot in…oh, gee, was it Crystal River? Well, wherever it was, keep your eyes peeled, folks. Roses are out their for the taking. With a little TLC they’ll make wonderful additions to your gardens. I know I’ll be out there looking. No self-control!!


  1. Wowzer, what a busy bee you have been! Just a little less than 60 days left until the official calendar of course....

  2. I was saying Wowzer, too, when I was done. Almost fell asleep at the restaurant. hehe

  3. You are a hard working lady and your gardens show it. They will look even better this year with all that you are doing to feed the roses.

    Have a great week ~ FlowerLady

    1. FlowerLady, I'm really curious what this early feeding will do for the spring flush. Dare I hope for spectacular? Well, I guess I'm always hoping for spectacular. :))

  4. You're taking it to a whole new level! I hope your hard work pays off in flowers.

    When I started growing roses I liked moderns, then OGRs, then Austins, and then I realized they were all great and my love had broaded to included all roses that have any hope of doing well in my garden.

    1. Amber, you and I have taken a different path, but we've arrived at the same place. That's precisely how I feel now. I want all roses that have any hope of doing well in my garden! Well, maybe not orange ones, but you never know.

  5. You know when I read blogs like yours ...I, usually, think to myself...I have no idea what I am doing(with gardening)...I have roses and I had NO idea what you were talking about (which isn't saying much and I'm ADHD) so I am going to re-read what you wrote...(prob 5 times before I got it) but can you do these things that you mention on bare root roses. I am north of you (just outside of Pensacola) so I figured I have bought some time on things I had no idea I needed to do...thanks for the post...I am sure I will love it as soon as I figure it out!

    1. Hey, Janie, five years ago I was where you are today. I thought my head would explode trying to learn about roses and organics and soil, so I understand exactly where you are. For me I LIVED on the rose forums on the GardenWeb and gradually absorbed enough to feel less and less like a newbie. I just planted my first bareroot, so I'm not an expert. Soak the plant in water for at least 24 hours to re-hydrate it. When planting, make a cone of soil in the hole and set the rose's roots over and around the cone. Leave the graft (that bulbous thing in the stem a few inches above the surface level when you backfill. You can use a rod/ruler across the hole to determine where the surface is. When mulching, don't put the mulch up against the stem. Sandy soil is best when heavily amended. I just bought 'potting soil' in bulk from a place that carries mulch, stones, gravel, topsoil, etc. A half yard was 6 wheelbarrows and cost $16. I would replace half the soil from the oversized hole that you dig with a combination of that, composted manure, pine fines, topsoil, Milorganite/sewage sludge - and mix it all up. The resulting mix won't look real great, just sand with black clumps in it, but in 6 months it will be all be black and getting loamy and earthworms will be living there. I don't know where they come from but they do come.

      Try not to fret, but I must tell you that I fretted pitifully in my first two years. If it were not for the sweet and knowledgeable friends I made on the rose forums, I would not be gardening or growing roses today. They saved my butt.

    2. I forgot a couple of things. Instead of sprinkling your bone meal throughout the hole, place three small handfuls around the bottom of the hole. I also put a few banana peels (or even whole bananas) in the bottom, too, along with alfalfa pellets and sludge (heaping 1/2 cup each). I mix rose food in the backfill soil.

  6. There are a lot of things to take care of roses during winter, but I haven't done anything yet... But thanks to your post, I feel motivated! Thank you for sharing the useful information. Have a good day:)

  7. We ALL need motivation, Keity! I'm so glad this post was helpful for you and you're ready to get going now.

  8. I was wondering Sherry if you had ever heard of the Back To Eden form of gardening?
    It sounds very interesting to me, and now that I am getting older, It sounds like an easier,less back breaking way to go. It is totally organic gardening.
    I will leave you a link for the movie. It is a little long but very interesting. This man mainly grows food crops, but if he gardens so successfully with vegetables, it must be good for roses. If this form of gardening really works, it could be very cost effective, since he gets his wood chips from his local tree service, and he doesn't use much if any fertilizer. Let me know what you think of this.