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Roses are plants, too!

It’s Alive! And how you can keep it that way!

Amendment being spread.  The roses already look happier!
Photo/Illustration: Paul Zimmerman Roses
The back of manure pile that I’ve let compost for the past few years.
Photo/Illustration: Paul Zimmerman Roses
Amendment being spread.  The roses already look happier!
Photo/Illustration: Paul Zimmerman Roses
The back of manure pile that I’ve let compost for the past few years.
Photo/Illustration: Paul Zimmerman Roses

Earlier this summer I prepared new beds for about 200 new rose plants here on our farm.  I did all the right things like amending, but now that fall is here I’m going to back to the beds and feed the soil all over again.

Why do I do this?  Constantly feeding and improving the soil is one of the most important things you can do to improve the health of your roses, and that leads to better disease resistance.

So, even if you have established beds this is a good thing to do every few years.

First you need a good living soil amendment.  This means it’s alive with micro-organisms, earthworms and all the other things that make natural soil great.  Many commercial soil amendments are sterile and do little good.

I am blessed in that we have horses on our farm that make living soil amendment 24/7 – 365 days a year.  We have a big pile of manure and shavings behind our barn, and the back of that pile is now two years old and amazing stuff. 

Now I know almost all you don’t have horses on your property, much less a manure pile!  That’s okay.  If you make your own compost use that.  If you don’t make your own compost, check around for barns that board horses or even race tracks or show grounds.  I imagine they will be delighted to give you as much as you can haul away.  Try to find some that is at least 6 months old.  When I lived in Los Angeles I used to go to the Equestrian Center where they would sell you aged manure and shavings from the giant mountain of it they had out back. 

If you strike out on the horse front, check with your local garden center to see if they know of a source for good living soil amendment that has not been sterilized.

When you source some simply spread it on your beds 3-4 inches thick – a little thinner around smaller plants like some perennials so you don’t bury them.  Over time it will work its way down into the soil adding all that living goodness.

The reason I like to do this in fall is because it not only provides some winter protection, but if there are any weeds they will likely break down by the time next spring rolls around  Once you are done simply cover it with a good hardwood mulch as that will also help keep weeds down.

I realize the thought (and possibly the expense of renting a pickup truck) might put you off doing this but think of these two things.  First, what would it cost you to purchase bags of soil amendment?  Second, what would it cost you in time and money to spray the roses regularly for disease all year long?   My experience has shown doing this every few years results in healthier, happier roses, and the show they put on the following season quickly makes me forget all that shoveling!

Happy Roseing

View Comments


  1. Rosarian 10/12/2010

    Paul, are you telling us that the bagged sheep ,cow,manure is not living amendments??

    Bill Lovelock

  2. Stirlinghands 10/13/2010

    Hope you have time for a different subject.
    We want to plant climbing roses that will grow onto a pitched roof.
    If we use trellises, how should they be constructed and attached to the roof? Material choices?
    Instead of trellises, can wires be run horizonally for the roses to grow on?
    Thanks and we welcome all responses and insight.
    Thanks again.
    Bob and Karen

  3. PFZimmerman 10/13/2010

    Hi Bill

    Bagged sheep and cow can be depending on where it comes from. It's from farms or small operations you should be fine. But the big commercial outfits that put them out tend use manure from slaughter houses and holding pens. They can be high in salts. But if you get lots of rain you can use it. Generally if it is sterilized it will say so.

    Bob & Karen.

    If you don't mind I'm going to use your question for the next blog post. Stay tuned!

    Everyone feel free to ask questions or tell me what you'd like to see a post about.

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