Grandma’s Secret Formula For Beautiful Roses… Preparing The Soil For A New Rose Bed

January 28, 2018

Most avid rose gardeners have a favorite mixture of amendments for conditioning the soil prior to planting their newest acquisitions in March.  The list might include bone meal, alfalfa meal, epsom salts, egg shells, coffee grinds, an Edsel grille, and so forth…  Sometimes the rosarian might guard their secret mix.  I am reminded of my friend who used to bring a collection of herbs to sausage making sessions.  He would acquire the herbs from his uncle in Pittsburgh.  Finally, he was able to persuade his uncle to release the family formula for Kielbasa, but only after a lengthy stay at a local Pittsburgh bar.  Dave stills holds the recipe in secrecy.

The rose gardener knows that one should make a “$10 hole for a 10 cent plant” rather than a “10 cent hole for a $10 plant”.  This is rule #4 in gardening basics, right after proper lighting, proper drainage, and green side up.

Roses need at least 6 hours of full sun per day with emphasis on the early morning sun.  If a rose is shaded for the first two hours in the morning, the dew will be allowed to linger on the leaves, providing a perfect breeding ground for disease.  Temperature and moisture are the two factors which make a disease thrive.  Never water the leaves at night as the foliage will stay moist all through the hot summer night, and the diseases will frolic and multiply gleefully.  Water should be applied at the base of the plant in the morning.  Nature will wash the dust off of your leaves with rainfall.  A little shade in mid afternoon from a structure such as a house is much appreciated by a rose.  Shade from trees means competition with tree roots, which a rose will usually not tolerate.

Roses need consistent moisture levels, but their roots will not tolerate standing water.  I recommend digging a hole 18 inches deep and 24 inches wide.  If you have heavy clay then proper drainage may be questionable.  To be sure your site drains adequately, fill the hole to the brim with a garden hose.  If the hole does not drain within 5 or 6 hours, you will probably have a drainage problem.  Consider another site.

Roses love organic matter such as manure or compost.  Toss out the rocks and heavy clay chunks and replace them with about 3 cubic feet of organic matter such as manure or compost.  This will be a mix of about 2/3 native soil and 1/3 organic matter.

With regard to additives, a cup of lime or bone meal will raise your pH and provide needed calcium, a cup of triple superphosphate will provide phosphorus for profuse bloom, a 1/4 cup of Epson Salts (Magnesium sulphate) will provide needed magnesium for the food producing process of photosynthesis, and 2 cups of gypsum (calcium sulphate) will help loosen the clay in your soil.  Additionally, alfalfa meal is a great source of natural, slow release nitrogen as well as essential trace elements.

You may hear about a lot of different additives that were used by Grandma, and they are probably all valid suggestions.  The main thing to remember is that roses love nutrient filled soil rich in organic matter.  Don’t forget sunshine and proper drainage, and your roses should do well.  Make preparation now for March planting of roses.

Andy Lynn – Roxbury Farm & Garden Center – Fredericksburg, VA