Homemade Organic Rose Food

Don Juan Roses

“I don’t know whether nice people tend to grow roses or growing roses makes people nice.”  – Roland A. Browne    

I have been searching for natural methods to care for our rose bush. Not really a bush. It’s a Don Juan climbing rose. I’m looking because I feel a bit guilty for how I have cared for this forgiving plant.
This all started because I neglected to cut back our Don Juan roses this past winter. Long and leggy after last years growth, the canes were bare and hanging out from their trellis 4 to 5 feet. Hanging out ready to grab anyone nearby. And, as often happens when we put off pruning, the roses decided to NOT wait on me to prune them before they bloomed. This sturdiness is one of the things that I like about Don Juan roses. I can neglect them off and on and they still grow and bloom. Roses 4 to 6 inches across and velvety red. Still, what needs to be done has to be done. They needed to  be chopped.

Don Juan  Rose Bud
Don Juan Rose Bud

Carrying this guilt, I gave them  couple of weeks to put on a show. It’s too bad the fragrance cannot be captured in these photos. Before you ask, yes, I do stop to smell the roses. Especially since these are at our front door.

Anyways, I “pruned” them yesterday. Now, this the point when many of us say…”I sure hope it comes back”. Of course, inside we know that it will, but there can always be that wondering thought. “How strong is this plant that I just severely pruned?
Having removed the majority of the canes, I start thinking about how I would like to take care of this plant. Out of guilt?  Because I never want to see plants die? (except for the weeds) Or because I know that if I give this rose some quality care it will return with more vigor and beauty?  Whatever the reason, the search for organic rose care tips and food recipes began.

Below are some of the tips and results for homemade  rose foods that are readily available on the web.

First, a few tips.

  1. If you are unsure what type of soil you have, get a soil test done. Knowing a bit about your soil will be helpful in your planning.
  2. Banana peels work great. Smash the peels flat and bury them 4-6 inches at the base of the plants. They provide a nice shot of potassium.
  3. Coffee grounds help most slightly acidic plants thrive. Most roses like slightly acidic soil.
  4. I know a man who swears by feeding his roses  lawn fertilizer a couple of times a year. I can only say that his roses are always blooming profusely and the foliage looks great all the time.
  5. Fish tank water can be high in nitrogen. The roses will love the shot of nitrogen. However, if the water has been sitting in the tank for a lengthy time or is moldy, do not use it. We’re talking about regular fish tank water changes.
  6. The old-fashioned way…use manure. (Another warning:  if you are not sure of the difference between chicken, rabbit, horse, cow and steer manures, consider getting bagged composted manure at your garden center.)
  7. Include bone meal in your mix.  It is a good  source of phosphorus. Root growth will benefit.
  8. Kelp and green sand are  good potassium sources. Your plants will withstand disease and cold better with the help of potassium.

For the recipes, here are a few that I plan to test.

Don Juan Rose
Don Juan Rose

One common recipe calls for 4 ingredients
4 parts of alfalfa meal (slow release fertilizer)
1/2 part greensand (to loosen the soil)
and 1/2 part bone meal.
Mix up a little or a lot and combine it with your favorite well rotted manure.

Another requires 5 items for the mix:
1 part fish meal
1 part alfalfa meal
1 part greensand
1 part gypsum
and 1/2 part bone meal
Mix the ingredients well. Then sprinkle and work the mix into the soil around the base of the plant before watering.

Yet another popular mix requires a few more ingredients.
With this recipe you mix:
1 part alfalfa meal
1 part fish meal
1 part greensand
1 part gypsum
1/2 part bone meal
1 tablespoon Epsom salts
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon kelp extract
and 3 cups water.
Mix the ingredients together into a quart measuring cup . Then pour the mix into a 2 gallon bucket or watering can. Fill the bucket or can with water and use it as a foliage fertilizer. You can also pour it around the roots. Give each small rose bush about 1/2 gallon. Larger plants can use a gallon.

Don Juan Roses
Don Juan Roses at our front door

I hope you find these tips and mixes useful for your own rose feeding plan. If you have any more tips or recipes and care to contribute, your suggestions and ideas are always welcome.

Roses are wonderful plants and worthy of our care and attention. To comment on Roland Browne’s statement…..Yes, nice people grow roses. But, I also believe that the time we spend caring for them makes us nicer and more caring folks. They can give us a better outlook on any of life’s situations.

Happy Gardening,
Dave and Trish

For more information:
Rose Growing Tips
Roses For Dummies
Growing Roses Organically
Diane’s Seeds
Gardening Online Magazine
Garden Guides



  1. I’m new at this. Where can you get greensand & gypsum? Is there another name for these? I’ve never heard of it. Is the alfalfa meal in pellets? Where would you get that as well. I have about 30 roses & have been using chemicals to spray & feed but I would really like to go organic. Your help would be very much appreciated. I live in Louisville, Ky.

    1. Hi Kathy,
      Thanks for asking the questions.
      I’ve only seen greensand available online. Both Lowes and Home Depot sell bags of gypsum for the yard. As for the alfafa meal in pellet form, try your local feed store. If you are lucky, the feed store may also have the greensand.
      Good Luck!

    1. Great idea. I’ve always believed in giving our plants a good cleansing shower every now and then.
      I had an old orange tree years ago and I would wash it down with soap and water from a hose end sprayer. That worked great for keeping the sooty mold at bay.
      Thanks for the tip!

    1. I’ve never tried using actual fish but I’ve heard the same advise elsewhere. Years ago, I used fish emulsion on some newly planted palm trees and the results were pretty good. A little smelly at first, but not unbearable.
      Thanks for the tip!

    1. Hi I am from South Africa where roses at their best between August right up toapril.
      We feed them with aspirin whole banana egg shell works wonders and yes spray your roses with baking powder and cooking oil.this also fights scales yellow spots spider mite.from
      Rai1@ansamail.co.za. Durban south africa

      1. Aspirin? A new one for me.
        Bananas and egg shells? More great ideas.
        Roses are great! From all over the world, folks love them, experiment with them, and find so many cool ways to take care of them.
        Thanks for your tips on how South Africans care for their roses.

  2. I have over ninety antique roses in my backyard. I would like a homemade fertilizer for my roses. I live in San antonio,Texas . What is the best climbing rose for our heat in summer? I’d like one that blooms all year, not just one time. Please answer this if you have the time.

    1. Hi Trisha,
      Thanks for commenting. I’m sorry that I am late in responding, but it was a beautiful weekend and I spent most of it outside. away from my computer.
      My goodness…..90 roses? With that many plants I would think that you could benefit from just about any of the recipes that I have listed in the post. Personally I like Sage Butterfly’s tip, in the comments below, with the bananas and compost. Good organic compost always seems to make things grow better, no matter what the plant.
      As for that perfect rose that blooms all the time, can handle the heat and not get black spot. ??? That’s a tough one for me to answer. Here in Florida, we have the high humidity and black spot to battle all summer. I think that’s why I’ve only ventured into growing the Don Juan roses.
      I’ve heard that Earth Kind roses, developed by Texas A&M University are supposed to do well in your area. There are about 6 different varieties. Here’s a link to more information about them. – Earth Kind Roses
      Good luck and please let us know which fertilizer program works best for you and if you have any luck with the Earth Kind Roses.
      Thanks again,

  3. Hi,
    im not sure if u will check this comment…still trying…i have a rose plant in my balcony. It had a big rose on it when i had bought it an year ago…almost…after 8months it had got another big rose…but again no flower since then…plant is v.healthy and grows fast…i put packet manure every month…thanks

    1. Thanks for commenting…
      The rose that was on the plant when you bought it does not count. Growers succeed when he/she produces flowering plants to sell.
      What type of rose are you growing?
      Does the sunlight it receives remain the same throughout the seasons?
      Does the plant look healthy?
      Instead of the manure packets, you might try some bloom booster (lots of phosphorous) or some well rounded rose food (organic and/or homemade, I hope).
      Let us know how it grows.

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Updated on February 16th, 2015