It’s Tea time for Your Roses!

by John Goldsmith, Consulting Rosarian

This simple recipe is all you need to fertilize your precious roses.  We have been using it with very good results at the Marin Rose Society’s public rose garden in Ross, Calif. This organic compost tea (no synthetics!) uses such ingredients as alfalfa pellets, liquefied fish and seaweed fertilizers, Epsom salts and water. Information on where to buy these items appears below, followed by the recipe.

Where to buy

A 50-pound bag of alfalfa pellets can be purchased for about $15 from an animal feed store such as Arena in Novato. Pellets are a whole lot cheaper than the “alfalfa meal” that you see at the garden center. Make sure the pellets do not contain molasses or sugar (which may attract ants) or the alfalfa containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or enriched with vitamins. Alfalfa assists in new growth; it provides nitrogen.

Fish and seaweed liquid fertilizers can be bought at most nurseries. Make sure both fertilizers are the “liquefied” version.  Neptune and Maxicrop brands are approved by the Marin County Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program (MCSTOPPP) and Our Water-Our World agencies. For Marin County retailers, try Sloat Garden Center, Green Jean Garden Supply in Mill Valley or O’Donnell’s Fairfax Nursery.

Use plain Epsom salts that can be found at most pharmacies. Use is optional, though, and is needed only once or twice a year depending on salt content in soil. Native Bay Area soils are known to be naturally high in salt, so have your soil type tested by a lab to better understand its mineral content. Epsom salts assist in healthy canes and strong root development.

Putting it together

This inexpensive “steeped tea” is nontoxic, easy to apply and is packed with microorganisms that are good for the plant and the soil and can be used throughout your garden. Your roses will love you for it!

10 Cups alfalfa pellets (animal feed grade)
1 Cup liquefied fish fertilizer (Maxicrop or Neptune brand)
1 Cup liquefied seaweed fertilizer (Maxicrop or Neptune brand)
1/4 Cup Epsom salts (optional)
1 bungee cord (optional)
trash can with lid (33-gallon; clean, leak proof)

Pour all ingredients into a trash can that is on stable ground near the area to be fertilized. Add water from the garden hose on full-blast, filling to the top of can. The water pressure will help break down and mix oxygen with the materials. Secure trash-can lid tightly, perhaps with a bungee cord to keep out curious visitors such as raccoons. Steep the tea at least 24 hours but no longer than four days. Occasionally stir with a shovel or a paddle to mix oxygen with the ingredients to prevent the tea from becoming anaerobic. This “liquid gold” will have a distinct, earthy odor that will dissipate within a day or two. The fermented concoction will show a foamy consistency and will be slightly warm in temperature; it is now ready to use.

The best time to apply it is in late March for the first-bloom cycle and then again in mid-to-late summer to replace missing nutrients and to promote new roses for the duration of the year. Be sure to irrigate your plants before applying the tea. Damp soil allows for an easier and more efficient nutrient uptake. Use 1 gallon per plant, pouring slowly for each rosebush and avoiding runoff.  Use less for miniature roses or roses in pots. To avoid getting leaves wet, apply to earth directly at the base of plant. Any leftover sediment (at the bottom of the can) can be distributed around the garden.

So, enjoy the green foliage, lush bloom cycles and healthy, vigorous plants!  I would love to see some personal “before” and “after” photos of your roses.

Email me at Lastly, for more rose related information, visit Good Luck!

All photos by John Goldsmith

Scroll to Top