Picture this: You enjoy growing roses and one of your beautiful rose plants is starting to turn up its heels. The leaves have been yellowing and falling and the shoots are starting to die off.
You don’t know what could be the problem. You give it a good watering every few days, but it doesn’t seem to be helping – in fact the rose plant just keeps looking worse.
It is often at this stage that you think maybe it needs some fertilizer. So you go get some rose food and spread that generously around the base of the plant. STOP. This is the worst thing you could do for it.
When growing roses, we think that when a rose plant looks poorly all we need do is give it some fertilizer. It makes sense to give it some nutrients we think – there may be something lacking in the soil. Before I became a horticulturist that’s exactly what I would have thought.
However when a rose bush is looking sickly the last thing it needs is fertilizer. You’ll just put an already stressed plant under more duress. You need to put on your detective cap and get up close and personal with your rose. Get your gloveson, take a small hand trowelwith you and have a good look at the soil it’s growing in.
At the drip line of the rose (the outer of edge of the plant) gently dig a small hole about 4 inches deep to see if the soil is saturated wet. Poorly drained soil can often be the problem when growing roses that have yellowing leaves which fall off and whose shoots die back. The soil can often have a really damp musty smell to it as well if it’s poorly drained.
If it was a disease like black spot or anthracnose, which can also cause leaves to yellow and drop off, you would notice black spots on the leaves.
What to do:
You can’t leave the rose bush there as it will eventually die from lack of air around the root zone – the roots rot and stop growing. Roses need air in their root zone as well as water for the roots to develop properly and be able to carry water and nutrients up to the rest of the plant.
If your rose is not looking too worse for wear relocate it to an area that has better drainage. Trim back the shoots to living wood and don’t feed it with any fertiliser until it’s re-established – at least not for a couple of months, and then only at half strength.. You could give it some extremely diluted liquid seaweed a couple of weeks after its relocated to give it a boost along, but make sure it is very much diluted.
Growing roses can be an enjoyable and rewarding hobby but when they start looking unhealthy don’t reach for more water or the fertilizer, go check the soil first.