How to Care for Roses Organically

f you want to enjoy beautiful roses without using any chemicals to maintain them, you can!  Roses are among the most beautiful shrubs in our landscape and can require a great degree of care.  Here's a quick guide for caring for your rose bushes without any chemicals.

Step 1: Select a Resistant Rose Variety

Rose bushes vary greatly in their susceptibility to a number of pests including diseases (black spot, powdery mildew, cedar apple rust) and insects (japanese beetles love roses).  If you're just getting ready to plant roses, you might consider newer varieties that are easy to care for.  One brand that has minimal issues is a family called KNOCK OUT® Roses. They look great and are relatively easy to care for. Here's a picture of a typical KNOCK OUT® Rose.

Knock out Roses

If you're a rose purist, you may be more interested in heirloom varieties which can perhaps be more interesting but also more prone to insect and disease issues.  We can help you grow either, but the knockout's are a lower maintenance solution.


Step 2: Feed Your Roses Organically

Roses look best when they're fed regularly with a good organic fertilizer. We recommend using North Country Organics Pro Gro (Good Nature 5-3-4) and Pro Start to feed your roses for a good balanced feed. 

Early Summer (June/July) - Apply 10 lbs / 1000 square feet of Pro Gro 5-3-4 (Good Nature 5-3-4)

Late Summer (September) - Apply 15 lbs / 1000 square feet of Pro Start 2-3-3

Early Spring (March/April) - Apply 10 lbs / 1000 square feet of Pro Gro 5-3-4 (Good Nature 5-3-4)

Go Pro 5-3-4

Step 3: Suppress Rose Diseases Naturally

There are a couple ways to suppress diseases on roses without using any traditional chemicals.  Compost Tea and Organic Neem Oil work great on Roses and both help to form a protecting barrier that keeps disease from decimating roses.  You can brew compost tea at home with a brewer like the KIS Compost Tea Brewer.  Note, the only way compost tea can suppress disease at all is if it is brewed using aeration (Actively Aerated Aerobic Compost Tea) like the KIS brewer does.  If you just soak compost in water, it will not have the disease suppressing effect of the Actively Aerated Compost Tea.  This is because when you actively brew tea you are applying living organisms to the leaf surfaces.  Those organisms attach themselves to the leaves and make it difficult for the bad guys to attack.  Compost Tea can be a bit tricky to make, but it is worth the effort. 

If you're looking for a simpler but very effective way to suppress black spot and other diseases on your roses, consider an organic neem oil treatment.  Neem Oil works great to suppress powdery mildew, black spot, and other rose diseases.  As an added benefit, it also repels Japanese Beetles and keeps them from decimating your roses.

Step 4: Suppress Japanese Beetles Naturally

Japense Beetles eating rose plants

This is where neem oil shines.  If you apply neem oil regularly to your roses over the summer, it will repel insects like Japanese Beetles and minimize black spot and other Rose Diseases.  You can purchase Neem Oil in easy to apply hose end sprayers, or buy the concentrate and just add it to your own hose end sprayer.  We also offer a Neem Liquid Fertilizer which will give your roses a little boost of seaweed and humates along with the neem oil which makes a great regular treatment for roses. You can apply Neem Oil as often as weekly if needed during the high insect and disease pressure months of the summer but usually every 2-3 weeks during the summer is plenty to keep things in check.

Japanese Beetle diagram

Does Neem Oil Hurt Beneficial Insects or Bees?

Neem oil is an excellent natural product that minimizes insect and disease activity without negatively impacting beneficial insects or bees as long as you apply it correctly.  Neem Oil, like any oil, can have a smothering action on insects, so if it contacts insects (good or bad), it can kill them.  But, Neem Oil works mostly by being absorbed into the leaves and giving them a bad taste so that insects that would normaly want to eat the tasty rose leaves, like japanese beetles, don't want to anymore.  If an insect doesn't eat the leaves, it wouldn't be affected by neem oil so it has little to no effect on beneficial insects like lady bugs.  To avoid smothering any of your good bugs, apply neem oil in the early morning or evening when beneficial insects are the least active. 

So put away all the chemicals and take care of your roses organically this summer!

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