Fall in the roses

The Goddess explains how to put those beauties to bed to ensure spring splendor

by The Garden Goddess


ello fellow earthlings, I can't believe that it's almost Thanks- giving. The winter madness is also almost upon us. It has been a really good year in many of your gardens and I hope that this column has guided a few of you into the realm of pesticide and chemical fertilizer free gardening practices.

While I usually answer questions, for the first time I have a question to ask our local municipalities: If so many San Diego residents are becoming aware of the toxic runoff caused by chemical use in their personal properties, why can't you start a program that will slowly wean our parks and public spaces off of those same chemicals? Golf courses are beginning to get a clue about the environmental consequences of harmful pesticide use, as well as the impact those products have on employee health and insurance costs.

This particular Goddess is tired of beach closings and the beautiful bay that is basically a toxic waste dump. If you need helpful, objective advice, I suggest that you call the Garden Goddess. I will get my network of Goddii together to help you detox our parks so that the future generations of "America's Finest City" have something to brag about.

You readers know that I'm about positive, fun solutions to our gardening dilemmas that are environmentally friendly. It kind of bums me out to have to scold the people steering the boat before nature does it herself. Sermon over, let's stroll in the rose garden for a while...

Fall in southern California is a pretty busy time in the organically maintained ornamental garden. A lot of different projects, from that final lawn feeding to grabbing the last few tomatoes, are the chores of the day. During all of this activity, it's also time to take a look at those rose bushes that gave you all of that enjoyment and fragrance starting around March and did not stop until this month. It's time to reward those gems of the garden while preparing them for an even better spring in 1998. The steps are easy and the cost is low and some of the ingredients may even be free of cost.

The following is an abbreviated version of the Goddess' fail proof rose elixir for fall. You won't have to do a thing to the rose garden until early January after this little exercise. So let's do it!

The first step in the fall treatment of your roses is to count how many bushes you have. This will help to save time and confusion when you go to the garden center to pick up the materials to make the sauce.

Second step is to actually do some math. For each rose bush you will need the following:

  • 1/4 lb. Sulfate of potash magnesia (Sul-Po-Mag)
  • 1/4 lb. Soft rock Phosphate
  • 1/2 lb. Kelp enzyme (Kelzyme)
  • 1 cubic foot of organic compost or mulch

The Sul-Po-Mag and the Soft rock Phosphate can be found at Grangetto's farm and garden supply in Escondido, Encinitas, Fallbrook, and Valley Center; in San Diego, or go to Walter Andersen Nursery and ask for Dale or Ken.

Kelzyme is produced by Environmental Health Sciences in San Diego, 619-338-9230, ask for Doug Snyder. The organic compost or mulch can be found at any garden center, including the ones mentioned above. Those of you who are making backyard compost can use that or call your local waste management firm and see if they have a mulch/composting program for the public.

Once you have obtained sufficient raw materials for the roses, it will be time to have some real fun. Let's do some science first....

(Note: The minerals that you are about to apply to the rose garden perform a number of functions that take too long to explain here. However, if you really want the full low-down, call me and I'll be happy to fax or e-mail the detail science.)

Sulfate of potash magnesia is a naturally occurring combination of elements that have a number of effects on your soil and roses. The sulfur helps to lower the pH of the soil and is also a necessary element in the process of photosynthesis. The potassium helps to build sturdy plants with a resistance to certain fungi (powdery mildew and rust). The magnesium is a necessary element in the process of cell division plants cannot grow larger without an ample supply of available magnesium.

Many "rose experts" suggest that to get magnesium you should apply Epsom salts to the soil. Please do not do this. We have salty water, salty soil and salty air. No plant needs that much salt. High-salt fertilizers are one of the problems facing farmers in the central valley who have created toxic soils from the use of high salt products. Please do not listen to these people; they'll poison your entire yard if you let them. They're the same people that told the farmers to kill their soils.

The soft rock phosphate will provide phosphate to help achieve the blooms that you want over a longer period of time than with the frequent use of chemical fertilizers, and it is a natural product as well.

I'm most excited about the recent availability of Kelzyme to the public. Farmers have known about this product for a long time. It is actually used as an animal feed for supplying lots of valuable nutrients to livestock at a low price. Plants, and especially roses, benefit from these elements as well. Environmental Health Sciences is a small local company worth supporting. Their product makes plants grow and the high calcium in the product is slowly released so you only need to reapply about once a year.

The mulch/compost adds organic material to the soil and creates a vapor barrier so that water cannot evaporate as it does from exposed soils. That's enough science, let's get back to the garden...

Now that you have got all of these products back to your garden it's time to apply them. The minerals are mixed at the rate of:

  • 1 part Sul-Po-Mag
  • 1 part Soft rock Phosphate
  • 2 parts Kelzyme

Apply them at the rate of 1 pound per rose bush around the drip line of the bush, or inside about a two foot circle around the bush.

Then you mulch each rose with the compost/mulch at the rate of one cubic foot of compost/mulch per rose, covering the minerals.


Water the entire rose garden thoroughly and sit back and wait for pruning time and that first bud of spring and the hundreds of disease resistant roses that will follow in all their natural splendor. Next time we'll be discussing the need for lots of mulch on the ground to prevent costly erosion problems due to El Niño rains. Come up and see me sometime.

 Got Questions? Call the Garden Goddess at her garden helpline, toll free (888) 514-4004 or e-mail her at gdngodsmill.net The Garden Goddess is a trademark of The Organic Gardener's Resource and Design Centre of Encinitas.