Unless your soil is fabulously fertile, some supplemental fertilizer is very nice for your roses. It inspires robust growth and more flowers. Also, a well-nourished plant is healthier and is thus less likely to succumb to stress, disease, or insect attacks.
Use an all-purpose garden fertilizer, because it has balanced amounts of N (nitrogen), P (phosphorus), and K (potassium). Fertilizers touted especially for roses — such as Rose Food — are fine but not mandatory. In spring, as the plant emerges from dormancy, you can water with a tablespoon of Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) dissolved in a gallon of water to promote strong canes.
Always water before applying fertilizer so the plant is plumped up and under no stress. Watering also helps deliver the food more evenly and more gradually. You can also water right after feeding your roses, to help move the nutrients into the root zone faster. Better still, water with a hose-end "deep root" fertilizer attachment.
Foliar (leaf) feeding is another way to supplement your roses' fertilizing program. Use any water soluble fertilizer, mix it up in a tank sprayer or sprinkling can, and apply so that it just drips from the foliage. This form of fertilizing is seldom sufficient for all the nutrient needs of roses, but it's a nice pick-me-up in addition to your regular fertilizing program. Fertilize early enough in the day so the water has time to evaporate — wet leaves can invite fungal disease.
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