Roses Flourish with Unique DIY Tonic

May 22, 2019 at 10:00 am by Lee Rennick


When I first moved into my house, I planted a rose garden. I had never planted roses before, so I bought the ones in the close-out bin that looked a little worse for wear.

No use spending a bunch of money on something that I might kill in no time. But I did one smart thing, I bought a book on the care and feeding of roses by a man named Jerry Baker. His series of practical yard and garden care books made all the difference.

Jerry Baker's Unique Rose Care

What made these books unique was that they were full of “home remedies,” recipes for tonics and other blends used to feed and nurture roses and other plants made from household items. His mixtures used things like vitamins, whiskey, dish soap, and weak tea to produce nutrients and preventative elixirs to make plants grow strong. The first year I used one of his concoctions on my roses, the straggly and weak-looking plants, shot up the side of the house rising over 14 feet. And they were not climbers.

Starting A New Rose Garden

A number of years ago my husband became ill and my time was spent taking care of his needs. Unfortunately, the roses got neglected for the nine years he was ill and became unwieldly. They had to be torn out.

 I am starting over. Once again, I began with rather pathetic end of season plants I purchased for five dollars each. One of them didn’t make it over the winter, but four of them are thriving. The secret? Baker’s nutrient mixes and tonics.

Tested Tonic Recipe

Here is my take on the tonic I have used for years on the roses. I give it to them once a week and water regularly. I have been known to substitute a half a can of warm beer for the whiskey if that is what I have sitting around. It works, too.

Lee’s Rose Tonic

One gallon of strong tea

One vitamin dissolved in warm water

One jigger of whiskey

One tablespoon of dish soap

Mix the above together in a pot. Then take a fifth of the mixture and put it into a one gallon watering can. Add water to the top. Soak each plant. I pour and count to 30 when it is still cooler, and as the summer gets hotter I will count to 50 as I pour. You want to really soak the roses with the tonic. The rest of the week, water daily. I water at night. I feed the roses from May until October.

Diggin' in the Dirt

Prepping the hole where you will plant the rose is also important. Baker suggests digging a hole that is twice as wide as the root ball, and one and a half times as deep. Then he adds a hand full of Epsom salts, two to three handfuls of gypsum (if you have clay soil), and a handful of bone meal. He covers this blend with some compost and manure in a cone shape. Before placing the rose into the hole, loosen the dirt round the roots slightly. Place it in the hole at the top of the cone shape, pulling the roots down the cone. Fill in with loose soil. Make a little ring around the stem of the rose to create a small reservoir. Soak it well.

Family Rose Secrets

Roses love slightly acidic soil. My father used to have an amazing rose garden. He’d take the rotting apples from our crabapple trees and place them around the base of the roses. If you make your own compost, throw in a few rotted apples.

After a few days, the dirt will sink in around the stem. Add a little more soil, and then cover with mulch. Mulch keeps rose roots moist during the summer and warm during the winter.

Success Once Again

Looking out over my rose plants, now pregnant with blooms, I remember my grandfather also having a lush rose garden. Maybe it’s in the genes. Maybe it is the magic elixirs. Maybe some of both. But, regardless, I look forward to adding a few more roses to my garden this year and having a bumper crop by the end of the summer.

 Good luck to you on your rose garden, too! Hope these recipes help.

Sections: Voices


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