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Be Careful - That’s Your Soil!

by Jolene Adams

ARS past president, Master Rosarian, NCNH District


As ‘custodians’ of a rose garden we are all trying to provide the best care for our Queens of the Flowers. We weed, we water, we deadhead, we do what is needed to protect these Lovely Ladies from insects and diseases - and then we wonder if they are getting enough to eat.

Are they hungry? Does that leaf look like it is showing a nutrient deficiency? Is that cane looking pale or limp or oh no...I have to fertilize my roses! They NEED me! But what should I feed them?


I would urge you to think this through: do you know the symptoms for the major nutrient deficiencies? Do you know if you have acidic soil or alkaline soil? Have you overdone it with the potting soil additions to the planting holes?

If your soil has adequate amounts of the three major nutrients (N, P, K), what happens if you add more? My colleagues at the College of Chemistry would tell you that overdosing on any of the main nutrients will actually harm your plants.

You need to pay attention to your soil texture (is it sandy or clay or in between)?

You need to learn the average pH of your soil (the nutrients are most available at slightly different pH levels).


You need to know what is in the bag/box/can/jug/bottle of plant food you intend to use and how it will affect the balance of the excising nutrients in your soil.


Yes - you can “poison” your soil with too much of anything. And then what happens to the micro-organisms working to break down the molecules of those nutrients so they can be diluted with the water in the soil and then move into the root hairs?


You don’t need to go back to College to figure this out - just get a soil test from a good testing lab. They’ll tell you what you have “down there” already and then what you might need to add.

Here’s how to prepare a soil sample for the lab: select the bed (or combine samples from all beds), mix it up, put the amount of soil the lab asked for into a container that can be sealed (baggies work too), send it to the lab.

You’ll be better prepared for answering the question you asked yourself - - - “what should I feed them?”


- Jolene Adams, retired from UC Berkeley, College of Chemistry

(No - I’m not a chemist, but I kissed one!)

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