Rose Garden Rescued by Compost Tea

Norma Bonilla, from Soilove, volunteered to help apply compost tea at Morcom Rose Garden.

When things are overly stressful, a good shower, a good, nutrition-filled meal, and curling up under a thick blanket – makes all the difference.

With the help of 35 volunteers and Malibu Compost, 5,000 roses were pampered in just that way.

And the roses thanked everyone by getting their mojo back. Biodynamic compost tea and compost saved an historic garden.

Volunteers work in the garden

The flowers that call Oakland, CA’s historic Morcom Rose Garden home, went through some stress due to changes in their care. The garden, built in the 1930’s as a public work project, – and recently rated among the top 10 rose gardens in the US -  had experienced staffing cuts. The roses lost their spunk and situation was so dire that the garden feared loosing their AARS certification.

“Full of diseases like powdery mildew, black spot and rust, the roses looked very stressed,” said volunteer coordinator and head of Oakland Municipal Gardens, Tora Rocha,  “There were very few leaves.  And the sheen was missing from the leaves.”

Tora reached out to a volunteer group called the Dedicated Deadheaders and asked folks at Malibu Compost for help.  Malibu Compost’s organic products include Bu’s Blend Biodynamic Compost and Bu’s Brew Compost tea.

To begin the transformation from spindly to spectacular, Malibu suggested a foliar spray of tea made of biodynamic, composted cow manure. After working with the soil, it was determined the roses needed added nutrient. Watching the tea being brewed, Tora dubbed David Perkins from Malibu the ‘Gandolf of soil magic’.  Volunteers spent days spraying the roses.

Roses improved within weeks after compost tea was applied.

Multiple friends attest to the benefits of foliar feeding of good compost teas on roses.  Soil scientists muse that spraying compost teas on leaves of plants help fight a myriad of diseases and fungus. Roses – while most beautiful – often attract more than their share of problems. The manure tea spray started the transformation at Morcom.

“Within in weeks, there was non-stop new growth. Leaves regained their sheen and yellow leaves became deep green,” said Tora.

“There is no better method of providing beneficial nutrients to your roses, garden and indoor plants than through foliar spraying and direct feeding of their roots with 100% natural composted manure, “ said Annie Haven of Authentic Haven Brand, a producer of organic manure and alfalfa teas in Southern California.  Haven suggests insisting on organic composts to avoid adding unwanted chemicals to your soil.

Following countless hours of nurturing from the volunteers and other friends of the gardens, including Malibu Compost founder Randy Ritchie and several staff, the condition of the garden was reversed and the roses are back to beautiful. Yes, a good spraying of composted poop provided nutrients and micronutrients and injected life back into plants that were limping along. Next came the application of 40 yards of donated Malibu Compost. Tora said the roses have regained their natural energy and the gardens are truly alive.

David Perkins and Randy Ritchie at Morcom.

The application of tea and the top dressing of compost will start a natural cycle that will also heal the soil. The old school method of dousing fungicides and pesticides on roses, was employed at Morcom routinely over fifty or more years and depleted the Morcom soil of microorganisms. While the garden has been organic for many years now, Tora is dedicated to improving the health of the soil with organic matter and composts – which will resuscitate soil life and create an improved long-term soil environment for the roses.

At this time, the roses are now prepped and ready for their next round of inspection to ensure their AARS certification.  Importantly, roses that have been grown in this garden from many, many years are back to their full glory and capable of thrilling visitors to the garden. It’s all thanks to a good shower, sustainable nutrition and a good compost blanket to help keep them fed and comfortable.

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About the Author

Laura Mathews

Laura is a garden writer and photographer. She writes online content for gardening websites, writes for gardening publications and blogs for three gardening blogs. Her interests are local food, organic gardening, backyard homesteading and native plants. She assists gardening related clients with social media. And occasionally, she'll offer a solicited opinion as a garden coach.


  1. I am so happy that the roses have come back, the community has come together and Tora is back in charge of the roses she has loved and nurtured for years. Nice job Laura. I hope other corporations and people will come to the aid of projects like the Morcom Rose Garden in their neighborhoods after reading aticles like yours.

    # Posted on July 24, 2012 at 7:11 pm by Randy Ritchie
  2. So glad I was able to share this story! Great story of what hard work and love can do. Thank you!!

    # Posted on July 24, 2012 at 8:02 pm by Laura Mathews
  3. Wow. This is fantastic news…that roses can thrive without all the chemical inputs! Yay!

    # Posted on July 26, 2012 at 9:46 am by Dru
  4. Tora’s talents reach far beyond the Rose Garden. The City of Oakland is lucky to have her. Please support her in anyway you can.

    Thanks to all who give so much love and respect to the Morcom Amphitheater of Roses. Your support warms my heart.

    David Skinner
    Head Rosarian 1982-96
    Park Maintenance Supervisor Retired

    # Posted on July 27, 2012 at 2:27 am by David Skinner
  5. Your article motivated me to learn more about biodynamic gardening

    # Posted on July 28, 2012 at 3:16 pm by Lupe Munoz
  6. how great is that tea. i like it and good post.

    # Posted on August 2, 2012 at 8:43 am by Bloomingdale Garage

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] A report in Punk Rock Gardens details how the Morcom Rose Garden is benefiting from an infusion of much needed nutrients donated by Malibu Compost. Their products include Biodynamic Compost and Bu’s Brew Compost tea. Malibu will be returning to the gardens on Saturday August 11 for a second tea application. Additional volunteers are always welcome. Incidentally, Malibu Compost is now available at Grand Lake Ace Garden Center. [...]

  2. By Morcom Rose Garden Featured in Punk Rock Gardens on August 8, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    [...] Read full article Filed Under: Press Volunteers! You can now track your time not just at the Morcom Rose Garden, but at other Oakland Parks and locations. _______________________ _______________________ [...]

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