Cautions and Recommendations About David Austin Roses
David Austin roses are named for the breeder (David Austin who else?) :-) and this rose class is sometimes also referred to as the English Roses.
These are not old fashioned roses or old garden roses but rather they are new hybrids with characteristics of the older roses that make up their genetic heritage. And quite a heritage it is with Noisettes, Portland, Damasks, Teas, Hybrid Perpetuals, and Hybrid tea roses (to name only a few) as parents to this class. This is truly a hybrid rose.
Generally, the old roses were bred to newer roses in hopes of achieving the best of both worlds in a single plant.
Rose 'Graham Thomas' Courtesy Wikimedia
What is consistent across all of the roses produced by David Austin roses however is the fragrance. These are extremely fragrant roses and if you grow them for no other reason, you'll have them in your garden for their delicious smell.
What is becoming clear from garden reports is that there is a wonderful variability in the roses. Some of them do very well in the high humidity of the Pacific Northwest while others fizzle out when planted nearby. Some are fairly hardy into zone 4 and 5 while others are much more tender.
Local Knowledge Required
You will need some fairly good local knowledge to decide whether you can grow these in your own garden. I did find that growing many of them with deep planting techniques enabled them to overwinter comfortably in USDA zone 4.
In warmer climates, many of these roses also turn into rather large shrubs so do be aware that you are not growing a well-behaved hybrid tea rose when you plant one of these roses.
In fact, with some of the taller ones you can even grow them as climbing roses - here's how.
Rose 'Crown Princess Margareta' Courtesy Wikimedia
There is also a variability in the disease resistance factor in the plants (and this varies from region to region) so while a rose such as a sub-zero (Dr Buck hybrid) or Explorer rose will have exceptional disease resistance in every garden in which it is planted, David Austin roses are variable depending on local weather.
Pruning David Austin Roses
There is also the small matter of how to handle these roses when it comes to pruning. Because there is a wide variability in the growth habit of these roses, there is a wide latitude in how you prune them.
In general, if your rose is a:
Spreading type: then remove the top of the cane about one third of the way back in the spring to an outward facing bud.
Arching type: consider leaving five to seven larger canes each spring and removing the weaker ones. Take out all dead or third year canes (you only want second year canes and new canes growing in this shrub type of rose) Just to complicate things, if your rose is weak (feed it obviously) then let third year canes remain and only remove dead and fourth year canes. But get that rose growing properly.
Bush type: Remove dead and spindly growth. If shorter bush, remove one third of canes to an outward facing bud. If taller, prune as per arching above.
Upright bush type: A hard pruning is in order as per the arching above. Or, you can simply cut each remaining cane in half (always remove dead and weak first) to an outward facing bud.
And as a practical note. If you really don't know which one you have. Simply cut out the dead, dying and weak canes in the spring. Cut all others back by half to an outward facing bud. If you are really brave and or really looking for easy pruning, whack the entire rose bush off each fall. Leave six to eight inches of canes above ground to identify the rose location. Wait for the David Austin Rose to throw new canes each year.
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