Caring for Your English Roses

Tips from David Austin Roses on pampering your petals.
David Austin pink rose 'James Galway' (Auscrytal)

David Austin pink rose 'James Galway' (Auscrytal)

A gorgeous David Austin bloom: 'James Galway' (Auscrytal).

Photo by: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

A gorgeous David Austin bloom: 'James Galway' (Auscrytal).

David Austin English roses are popular around the world for their beauty, reliability and ease of care. If you’re a gardener whose yard is heavily shaded, like mine, don’t despair. Susan Rushton, the English-based company’s head of marketing, says there are plenty of these roses we can grow, even without full sun.

“It may seem surprising,” Rushton says of the popular roses in the gallery below, “but all the English roses listed will be absolutely fine in partial shade, with around five hours of sun per day.”

“In the hottest areas of the U.S., the roses might even appreciate a little shade from the midday sun."

But remember that roses can’t flourish in deep shade, or if they’re planted too close to trees. Tree roots will compete for the water and nutrients the plants need to produce big blooms and healthy foliage. 

Partial shade can cause your roses to stretch toward the light, “making them a little taller than they would otherwise be,” Rushton says, but that’s not a concern for those of us who just don’t have much sun, anyway. 

If you’re a “newbie” when it comes to roses, Rushton suggests starting with a crimson-red ‘Benjamin Britten’, pink ‘James Galway’ or apricot-colored ‘Lady of Shalott.’

“These are all vigorous shrubs, so perfect for cooler areas,” Rushton says. “They would also be wonderful if trained to grow as climbers in warmer areas of the U.S. In fact, in warmer areas, it can be quite a challenge to keep ‘James Galway’ growing as a shrub, as it is such a vigorous plant."

Once you start growing roses, you’ll find that many types—from shrubs to climbers to ramblers—can be quite long-lived. “You may not know it,” Rushton adds, “but you have what is marketed as one of the world’s oldest roses in the U.S .in Tombstone, Arizona. I saw it last year, though it was sadly not in flower at the time. They have pictures of it going back to the last century. However, a rose in Germany supposedly beats it hands down—it is said to date back to 815 A.D.!” 

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Rushton’s Tips for Healthy, Happy Roses

  • Water a container rose well shortly before planting. If using bare root roses, soak the roots in water for a couple of hours or even overnight. 
  • Always prepare the soil well. Dig in plenty of well-rotted compost, manure, humus or organic matter, especially if your soil is light.
  • Mulch using compost, bark chips or manure.
  • Water until your rose is well established. A regular, deep watering is much better than a daily trickle.
  • Feed your plants once or twice during the summer using a good, slow release fertilizer.  
  • Deadheading your roses can be very relaxing and is a nice habit to get into. This keeps them tidy and can also encourage better repeat flowering.
  • If your plant is very vigorous and is getting taller than you prefer, it is fine to summer-prune after the first flush of flowers, instead of deadheading. Cut back up to 18 inches, leaving a few inches to produce fresh new shoots.
  • When pruning shrub roses, don’t worry about the complicated rules you might have heard. In the first year, cut the stems back by about a third. In subsequent years, prune the stems to about half their length. Step back now and again to check that you are creating a well-rounded shape.
  • When pruning climbing roses, simply reduce the previous year’s flowering shoots by about 6 inches. Tie onto a support as needed, allowing plenty of room for the stems to expand as the rose matures.
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