Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pruning My David Austin Roses

"How shall I dare to tread upon the territory of the Rosarian? For nothing so exasperates the specialist as when the mere amateur comes along and blithers bright nonsense about his own ... pet subject ... . Therefore go I very daintily, for fear of the pruning knives of the National Rose Society banded unanimously against me." Brent Dickerson, The Old Rose Advisor quoting Reginald Farrer's In a Yorkshire Garden.

I grow about 20 David Austin roses, some grafted, some own root, and I have finally arrived at some elementary understanding of what I need to do with them at pruning time. This is by no means the definitive guide to pruning, but only a few observations on growth habits and pruning techniques. You can refer to My English roses post to see some bush shots in full bloom.

For the purposes of pruning, I divide all my English roses into two groups. Most roses in either group can be grown as free-standing shrubs or as climbers (at least in warm climates), and the grouping is based only on how blooms develop on individual plants, which makes pruning a lot easier for me.

1. Shrubby roses, with all canes terminating in blooms (somewhat like hybrid teas, but with a little more branching).

2. Climber-like roses, with lots of blooming shoots developing along main (basal) canes. These can still be free-standing shrubs.

Pruning the shrubby ones is mostly (but not always) straightforward.

Here is what my Sharifa Asma looks like pruned. I shorten all canes by about 1/3 and cut out the very weakest growth and any canes that grow inside the bush because they tend to die back. This is to me a much gentler pruning than I would do on a hybrid tea. It still blooms well and the blooms do not flop over. It does not send out long shoots and is one of those English roses, which, in my opinion, will not climb.

I prune my Heritage harder because it is a much larger rose (and I can't afford to give it all the space it wants to grab) and because canes are fairly thin and will droop if not shortened. I cut the size of my shrub by at least 1/2 and it is self-supporting this way, even though still floppy by the end of summer. This rose can make a good climber but I don't have room.

Geoff Hamilton is the reason why I say pruning shrubby Austins is not entirely straightforward.  It gave me easily 6' long basals with no branching. I cut the canes by about 1/3 to see if I can induce branching, but the only thing I got was a couple of tiny scraggly shoots a few inches long. It does not seem to take kindly to pruning. I no longer grow it.

The climber-like ones are the ones I like best. They are very generous with blooms,  every tiny twig is productive, and there is no dieback however little pruning I do.

To illustrate, here is a cane on Jude the Obscure. There are side branches at regular intervals all along the basal cane.  I leave as many of them as possible (which means pretty much all of them), and they all bloom. It does not seem to abandon even the weakest canes, and there is no dieback.

Pat Austin requires a little more work because the growth is more rampant.
It develops quite a few thin shoots inside the bush which I prune out not because they won't bloom (they will) but because I am too greedy to allow the rose to set bloom I won't see and because deadheading the inside of a prickly bush is not a task I will enjoy next year.

Because the growth is so dense, there is lots of damage from canes rubbing against each other. However, I have not seen any cases of severe canker, and not a single cane has died yet.

The more little branches I leave...

The more blooms I get in spring

Here is a cane on William Shakespeare 2000. I shorten all strong laterals till I am sure they can support clusters of heavy blooms, and remove the weakest ones because they sometimes die back.

Here is the whole bush pruned and still blooming.



  1. Thanks! Pruning intimidates me no end. These were very helpful photos and comments.

  2. Oh my, I love David Austins. I now have 9. Great post on pruning. I learned to prune by trial and error. Mostly error! Since joining my local rose society a few years ago, I get lots of practice now.....

  3. Thank you, Sandra and the Redneck Rosarian.

  4. very informative, thanks. Have you written anything about Summer pruning - I just gave my Pat Austin a good hard prune as I missed it flowering when I was away in May. Now I'm hoping that it will perform again. I might have over done it though


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