Growing David Austin or other heavily-petalled roses in humid climates

After moving here from the arid Southern Nevada desert, I tried my first David Austin roses in Kennesaw, (North) Georgia. Lordy… They wouldn’t open (too many petals?), they were blackspot magnets (just not disease resistant?), they never held their heads up so you could see them in a rose vase (too many rain-soaked petals?). The worst of these problems are with David Austin roses. I’m probably doing something wrong, as they are ALL beautiful roses!
Since my new garden here, I have become a chemical sprayer, so it isn’t a lack of fungicides that allow the problems to persist. What can anyone suggest as a solution to this issue? (I’ve already shovel-pruned two bushes… and have my eye on another!). Thanks…

Hello there. David Austins can be difficult here in the Atlanta area. It is all about the “right rose variety”, in the right location. In my garden of nearly 500, I have only 4 David Austin Roses because of this.

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Thanks, Christopher! I’m curious… which four Austins do you grow? I still have Heritage, Carding Mill and Golden Celebration (growing as a climber). Heritage is good as a bouquet filler (at home), though the blooms don’t last long; Carding is finally making nice stems for cutting, and GC does well being grown against the house as a nice background plant.

The recently departed Abraham Darby was in a bit too much shade and subject to rain off of the bay window roof (without benefit of the gutter). Jude the Obscure couldn’t hold his head up long enough to have a picture taken! Way too many petals, I think, but beautiful.

Thank you for your comments! Glad to know it’s not just MY rose growing techniques!

I have Princess Anne, Lillian Austin, Charlotte, and Marinette. The Carter Center has Carding Mill and Jubilee Celebration. I like all of these, but they are still in my average performers category. Darcey Bussell does well for others in Atlanta. I’ve found that Claire Rose is one of the best for cut flowers. I know it’s frustrating, but it’s not just you!

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Thanks, Christopher! I feel better now! :upside_down_face:

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Many older DA Roses Blackspot terribly. I am up in New York City and our humidity is even higher. Many of the newer DA roses are not as terrible with this.

As for whether or not the blooms are nodding, this also depends on the variety. A lot of blooms on DA roses nod because they were bred to do this. They were meant to be grown as large trailing bushes and the nodding heads then look down on you. Newer DA roses are developed to be more compact and as such their heads stand up straight so they look up at you when you look down. A really good DA rose with this feature and really high disease resistance is The Ancient Mariner.

As for blooms not opening fully, I have not seen this problem in my area with DA roses but I have with Hybrid Tea roses. Too many petals and they rot from rain and morning dew before they fully open. Too few petals and they completely blow open and drop in summer heat of the city. The magic number of petals for traditional looking Hybrid Teas is 35-45 petals. Some with 30 petals like Gemini would do well but only because Gemini’s petals are very thick and starchy

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Thanks so much, Jason! You explained a lot of issues that I’ve been experiencing!

You said, “Too many petals and they rot from rain and morning dew before they fully open.” I have been asking locally if those light brown “spots” on the petals were a type of fungus I’ve never seen before. But you best described it as “rot from rain and dew”, and that seems like what I’ve seen. So is there something I should spray them with to avoid this “rot”? Or is it just gonna happen in periods of wet weather, etc.?

And yes, I agree with your description of the best petal count being 35-45! I never had this issue in Las Vegas, of course… Lots of petals were sometimes a bonus in the heat. I’ve been paying much closer attention to that as I look for new roses to plant in North Georgia. And yes, I grow Gemini which has done well in holding petals on the bush and in the vase, as well as on disease resistance issues. It did give up a few canes in our Dec 2022 - Mar 2023 freeze issues; nearly died back to the ground.

So here is a new question for you! I lost 3 roses (Secret, Firefighter, Kardinal) from the combo of our Dec 25-27 3-day freeze… no temps above 32 for over 72 hours; then a Spring freeze situation March 19-20 with lows in high 20s for 2 nights, but highs in 40s during the days. Still, the new foliage got nipped.

After that, 4-5 more bushes lost most of their canes but lived. So the question: What should I do with those 4-5 roses this year to promote lots more cane growth and improve their vigor? They include Gemini, Moonstone, Peace, Over the Moon, a 2-year-old Just Joey own root, and to a lesser degree Veterans’ Honor. Peace got moved to a sunnier spot. Hope that will help. (The bush is just not as vigorous as the previous Peace roses I’ve had…)

I’m really enjoying this forum! Hope we can expand it further! Thanks again for your responses.


My first question after reading your post was if your roses were properly winterized. Even in your area where it is warm, there is always a threat of deep freeze from polar vortex or a spring refreeze which is actually even more damaging to roses. At a minimum all roses should be heavily mulched in places where cold weather is possible in winter.

Of the three roses you mentioned that were killed, Secret is highly prone to death from spring freeze. If that bush is not heavily protected, it will almost surly die from a refreeze. The other two, Kardinal and Firefighter are very cold hardy in your area and should have made it as long as they were winterized.

To promote cane growth, roses need to be heavily fertilized if the soil is nutrient deficient. Sometimes the soil is simply full of nutrients but has the wrong soil chemistry which prevents roses from uptaking the nutrients. It is best that you first get a soil pH test. Roses need slightly acidic soil at about 6.3-6.5 pH. When my soils chemistry was off and was fixed, I saw rapid growth and new cane development.

Also we must keep in mind that some rosé varieties are simply not vigorous. Peace is one of them. I lost all but one cane last year in a flash freeze. It still has not recovered simply since it is a slow grower and just requires more patience. That may be the case with other rose varieties.

Also, sometimes the freeze damaged the bud union on grafted roses. In these cases you may end up with a rose that dies back to one cane and then never puts out a new cane from the bud union. What happens instead is that the remaining cane will usually thicken over time and form a new crown well above the soil line making your bush look almost like a tree. This is not asthetically pleasing but if the bush is productive then there is no need to replace it. Some people call roses like this One Cane Wonders. I have 4 in my garden like this.

As for the comment that Peace is not the same as Peace in the past, many people claim that this is true and there is evidence to support this claim. Overtime rose varieties slowly degrade because of mistakes made and mutations that occur when they are grafted millions of times over the last 3/4 century. This is a topic for another conversation.


Wow, Jason… thanks for your in depth response. Sorry it took me a while to respond… life, you know?

My problems MAY be insufficient winterization, because coming from Las Vegas I’m not used to MAJOR mulching over the whole bed. I have protected new plantings and such, but never had issues with established bushes. Secret was not protected… didn’t know she was so susceptible! Dang… I’ll get another… she’s a favorite.

As for the other two, I had purchased two bare root Firefighters when we planted the first rose beds in 2020. Both FFs were questionable; I dug one up and put it in a pot to nurse it… to no avail. This one in the ground was just never hearty either. I think that had a lot to do with why it failed in the double freezes. Too bad… a nice rose with great fragrance!

Kardinal was also a strange bush. I grew it in Las Vegas, where one spring at dead-heading time, it was SO FULL of blooms I decided to count them as I cut them off. I cut 111 Blooms… from ONE bush. Amazing. This bush in Georgia was not the same in any respect. It was spindly and gangly, medium sized blooms, and just not a pretty bush. It had some discoloration on the canes that I had never seen before… not really purple, but greys, pinks, etc. I think it had some kind of disease that rendered it susceptible to the cold winter.

It wasn’t dying, necessarily, but it needed to go bye-bye. I found another red that might have promise: Let Freedom Ring… does anyone grow that one?

ON THE pH FRONT: We’ve had soil tests through the extension services, each year since we built the rose beds. 1st year: 6.7, Native soil, before we had added roses or any soil amendments, fertilizers, etc. (I was impressed, coming from Nevada where that reading would have been 7.5 at least! I dumped sulphur on my rose beds in Las Vegas twice a year to lower the pH!)

2nd and 3rd years were 6.4 and 6.6; 4th yr squeaked up to 6.7. All of this is with no lime or sulphur adjustments. Another question here: Do the hand-held pH meters work adequately? I think one would be handy, but don’t want to spend the $$$ unless they WORK! Your thoughts?

Wow… I’ve prattled on, but I sure appreciate this forum to ask questions and gain knowledge about rose-growing! Thanks, Jason, for all your input… and I welcome any other contributors on these topics!

Jill Barnard

Jill, I live in Peachtree City, GA and have experienced all of the DA problems you describe. I believe DA is working on creating more disease resistant roses and Olivia Rose Austin is touted as one of them. This will only be its second year in my garden so we’ll see. The others that do the best for me are Princess Alexandra of Kent, Carding Mill, Lichfield Angel, and The Dark Lady. Unfortunately, all must be sprayed but they have great blooms and great re-bloom!.

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Thanks, Cindy, from Peachtree City! We’re headed there tomorrow for an airplane show… not necessarily an “air show”… just the planes. They have one of the only restored planes that my Dad conducted pilot lessons in just prior to WWII in California.

Funny you should mention Olivia Rose Austin, because that’s one I read about and had my eye on after I planted the whole garden. It’s still on my “wish list”, but I hesitate to get more DAs… so I’m happy to hear your positive comments about her. Can she hold her head up in the vase? And can she hold onto her petals for 4-5 days in the vase? (My tough criteria!)

Interesting that Carding Mill is on several “good” lists! Mine should be in fabulous form this year… looking forward to that!

Thanks again,

Unfortunately can’t tell you much about the blooms. My first year ones were few and unremarkable but that’s often the case. Have seen fabulous blooms from others so I have high hopes for this year.

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In my humid Birmingham, Alabama garden, I grow Queen of Sweden, The Alnwick rose (Alnwick Castle), Carding Mill, Sophy’s Rose, Boscobel, and Munstead Wood. These all do well for me, but they do need to be sprayed. I don’t think you can get Munstead Wood easily anymore. David Austin has retired it. I also just planted a new rose, Elizabeth, so I am looking forward to seeing how it does. All of these are fairly prolific bloomers for me, especially Sophy’s Rose. I used to have Olivia Rose Austin, and the first bloom of the year was breathtakingly beautiful, but after that, the blooms were far between, small, and washed out, so I gave it away. I do love these that I have.

How has Olivia Rose Austin been for you? I just bought that rose for my hubby for Father’s Day. I don’t plan on spraying it unless I see it is necessary. Now I need to dig that bed! Better get to work digging tomorrow. Thanks for any information you have to share!

Mine is only starting its second year. It is a fabulous grower, putting out long canes but very few blooms last year. I was disappointed because it didn’t look like all these fabulous photos I was seeing of big sprays. I think it was an own root plant so it will take a couple more years to reach its prime and I’m prepared to give it that. Cannot really speak to disease resistance since I sprayed it.

I have tried Jude The Obscure and Munstead Wood. Jude grows well but doesn’t bloom that much and blooms are too heavy for the stems usually. Great fragrance, but the blooms never truly open no matter if it is hot or cold outside. Cut blooms for the house actually close up rather than open up. Munstead Wood is an ungainly plant and mine has not shown much fragrance at all.

Both are being introduced to the shovel as soon as my Regan order arrives in the next few weeks. I tried them for three growing seasons and perhaps I won’t try any more Austins (although Lady of Shallot may be a future exception).

Lady of Shallot on Fortuniana rootstock and no spraying is doing well for me near Gainesville Fl. And its blooms are held upright.

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Sharifa Asma, Munstead Wood,Lady of Shalott,Jubilee Celebration, Abraham Darby and Olivia rose are beautiful here in my place near Atlanta. Golden Celebration and Desdemona not so much…Then I have a bunch of Abraham Darby as a parent and they all are doing great here!

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Ugh… with Abraham Darby as a parent, I would be very wary of these roses as Abe is a BS magnet in my climate.

‘Olivia Rose Austin’ was the Members Choice rose a few years ago. I really grows well my PNW yard. Quite resistant to fungal diseases that our wet climate is known for.

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