All hail the hardy hibiscus, with its numerous varieties

In late summer, when lawns and gardens are fading, the hibiscus comes to the rescue.

All hail the hibiscus! Late summer and early fall is when the shrubs in the landscape are weary and water starved. Rhododendrons may droop, evergreens look ever-boring and lawns are lacking green. So now is when every landscape needs a hardy hibiscus, the Hibiscus syriacus.

New hardy hibiscus are stars of late color show

Your grandmother may have called this stiffly upright shrub the Rose of Sharon but its exotic-looking blooms resemble its Hawaiian relatives, with huge open flowers. What has changed in the past few years to put this shrub in the spotlight are the numerous new varieties, from more compact hibiscus for smaller yards to plants with beautiful foliage for summer long interest.

Short and Sweet – Lil’ Kim Hibiscus

A “Proven Winner,” this compact little shrub grows to only 4 feet tall and has striking, white blooms with a dark red eye. It’s a great shrub for a patio pot because here in Western Washington, early fall is when our outdoor living is the most pleasant. Lil’ Kim will be showing off when the rest of your summer-weary annuals are fading away. Lil’ Kim also comes in a red and a violet form. Lazy gardeners will love that hibiscus shrubs do not need winter protection or need to be repotted every spring. Just plant in a pot at least 18 inches deep and enjoy for years.

Fancy Foliage on Sugar Tip Hibiscus

A taller shrub – up to 12 feet – this newbie has eye-catching, creamy white-and-blue-green foliage. The clear pink blooms resemble old English roses with their double petals. This would make a good specimen shrub perhaps among the hydrangeas that also bloom late into the summer.

Huge blooms on Chiffon hibiscus

An English breeder came up with these Proven Winners with huge, lacey blooms in subtle pastel shades. It’s a strong-growing shrub that can spread out to 10 feet wide and 12 feet high, so you’ll have a wall of color every September if you add this elegant shrub to your landscape. The petals are a bit wrinkled but light and pretty as chiffon fabric.

Garden Gossip about these naked ladies …

A hardy hibiscus does have issues. They stand naked and leafless almost half of the year. New hibiscus owners often assume their shrubs did not survive the winter as they fail to leaf out until late May or even June. Then, once the plants finish flowering in early autumn the foliage turns yellow and falls earlier than other deciduous plants in the landscape. For this reason hardy hibiscus are rarely used as hedging or screening shrubs. One idea is to grow them in large containers with early-spring bulbs or late fall color added to hide their naked, knobby knees.

Why do the buds fall before opening?

I get asked this question every year we have a warm summer. Hardy hibiscus drop buds before opening if the weather is too warm – like anytime the temperatures sneak past 90 degrees. They also have bud blast if the shrubs dry out, get overfertilized or are hit with a strong blast of wind. In other words, grow these plants where they are protected from the hot afternoon sun, water during a drought and use any fertilizer at half the recommended strength.

• • •

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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