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Don’t diss hibiscus

Rethink these showy flowers

While it’s hard to imagine a plant with a 7-inch wide, dinner-plate size flower going unnoticed, there is one group of plants that often does. Hardy hibiscus is not that hard to find but has just never seemed as popular as its tropical counterpart. Perhaps it’s because this plant requires a long time to set flower buds and doesn’t start flowering until July. I think it’s more likely that in the spring when we are all shopping our local garden centers, the plants never have flowers and look a little weedy.

Though the hardy hibiscus is more the size of a shrub, growing 3 to 4 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide, it is in fact a herbaceous perennial and needs to be cut back to 3 to 4 inches above the ground each winter. It prefers to be planted in a sunny location with moist soil but is quite drought-tolerant for short periods.

Adding it to your perennial border will reward you with very large showy flowers from mid-summer to fall. The flowers of Cranberry Crush, above, are deep red, 7 inches across, and have slightly overlapping petals. There are many varieties available with equally large flowers, and flower color can range from white to pink or red. Peppermint Schnapps has beautiful soft pink flowers, Splash Pinot Noir has deep burgundy flowers, and Splash Pinot Grigio has white flowers with a pink eye.

The new growth on hardy hibiscus emerges later in the spring than I would like, and I often worry that my beloved hardy hibiscus is dead but it is not and returns each year. This plant has a very old-fashioned appearance or vintage look that is gaining in popularity. I think this is exciting because hardy hibiscus is fun to grow and brings big beautiful flowers to our summer and fall gardens. This spring, rethink adding a plant to your garden that you may have previously walked right past at your local garden center.

Shelly Nold from the October 2015 issue.

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