It is safe to say summer is in full swing. July and August are typically our two hottest months of the year. It is sometimes hard to find a good plant that is still blooming in this hot and usually dry weather. However, one with tropical-like flowers would be Rose-of-Sharon.
Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus, is also called Shrub Althea. It is a shrub that can be grown as a small tree or as a large shrub. It grows 12 feet tall and 10 feet wide in an upright shape. The three-lobed leaves of Rose of Sharon are alternately placed along the stem and 2-4 inches long. The two to four-inch-wide, dish-shaped flowers are tropical in appearance and have 5 petals. Rose of Sharon blooms from July through September, when many other shrubs have already completed their bloom period for the year. Most often the flowers are pink, but varieties can be found in red, purple, blue, and white and they often have a red center. Different varieties are available with flowers that are single and some that are double. The fruit is a brown capsule that persists through winter.
There are many great varieties of Rose of Sharon to choose from. You can choose for size of plant, size of flower, single versus double flowers, and color. ‘Diana’ is a selection that has large, pure white flowers and blooms for a long time in the summer, setting very little if any fruit. For those of you who enjoy blue flowers, ‘Blue Bird’ is a good choice. ‘Lucy’ is a selection that has red, double flowers. For the gardener that can’t choose, ‘Tricolor’ contains double flowers of pink, red, and purple over the entire plant.
Rose of Sharon is fairly easy to grow, needing minimal care. This plant prefers to grow in moist soil in full to part sun and prefers hot weather. It will tolerate winds and salt conditions in soil, but is best watered if drought conditions occur. It should be pruned heavily in the early spring to promote flowering. Shrub Althea is often planted as a specimen plant, in a massing, or as a hedge or screen. It does have a problem with Japanese Beetles, which is an invasive insect becoming more prominent in Nebraska.
Rose of Sharon flowers are edible and according to Colorado State University, have a mild, nutty flavor. It is a good plant to use if you enjoy hummingbirds, as they enjoy Rose of Sharon flowers for the nectar. Rose of Sharon is quite easy to propagate from cuttings off the branches of the original plant or from seed. The seeds can spread themselves throughout your garden. To keep this plant from spreading where you don’t want it, snip the seedheads off before they open up in late fall.
Rose of Sharon can be called many names, including Shrub Althea. It is a beautiful shrub with wonderfully tropical flowers late in summer to invite you outside when the weather seems unbearable. It is a close relative to the Hardy hibiscus that dies to the ground every year and even to tropical hibiscus that must be grown indoors during winter. Rose of Sharon is a great, hardy choice that grows large and blooms beautifully. So, the next time you look for a shrub for a massing or a border in your landscape, look to Rose of Sharon and choose many different colors and bloom types.