By LeeAnn Barton Special to the NewsPress
What rose is tough, withstanding extreme cold and heat, drought and virtual neglect, all the while blooming throughout most of the summer?
Rose of Sharon is the one that fills the bill.
Rose of Sharon is the common western name of Hibiscus syriacus — even its species name is misleading, for this plant is native to China not Syria.
Chinese manuscripts mention this plant as early as the Zhou dynasty, 1100-220 B.C. Even in antiquity this plant was well known, being cultivated in neighboring Vietnam and Korea.
This hardy shrub was so widely planted in Korea, at one time the Chinese nicknamed Korea Chin Yueh—Land of Hibiscus. Later, Korea adopted the bloom as its national flower.
A deciduous shrub with rather plain green, three-lobed leaves, until it blooms Rose of Sharon is nothing to write home about.
But figure in its ability to adapt and tolerate just about any climatical condition and Hibiscus syriacus should be all the rave.
Flowers bloom as single or double forms in white, pink or lavender and usually have a red eye at the center of the flower.
Once grown from seed, double varieties are generally propagated from semi-soft cuttings in August and September.
Breeding continues to improve the selections; the most sought after being U.S. National Arboretum introductions. These triploids bear an extra set of chromosomes that produce larger, sterile blooms. For the gardener this translates into an extended flowering season.
Look for the names of goddesses: Diana, with single pure white blooms, Aphrodite, a single rosy-pink with a deep red eye, Minerva, lavender, ruffled with a red eye, and my personal favorite Helene, a single white bloom with a deep, red center.
Rose of Sharon can grow to 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide if left to its own devices.
Easy to train into a single truck or standard form, the shrub is one of the last to begin leafing in the spring.
I take the branches of my plant back by half in winter or early spring. Some prune even more severely, leaving only two or three buds on each branch to encourage larger blooms.
It is hard to go wrong when winter pruning, as it blooms on the new growth of the season. Avoid summer pruning.
Well-drained soil is a must. H. syriacus would rather be dry than have wet feet. Feed annually in spring or early summer with an all-purpose or high phosphorus fertilizer.