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Rose of Sharon, Texas sage are great summer bloomers

Q: I’m looking for a summer-blooming shrub. It can get big if it wants. I do have the room. Being water thrifty would be a good thing, too. Could you suggest a couple for me? – H.S., Albuquerque

A: There are two shrubs that come to mind that are both in bloom now around town and when taught to live that way can be considered fairly “water thrifty.”

First is the Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens). This easy-to-grow, rabbit-resistant shrub is classified as an evergreen so you get that as an added bonus. The foliage is usually a cool green-gray color in smallish tear-dropped leaves. But it’s the blooms that rock with this plant. I’ve heard this plant called the “barometer plant” because as soon as the humidity levels start to climb with the advent of monsoon season, that’s when Texas sage explodes into color.

You can find different varieties of the Texas that can have pinky-purple blooms; some offer magenta-purple flowers, while others have a cool lilac-lavender color. It seems that the whole plant gets covered with flowers; not just a few on the tips. The Texas sage, when in bloom, is a huge colorfest.

Tending a Texas sage is easy, too. The most important thing you should do for a Texas is to never keep them very wet. If fact, too much water is usually fatal to the plant. Now, that doesn’t mean neglect them completely; just don’t water consistently. They’d rather stay on the dry side of life.

The Texas sage can grow to a height of 5 feet tall and easily 4 feet wide. But they really look forward to a reduction pruning each spring just before the new growth comes on. I have a pair of sages that get lopped back to a smidge under 3 feet and just with this season’s growth they are standing at 5 feet tall already. If you like them big, plan on eliminating a few of the older, more established internal trunks every other year to keep them actively growing and happy. Oh, don’t fertilize them often or regularly either. It causes rank, unhealthy growth. These guys like to deal with the earth the way it is.

My second thought is the Rose of Sharon. This easy-to-grow shrub, in the hibiscus family, will easily get to a height of 8 feet, no problem. The leaves are a good green color and the bloom choices are as varied as our sunsets. The common Rose of Sharon shrub wears 3-inch across, flat-faced, five-petal flowers with a large yellow stamen in the very center and look very Hawaiian. Through hybridization, you can even find double-petal blooms that look like powder puffs.

But it’s the colors that amaze. There are varieties that sport blooms in shades of purple, blue-purple, pink, red and brilliant whites, while some have red eyes in the center of the bloom giving a deeper more exotic look to the flowers.

All you need do to care for a Rose of Sharon is offer sun and water. They aren’t truly xeric but they aren’t water hogs either. A healthy Rose of Sharon would like to be pruned each year, in the late fall, or certainly by early spring if you choose to keep it contained, but left to their own they can be a large, easy-to-grow shrub, especially for a summer bloomer.

Hope this helps get your search started and know there are several other summer bloomers out there that could be just what you’re looking for, so waltz through a nursery and see what you can see. Happy Digging In!

Need tips on growing your garden? Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your garden-related questions to Digging In, Rio West, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103.