Q. We’re looking for an easy-to-grow flowering shrub to plant in a corner, against an east-facing wall. It’ll get sun all day long, from sun up until at least four in the afternoon, every day. Roses are nice, but would rather not have to deal with thorns. Any suggestions for us? – M.C., Albuquerque
A. That’s easy, a rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus).
The rose of Sharon is a ridiculously easy to grow shrub for these parts. They are for the most part pest-free, can take quite a bit of abuse once they get established and take to pruning really well.
What I like about this “rose” is they are completely thornless, since they aren’t roses at all. This shrub is from the hibiscus family, those plants that we think of as tropical, wearing large open-faced blooms that one pictures stuck behind the ear of an islander.
This “rose” can grow easily in New Mexico from north to south, and grow well. They can take full all-day sun and will tolerate being in a semi-shaded area, too. But they really prefer sun.
The rose of Sharon can get large, upwards to 12 feet tall and easily six feet wide, but they can be contained by annual pruning each year if you want to keep them smallish. You will want to prune them each dormant period before they start to push the next season’s growth. So that means, if you want to keep it contained, you’ll need to prune when it’s cold outside during early-to-mid-February.
This shrub drops all of its leaves each year leaving the “skeleton” visible, making your pruning decisions far easier to see.
The best part of having a rose of Sharon in the landscaping is, of course, the blooms. They start to bloom in late June, and can continue flowering most all summer long. Then you get to consider the flower color, of which there are many to choose from. The blooms they wear are nifty to look at. When they open, they are about three inches across and do resemble the tropical hibiscus. An open-faced, five-petaled flower that has a prominent stamen structure in the middle. You can find plants that wear brilliant pure white blooms that practically glow. If you want a bit more color, there is a variety, Red Heart, that offers the white blooms and has a deep red center.
You can find plants sporting bright pink blooms, some that are a nice light purple color and reds to boot.
There are also varieties that offer what are called “doubles.” These blooms look like colored 3-inch-wide puff balls. Again, offered in the pale purple, pink and white spectrum of the color world.
Now a word of caution. At most big box garden centers, you will find tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis). These hibiscus are not the rose of Sharon I’m speaking of. These lovelies are tropical.
Sure, the tropical hibiscus can grace a patio potted in a substantial sized pot or grow as a happy houseplant, but this variety cannot, and will not, winter over if left outdoors during our winter months. Here in this clime they are considered annual plants unless you bring them in and treat them as houseplants.
So don’t get fooled thinking you have found a sturdy landscape shrub if you stumble upon the tropical hibiscus. Two big clues that you might be looking at a tropical will be first, the foliage. It’s usually a deep, deep green color, whereas the rose of Sharon’s foliage is usually not as vibrant. Green yes, just not deep green.
Secondly, the bloom colors offered on the tropical tend to the yellow, red, orange spectrum and look like the flowers you think of when dreaming of Hawaii. Nor do they tend to be available in the “double” puff ball bloom shape of certain varieties of the real rose of Sharon.
With that, I truly believe that a rose of Sharon would be a great choice for the space you’ve asked about.
Happy Diggin’ In.
Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to firstname.lastname@example.org.