This summer I am enjoying two hardy hibiscus plants in my Virginia garden. I planted them last year along the perimeter of the backyard where the water runs through like a river when it rains. It is a full sun, exposed area and the plants are blooming their heads off.
Hardy hibiscus plants (Hibiscus moscheutos) are native to the eastern United States and are common in swampy areas. They typically grow 4-5 feet tall with large hibiscus-like flowers. The flowers only last a day, attracting pollinators, butterflies, and hummingbirds. For years, several cultivars have been available with flowers in the white, pink, and red range.
My bushes come from a new series of eye-popping colors. I have Amaretto (salmon-colored flowers) and Bleu Brulee (lavender petals with dark red center) from J. Berry Nursery’s Summer Spice Hardy Hibiscus collection. This is a wholesale nursery but their website has a retailer locator. The collection has unusual flower colors – from dark red chocolate to cornflower blue.
My plants were very small when I planted them last summer but they grew quickly. In the fall, after the first frost, I cut the stems down to about 4 inches above the ground. They overwintered well but as with all hardy hibiscus plants, they were late to the dance. Just when I thought the bushes might be dead, I saw new growth at the base in May. The stems grew so fast that by June the bushes were about 3 feet tall (this series also is more compact). Now in July, they are covered in flowers constantly visited by bees. Hardy hibiscus plants are also deer-resistant, although I have seen some Japanese beetle damage on the foliage. I like their large flowers, especially since I can see them from the house. I have a few areas in my garden where there are depressions in the ground that remain damp after the rain or low lying areas through which rain water channels and hardy hibiscus plants are perfect for these areas. In addition, they thrive despite our heat and humidity and provide great color all summer long.
Lady in Black aster at Derwood, September 2014
I love participating in giveaways for gardening items and plants. Recently, I won a flat of fifty asters from New Moon Nursery, a New Jersey-based, wholesale company that specializes in Eastern native plants. The gift was actually a flat of any plant they had in stock and I specifically asked for Aster lateriflorus ‘Lady in Black’. I first saw Lady in Black last fall at the Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens at the Agricultural History Farm Park in Derwood, Maryland. I was struck by mass of pretty small flowers and the colorful foliage. Also known as calico aster, this particular type of aster grows to 3 feet, has purple black leaves, and blooms small, daisy-like white and purple pink flowers in September and October. Drought tolerant when established, Lady in Black is a low maintenance, native plant known for attracting butterflies but not attracting rabbits and deer.
Fifty asters in flat, September 2015
I was excited to get the asters but fifty plants! What was I going to do? I barely had the space for five let alone fifty! And even if I had the space, it was too hot and dry to plant in the ground, the small roots would shrivel up in no time. These plants were in a 50-cell, deep plug tray which means that each plant was only about 2 inches in diameter with a 4-inch depth. Planting them in the ground now during the current drought and high temperatures would only kill them. Yet leaving them in the flat all winter long would also kill them. For now, I put the flat in a place in the garden that received morning sun and afternoon shade to reduce the heat and stress and watered every few days. Later in the month, when the heat diminishes, I will plant all fifty in my melon patch, which is a new bed in full sun, but vacant now as melon season has passed. The little asters will live in the melon patch over the winter in a holding pattern (alive but not growing) while their roots dig down for moisture and insulation. In May, I will transplant most of them into small plastic containers and plant the ones I want to keep elsewhere in my own garden. So friends and family, next year I will be sharing about 40 native aster plants, lovely perennials with beautiful fall flowers!