For the second year in a row, my rose of Sharon looks like crap. Not all of it, just the side closest to the patio. Which stinks because that’s the side most visible when we’re chilling. I gave it the benefit of the doubt and hoped that with just a little more time it might finally pop. Instead, she pooped. Threats didn’t work either, despite the fact that they seemed to with the wisteria. Don’t judge me.
My mom gave me this as a 6-inch cutting about eight years ago. I see it and think of her. So when it took a turn for the worse last year, then again this year, I started considering possible causes and who I should blame for its demise. Since the dieback has only occurred on one side, I think it could be caused by too much snow cover. We shovel and pile it up along the edges of the patio. Rose of Sharon is sensitive and prone to rot, especially when it’s buried under feet of snow every winter. Problem solved. I think.
I’d been doing scratch tests on the branches for several weeks. Scratching a live branch reveals a green underlayer (if it’s alive) and is a simple way to determine if a tree or shrub is viable. Everything was green until the end of June when I scratched and got beige. Dead. By this point, half of the tree had leafed out while the other half that receives less sun exposure was naked. I held off thinking it might just be dragging its feet due to lack of light compared to the rest of the shrub. Rose of Sharon can be slow to leaf out each spring. It’s one of those plants that tries your patience and just when you think she’s a goner, POOF. She’s covered in a riot of swelling buds.
That was wishful thinking on my part, so I grabbed the loppers and got to work. After wiping the blades with Clorox bleach wipes to disinfect them, I started hacking away. By the time I finished, the shrub had a peep hole of sorts through the center. Several young shoots were emerging from the base so I’m optimistic about its chances.
How To Grow Rose of Sharon
Hybiscus syriacus, also known as althea or rose of Sharon, is a piece of cake to grow. Whether used as a specimen plant or in a mixed border, it adds tropical flare. When the rest of the garden is beginning to wane, rose of Sharon is just getting started and continues to bloom through late summer. Flowers can be either single or double depending on the variety and come in variations of pink, white, red and even blue. It thrives in USDA plant hardiness zones 5-9.
Full sun and well drained soil are all this deciduous shrub needs. Too much moisture or shade and it’ll let you know. At approximately 8-10 feet tall and 4-6 feet wide, it needs space. Because it blooms on new growth, pruning should happen in early spring so you don’t risk removing new buds.
It’s easy to shape and my only complaint is it’s ability to drop little rose of Sharon seeds everywhere. From what I’ve read, the only thing that seems to work is deadheading after the flower has shriveled. But this too is tedious, particularly when the bush has become quite large. I admit I have yet to do this and resort to hands and knees pulling and swearing under my breath as I yank these guys out every summer. The seed is comical looking. Sort of like a mohawk hairdo.
The U.S. National Arboretum has introduced four varieties that are sterile. They are ‘Aphrodite’ (pink with red eye), ‘Helena’ (white with red eye), ‘Diana’ (white) and ‘Minerva’ (pale lavender). Proven Winners also came out with ‘Sugar Tip’, a pale pink variety with variegated leaves. It doesn’t produce seed. Because of its prolific sowing ability, rose of Sharon is on the invasive species list of several states and the U.S. Forestry Service lists it as a weed.
Rose of Sharon is a Japanese beetle magnet. Fortunately, they’re easy to spot and release willingly with a little nudge. I fill a small container with soapy water and encourage them to take a swim. They breathe through their body so a soapy coating suffocates them and takes care of the problem without chemicals. This used to be a job for my girls when they were small but they’ve outgrown the task. I guess their idea of fun has changed. Go figure.
A fresh layer of compost around the shrub is all I do every spring and this drought tolerant shrub has delivered. I don’t even water it. Aside from the seeding issue, rose of Sharon is a pretty low maintenance shrub that comes into its own just when the garden needs it most.
Do you grow rose of Sharon? Have you tried any of the sterile varieties?