In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
September, 2012
Regional Report

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The hardy hibiscus 'Peppermint Schnapps' adds eye-catching color and interest to the garden in the late summer.

A Touch of the Tropics in the Summer Garden

As the summer winds down so does the flowering season. But there's one star in my garden that continues to add a touch of the tropics -- hardy hibiscus, Hibiscus moscheutos. Hardy hibiscus are dependable and do well in average garden soil. They really put on a show from late summer through September.

Unlike the shrub althea (Hibiscus syriacus), this hibiscus is an herbaceous perennial that dies back to the ground in winter. It is notorious for late emergence in spring, so be patient and try not to disturb the area where it is planted. I've found it is a good companion in the rose garden to add color when rose blossoms are lacking.

One of my favorites blooming now is 'Peppermint Schnapps' from Blooms of Bressingham. It is one of the Hibiscus Cordials series with huge blooms and is noted for its maple leaf-shaped foliage on plants growing to a height of 4 to 5 feet. I had the opportunity to plant several of these several years ago and they have returned season after season with eye-catching blooms in late summer through fall.

Since I live in the country, many of my perennials are subject to browsing from local mule deer. To date, these hardy hibiscus plants haven't been nibbled upon. To get the best flowering and sturdy stems, plant in full sun. Some of the specimens planted too close to a bur oak tree were dwarfed and the blooms were much smaller.

Hardy hibiscus prefer moderate to wet soils. I like to amend the soil with compost but have found that they do well in average clay loam as long as the soil is not allowed to dry out. In our semi-arid climate, it is a good idea to protect the taller varieties from wind to help reduce windburn.

In the rose garden, I've planted some of the compact varieties including 'Luna Pink Swirl' and 'Disco Belle Pink'. They typically grow 18 to 24 inches tall, but still produce dinner plate-sized blooms. They harmonize with the waning rose blooms and like the moderately moist soils that roses prefer. This keeps the rose garden filled with late blossoms.

To keep your hibiscus plantings looking fresh, deadhead the faded individual flowers. After a hard frost kills back the plants, cut the stems back to approximately two feet in late autumn. This will mark their spot, making it easy to remember where these late emergers are planted.

If you haven't tried hardy hibiscus, make plans to do so next year. They make eye-catching specimen plants, are dramatic when planted in groups, and can even be used as a temporary hedge. Since they like moisture, try adding them to a water feature, along the bank of a stream or pond.

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