Every year during the first full week of August, the horticultural marketing firm of Proven Winners conducts their Summerific® Week celebrating the perennial hibiscus moscheutos and its many cultivars.
You can follow posts on Instagram with #SUMMERIFICWEEK, and there are even prizes to be had for various categories.
It’s a great marketing program to help inform gardeners of the value of this incredibly durable North American native that can sport blooms the size of your face in late summer when lots of other plants have pooped out. But first, here’s a quick review of the genus hibiscus.
Perennial hibiscus, like most all perennials, wakes up in the spring (in this case usually very late, sometimes not until June even), and grows rapidly, coming into bloom in late summer with 9-inch flowers, and then of course dies back and goes dormant for the winter.
Shrubby Hibiscus is a woody plant from China known around our parts as Rose of Sharon. It can grow 6 to 12 feet tall, and it blooms later in the summer with smaller 3- to 4-inch flowers.
Tropical hibiscus are also shrubs but unfortunately they are not winter hardy in our part of the world. Grow them as summer “annuals” and, if you like, bring them in as a house plant for the winter.
Getting back to the perennial hibiscus: For years, the only varieties available to gardeners were Lord or Lady Baltimore, two 6- to 8-foot-tall gawky forms that only sent up 2 to 3 shoots and usually lost most of their leaves by the time they bloomed in late August, or sometimes not until September. They were homely, to say the least, and a tough sell for garden centers.
All that changed with the breeding work of Walters Gardens and the marketing genius of the Summerific® brand from Proven Winners. These new introductions grow into a multi-branched plant that tops out at around 4 inches wide by 4 inches tall and is absolutely covered from head to toe with nonstop blooms all through late summer. Many of these new guys also have attractive dark black foliage that provides a stunning contrast to the flowers.
To successfully grow these perennial hibiscus, two elements are critical: full sun and constant moisture. They need the heat to both warm up the soil to wake them up in the spring and to support their rampant (at least an inch per day) growth in the summer.
In the wild, they grow in wet or even boggy areas, so constant moisture is in their DNA. Don’t let them dry out or the foliage will burn and they will abort their flowers.
They can tolerate flooding in the winter so if you have a “rain garden,” try some in the bottom for a summer accent. And don’t forget, they wake up late, so don’t give them up for dead.
August is prime time to view and purchase these stunning perennials and most garden centers should be well stocked. We actually have a dozen different flavors to choose from. Here are a few to consider:
‘Ballet Slippers’: Huge 7-inch ruffled flowers are white with a deep red eye, with petals that are edged with blush pink. These feminine flowers are produced all over the polished, upright, shrub-like clump of bright green foliage.
‘Candy Crush’: Huge 8-inch bright bubblegum pink flowers with a near-black, dark red eye are produced all over the upright columnar habit of rich, bright green leaves.
‘Cherry Choco Latte’: Very large 8-inch to 9-inch flowers are white with deep pink veining and a notably large eye. Attractive dark olive-green foliage forms a compact airy clump.
‘Evening Rose’: Huge 8-inch puckered hot pink flowers cover a round, dense habit of near black foliage. A must-have statement piece for your garden!
‘French Vanilla’: Huge 7-inch to 8-inch creamy custard yellow ruffled flowers. Deep green leaves form a compact habit.
‘Holy Grail’: This is truly a special hardy hibiscus. Incredibly dark, near-black foliage hold 8-inch to 9-inch deep red flowers.
‘Airbrush Effect’: 8-inch to 8½-inch vibrant pink flowers with salmon tones have an airbrushed central white halo and a small dark red eye.
‘Blackberry Merlot’: 8-inch rich, deep velvety red flowers are produced above a tight, upright habit of deep green leaves.
‘Starry Starry Night’: Incredibly dark, near-black, broad, maple-like leaves form an upright clump in the landscape. Interesting 7-inch to 8-inch flowers are pale pink with darker pink speckling and veining.
Despite the recent heat and perhaps some “gardening fatigue,” August is still a great month to plant and introduce new gems into our landscapes. If you are looking for that illusive year-round interest that so many of us covet in our gardens, you have to consider perennial hibiscus. This is quite possibly the only time of year you will find them in the garden center. Carpe Diem!
Steve Smith represents Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at email@example.com