The Hibiscus For You if You’d Prefer Not to Have Hibiscus Hedges

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Remember this photo from last Wednesday? This is a lovely hibiscus syriacus called Sugar Tip and not only does it have variegated leaves but it has double flowers. The double flowers are sterile so they don’t have that tendency to self-sow the way older varieties do.

There’s an “improved” variety of this plant as well called Sugar Tip Gold that has even more variegation in the leaf.

I am of two minds about this plant. I love the fact that its sterile and doesn’t seed itself all over my property. But I do see bumblebees all over it. I hate to see them wasting their time for a plant where there’s nothing for them.

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Still, there’s no denying how lovely this flower is!

A Good Day’s Work

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Remember this? What I want you to notice are the weeds in the stone patio. And that’s not as bad as they got either.

You might have noticed that you could barely see my Little Joe joe pye weed because of the weeds in last Friday’s post. It’s been pretty bad around here while my arm is healing.

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Thankfully one thing got addressed this past weekend. After a couple hours of weeding, this patio, and a bed along the back of my house, along with the bed that adjoins this patio, are relatively weed free.

The Spoiler was priceless. He asked what I was going to do to get the weeds out. I made a pinching motion with my thumb and index finger. He just shook his head and said “wow. ”

In all honesty, some of the weeds were so robust that they took my whole hand–and on occasion both hands–to get out. Luckily those were easy enough to pull or I think that I might have ripped open my arm!

Now I have to tackle freeing up that poor joe pye weed!

Non-Native Shrubs for Wildlife

This may look like an out of control mess (more about what’s actually gone on here in a moment) but this wild hedge of hibiscus syriacus actually serves a wonderful purpose. As you might actually be able to tell from this photo, the land approaching this garden–which is not mine–in a slope. You can see the hibiscus flowers lying on it.

My neighbor mows it with a riding mower. For years I struggled with this garden and with painfully hand pulling the grass that his riding mower threw into the garden (actually it was the grass seeds, which then germinated–but I digress). Now that I have the Great Wall of Hibiscus, it fairly impenetrable.

Ironically, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. (And in another digression, isn’t this what gardening is all about? Happy accidents–and some not so happy ones?) That huge white hibiscus you see is one that was sent to me as a test shrub. It is called Lil’ Kim and was supposed to be 3-4 feet tall.

So, as I always say, plants can’t read–but in this case, Lil’ Kim apparently reverted to her parentage, whatever that was.

Here’s the true Lil’ Kim. You can probably tell that her foliage is more delicate and her flowers are smaller than anything in that gargantuan hedge.

By comparison, here is her “reverted” sister, parentage unknown. Same color scheme, same type of flower, just much larger.

So why do I let this behemoth stay? Simple–the wildlife love it. Bees and hummingbirds adore it. The fact that it has created a hedge from the grass clippings is an unintentional bonus.

And you might have noticed some purple hibiscus in my photo too. Both these plants, when they self-sow, occasionally throw off purple seedlings. I let them stay on the idea that purple is a desired wild life color.

Here’s a close-up of the the “purple” one. I guess it’s more lavender. Anyway, I like it. Coming up in the kolkwitzia, it makes it look as if it’s blooming a second time–almost.

Nativar Little Joe

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Because I have been gardening at my home for over 20 years, I often don’t have room to add a really big plant. The native Joe Pye Weed can get up to 6 feet tall and make a clump of about 4 feet wide. It takes quite a garden to have room for a plant like that!

Luckily the breeders–who are doing a “Honey I shrunk the shrubs” thing with just about every plant imaginable–have come out with two smaller cultivars. Remember, smaller is a relative term when the plant you’re starting with is 6 foot tall to begin with!

I chose “Little Joe,” which is still going to get 3-4 feet tall and perhaps up to 2 feet wide.  The plant you are looking at is only in its first full year–and remember the rule with perennials: the first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, the third year you reap (and I have added my own part to that which is, the fourth year, you dig and divide!)

So this plant is just barely becoming established. By next year it should be double its size and the third year it should be full sized.

There is a second “dwarf” cultivar called ‘Baby Joe.’ It has darker foliage and stays smaller yet: 2-3 feet tall, but about as wide. So remember, this is still not a tiny plant.

But for those without meadow gardens, these “nativars” might be just the thing!

Native versus Nativar

I won’t even wade into the definition of what a native plant is. That alone can be fairly controversial. And people who love native plants have different ideas about them.

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What do I mean? I might say that I am growing native plants and I might be referring to my echinacea. A very strict constructionist would say that coneflowers are not native to Connecticut and therefore I can’t consider them native.

To me, that’s silly–but I do know people who will only plant regionally appropriate native plants. Bless them.

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Other folks might be growing the double form of coneflowers–these photos are of a neighbor’s plants–and still consider them native.

Technically these double forms are considered “nativars.” That’s a cute form of native and cultivar, combined.

But here are things to consider when planting these types of plants.

First, what is your goal? Are you just planting ornamentally? If so, plant what you like and what will be hardy for you.

If you are planting for wildlife, consider how closely the nativar mimics the native plant. In the case of the coneflowers, the “cone” is replaced by petals. So there is no place for insects or butterflies to nectar. That’s not a good “mimic.”

On Friday I will show a different nativar that maintains the attributes of its parent.