Late summer and fall can be a special time in the garden if you have planted one of the most-loved heirloom plants: the confederate rose. It has been around so long you might think it’s native.
As you probably know, however, the confederate rose is actually not a rose. Botanically speaking, it is known as Hibiscus mutablis and is native to China. It grows as a large shrub or multistemmed tree reaching 8 to 15 feet tall spreading to 10 feet, so give it plenty of room.
The leaves are large, up to seven inches, and resemble a maple. The coarse texture contrasts with most other plants in the garden. The three- to five-inch flowers begin in late summer and last through fall. The flowers open pure, glistening white and as they mature, they change to a rich burgundy. There are single-petal types, but I most often see the double or rose form.
After the plant blooms, a round, hairy capsule forms. When it dries, it resembles the a boll of cotton, inspiring one of the plant’s common names: rose cotton.
The Confederate Rose requires little care. Adaptable to most locations, it is cold hardy from zones 7-9. Choose a site with plenty of sunlight. Morning sun and filtered afternoon light are just superb, but these flowers are so treasured in the South that they are often offered up even in the full, torrid sun.
Rich, fertile, well-drained soil is needed for the lushest-looking specimen and to ensure a spring return in colder areas. Soggy wet winter soil may prove fatal. Though they are drought-tolerant, those that are well-fed and given supplemental water during droughty periods are the most picturesque.
This plant looks best as a freestanding specimen that is allowed to grow, with minimal pruning, into a natural oval shape. This means keeping foliage almost to ground level. In warmer, mild climates, the lower foliage can be pruned allowing for a tree form specimen.
It is stunning in a large sweeping bed with blue-flowered duranta, spring-blooming forsythia, fall-blooming mums and buddleia. Propagate by cutting in the spring.