Ask the Gardener

Ask the Gardener: Butterfly rose is a hardy performer

CorrespondentMarch 8, 2013 

Butterfly rose, China rose, 'Mutabilis'--all of these names are for the same rose, which is a real beauty.

UNKNOWN — Courtesy of L.A. Jackson

I saw a rose at a gas station in central Texas last year that had multicolored flowers, and I really liked it. The lady behind the counter told me that it was a butterfly rose. Do you think it could grow in North Carolina?

Laurie Moore

Cary

Butterfly rose, China rose, ‘Mutabilis’– all of these names are for the same rose, which is a real beauty. And, yep, this shrub rose likes calling North Carolina home. It usually reaches about 6 feet high and wide, but can be restrained with annual prunings in the late winter. This rose blooms from spring until fall, and it puts on quite a show. Young flowers open sulfur yellow and then deepen to an orange or intense pink before finishing in a handsome crimson, giving the effect of multicolored “butterflies” flitting around the bush. Very pretty!

As you could probably guess from seeing it at a Texas gas station, it is a tough rose, too. It is disease-resistant and can be made even more so in this region if you plant it in a sunny spot that is open enough to provide ample air circulation. Although it is not uncommon to find in area garden shops, if you have a hard time locating one, Witherspoon Rose Culture ( witherspoonrose.com) in Durham usually has it both online and at their store.

That purple ‘flower’ plagues homeowners

I have noticed low-growing plants out in farm fields down from my house that have purple flowers. The broad, colorful sweeps they paint across the fields are quite lovely. Could you possibly tell me what they are?

Phyllis Murphy

Raleigh

If you spotted these flowers just recently, my guess would be that you were admiring henbit, an unwanted weed (to most folks) that shows off small purple blooms in the late winter to early spring, and, in open fields or disturbed grounds, typically in masses. As a second guess, I will also mention purple deadnettle, which is closely related to henbit and looks similar. To homeowners in search of that ever elusive goal of pristine swaths of grass-only lawns, the sight of these purple sprites during the dawning of a new spring invading their turf – not an uncommon occurrence ’round these parts – conjures up another four-letter name. Gardeners who see this plant as a dastardly besmircher of idyllic lawns can deal with it by either pulling it up or spraying with a broadleaf herbicide early in the spring.

Reuse your newspaper in the yard

I was thinking about using my newspaper leftovers for mulch around my plants this growing season, but my uncle told me that the ink from the paper would seep poison into my plants. Is that so?

P. Taylor

Raleigh

Twenty years ago, I would have backed up your uncle big time, but now, most newspapers have replaced petroleum inks with soy- or water-based printing products, meaning their papers should be safe – and efficient – as mulch in the garden. But don’t fall victim to the ol’ “too much of a good thing” syndrome and use a whole Sunday edition around one plant. In general, laying a thickness of three to four pages of newspaper around plants will usually be enough to discourage weeds through the growing season, but not too much to prevent beneficial rains from soaking down into the plants’ root zones. I use newspaper as mulch all the time – minus the pages containing my columns, of course – but to make it more effective and to keep my garden from looking like an explosion from a printing press, I also add a couple of inches of organic mulch – decomposed leaves or bark – over the paper.

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. Send your garden questions, including the city where you garden, to: askthegardener@newsobserver.com.

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