Hooray for Hibiscus

When it comes to the word “Hibiscus” it can cause a hubbub of befuddlement for some understanding the broad descriptive terminology for what is a “Hibiscus?” It is a diverse genus of hundreds of species that are deciduous, perennial or tropical.
You then hear “Rose of Sharon” or “Althea” thrown into the mix and soon the bewilderment. The primary types of “Hibiscus” we enjoy in our yards and gardens are a “woody” hibiscus, an “herbaceous” perennial hibiscus and a “tropical” hibiscus. When they bloom in the heat of summer it’s “hooray for Hibiscus!” Here is a brief tutorial with pictures.

In August the giant dinner plate blooms of herbaceous Hibiscus moscheutos or “Mallow” hibiscus are stunning and a real showstopper. The plants grow to 4 to 5 feet tall and the blooms can be 6 inches to a foot across. They die back to the ground in winter and start slow in spring. But once warm summer temperatures arrive they are off to the races to wow admirers to their impressive blooms.

In July and August the “woody” type of Hibiscus blooms in abundance on trees and shrubs and is known as Hibiscus syriacus. It was given the epithet “syriacus” because it had been collected from gardens in Syria but is native to Asia. People commonly refer to them as “Rose of Sharon” or Althea. Good for late season flowering (July to September) it can get “leggy” as a woody landscape plant so it responds well to pruning.


And last but not least is the “tropical” Hibiscus we put out on our decks and patios or around the poolside in summer. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. The word “tropical” should clue you that we enjoy it outside in summer and have to bring it indoors as a “houseplant” in winter or grow as an annual and replace next year.


The Green Green Grass of Home

Summer in the city and the back of my neck is getting dirty and gritty. Your lawn is getting brown or shall we say has a summer tan? Heat and drought can move your lawn to a dormant condition. Here are some things NOT to do aside from the obvious don’t park your car on the lawn (heat tracks) or leave the kiddie pool in one place for a week rule (big dead circles). Camping tents or a bounce house can have the same effect. It is however a good time of year if you have decided to convert some turf area to a garden bed. Pinned black plastic will use the power of the sun to kill the grass over the next couple months without you having to dig it up. In September you will have an outlined bed with a lot less work to plant the garden of your dreams.

Using the power of the sun to create a new planting bed from a turf area

With stay at home orders I’m sure the home lawn is getting more traffic than usual.

With that in mind now that the heat of summer has arrived here are some things NOT to do.

Don’t mow during the heat of the day. High noon is not the time of day to mow for your lawn, you and the environment. Eat lunch instead.

Raise the deck. Scalping your lawn is never a good idea but especially in hot weather. You’ll stress out your lawn (heat stress) and encourage weeds to take its place.

Don’t bag the clippings. Leaf clippings provide both nutrients and moisture. Fine clippings are as much as 80% water. Whatever time of the year don’t mow more than 1/3rd of the blade per mowing.

Don’t mow with dull blades. Dull blades tear the leaf blades giving the lawn a yellow cast. It also makes the lawn susceptible to disease. Your lawn doesn’t want a bad hair day.

How Dry I Am

If your lawn has moved to drought induced dormancy it is turf’s natural coping mechanism. A healthy lawn can hang in there in a dormant condition for a while (up to 4 weeks).  Allowing natural dormancy is better than an occasional squirt and then stopping again. If drought conditions persist and lawn moves from a summer tan to a grayish-purple color then it’s time for “fescue 911” as in an investment in pouring on the water to re-hydrate and keep alive.

Don’t water during the heat of the day.  Morning is best and most effective.  Mid day a lot of waste will occur due to evaporation and wind.  Evaporation pulling moisture into the atmosphere and not the root zone of your turf. Avoid evening watering  as that will encourage disease especially in hot humid weather.

Heat Tracks

You can consider core aerating this fall and top dressing with organic material to improve the lawn’s future drought tolerance prospects.  In potting soils for plants a wetting agent or super absorbent polymer crystal are used to retain moisture There are also hygroscopic and humectants granules that can be applied to the lawn. They attract moisture like tiny “water magnets” forming microscopic droplets within the root zone.

Don’t use herbicides on the lawn when the temperatures are hot (85 degrees plus). The herbicides won’t be effective. Most weeds develop a glossy protective coating and will repel the herbicide. (Weeds are survivors). You also will burn the lawn using herbicides in hot temperatures.

Finally don’t do something just for the sake of doing something so it will make you feel better. If the lawn is under stress don’t feed it with fertilizer to try to force growth. Let nature take its course and feed once temperatures have lowered and things have normalized.  Lawn fertilizers will be effective when more temperate conditions once again prevail.


Moonlight gardening is more than a “phase” you’re going through so get “glowing”

I have been told I am a goal oriented, driven person, who moves quickly when there is a job to be done. I recognize the launching pad of these characteristics were embedded as a child and are not a phase I’m going through. I was born and raised in the Apollo moonshot dreamers generation, when you instinctively learned that, just like the space program in the 1960’s, three things were needed to get something done: 1) I would need a goal 2) I would need a plan (usually made up as I go) and 3) Not enough time to do it.

Moon rise over Muskegon Lake

One of my goals was to plant more white flowers and silver foliage plants for summer time enjoyment in the evening hours. As the evening skies grow dark and the moon rises above the horizon in the warm July night sky, white flowers take center stage perfect for use around deck and entertaining areas to be enjoyed after dark.  Moonlight gardens, a composition in white, have been grown and enjoyed through the centuries.

I still think Moonflowers are the star of the show. Moonflower vine Ipomoea alba is easily grown from seed. With 4 to 6 inch wide trumpet shaped flowers they put on a show as the blooms twirl open at dusk. A good sunny spot where they have an arbor, trellis, fence or deck rails to twine around will provide the support for a mid summer night’s show. They like Morning Glories need to be shown who is boss however. If given too much nitrogen or tender loving care they might be content to just vine aggressively with green foliage. Some water stress or neglect can often get them to start blooming. White Cosmos, Bacopa or White Roses are other good choices for deck side blooming. A splash of deer resistant soft foliage perennial Lambs Ear as a ground cover with Little Lamb Hydrangeas would show in the moon’s glow. Remember fragrance, some artificial light and natural light (fireflies) add to the enchanting environment. Now blend in the sound of crickets and cicadas and the stage is set for you to enjoy a midsummer’s garden. I would have to say that 3 favorites of mine for July and August in addition to Moonflowers would be pictured below complete with some packets of easy to grow Moonflower seeds. Left to right they are Angelonia, Panicle Hydrangeas and Diamond Frost Euphorbia.


Colorful Chaotic Coleus

Now that the weather is getting hot the colorful Coleus are about to put on a show in our containers. Coleus seems to take the approach the more chaotic the better! In hot weather they thrive. It used to be they were considered a shade only plant but with all the introductions in the past 10 years they love the spotlight and love the sun. Native to the tropics bordering the equator and with a botanical name like Solenostemon scutellarioides you’ve got to know they love summer time! Coleus were born to be in containers and put on a show. No waiting for buds and blooms these plants let the foliage do the talking. On a warm humid late June day I took my phone and snapped these random pictures of their response to heat basking in the sun. This is a Victorian parlor plant that has made a stunning comeback in popularity in the 21st century on decks and patios everywhere.


I’m feeling Bosky

I like feeling bosky. No not that unshaven feeling where you have the scruffy beard of a sailor at sea. That feeling when you are aware of the changing seasons because of deciduous shrubs and trees.

I’m feeling Bosky

adjective \ˈbäs-kē\
having abundant trees or shrubs

Landscape shrubs and trees are wonderful at marking the seasons of our lives. You might not realize it but deep down you like feeling bosky too. Plants help people celebrate the changing of the seasons.

In the midwest and the north we have very distinct and identifiable changes to all four seasons every year. For some they face it, for others they embrace it. Deciduous plants embrace the change of seasons moving from dormancy, to spring and summer blooming, to fall color and back to dormancy again. Fortunately dormancy is a reversible condition. Deciduous shrubs and trees both face it and embrace it and we are the beneficiaries of the gift of seasonal change that they exhibit. For me nothing says summer like the blooms of a Hydrangea.

Nothing says summer like Hydrangeas

People who pay it forward respond to a person’s kindness to oneself by being kind to someone else. That is how we pay it forward. In essence plants are natural givers too, they pay it forward.
Plants if given the benefit of a good place to root, a few nutrients, sunshine and water, they in turn provide oxygen, mood enhancing support, color, food, seasonal change, shade, wind block, protection, aroma, medication, flavor, flowers, scent, air cooling, nature therapy, privacy, wildlife shelter, canopy, ground cover, erosion control, pollinator nectar, building materials and much more.
Trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses, truly know the meaning of paying it forward. And flowering shrubs from Hydrangeas to Rhododendrons are seeing a resurgence in interest after years of herbaceous perennial dominance in design because of their sequence of bloom in the garden. Flowering shrubs can be low effort and big reward hard working plants for the homeowner landscape. When a rhododendron blooms it can be rewarding, your hydrangeas can make you a hero and your lilacs can be uplifting. A vibrant viburnum in bloom doesn’t ask much in the way of effort from its owner but every year delivers a knockout show. Landscape own-root shrub roses in a sunny spot make the world a brighter place in summer and fall and give far more than they receive with season long color.
Woody deciduous shrubs can be damaged in winter by ice and snow, exposure or deer, vole and rabbit browsing. For that reason adding some herbaceous perennials to the mix that act like shrubs in summer but die back to the ground in winter can be a valuable addition to your landscape. These perennials quickly grow large in summer making a visual shrub like impact adding gravitas to the scene. Because they die to the ground in winter, they are not subject to the animal browsing or winter exposure elements. My favorites are:
Ornamental Grasses
Baptisia known as False Indigo

Baptisia one of my favorite perennials in the landscape!

Perennial Hibiscus
Rudbeckia maxima
Large Hostas like Frances Williams or Krossa Regal
Aruncus known as Goatsbeard
Joe Pye Weed
Russian Sage

Acanthus known as Bear’s Breeches

My favorite flowering annuals for that summer “shrub-like” size would be Cleome, Amaranthus, Castor Bean, Nicotiana and Verbena bonariensis.