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, 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 8-15 feet tall and spreading to 10 feet, so give it plenty of room.
The leaves are large, up to 7 inches and resemble a maple. The coarse texture gives the plant a contrasting, eye-catching appeal from most other plants in the garden. The attention-grabbing 3- to 5-inch flowers begin in late summer and last through fall.
Gardeners everywhere love the changing colors of the blossoms, which are special in the horticultural world. The flowers open pure glistening white, and as they mature, they unbelievably change color to a burgundy red. While there are single-petal types, it is the double or rose form that I see most often.
After blooming, a round, hairy capsule forms, which dries, a trait that inspired one of the plants common names of rose cotton as the buds resemble the boll of that famous member of the hibiscus family.
The Confederate Rose requires little care. This shrub truly takes care of itself and is adaptable to most locations. It is cold hardy from zones 7-9 (some gardeners say zone 6). Choose a location with plenty of sunlight. Morning sun and filtered afternoon light is just superb, but they are so treasured in the South, I often see them offering up those glorious flowers even in the full torrid sun.
Rich, fertile, well-drained soil is needed for the lushest-looking specimen and to insure 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 drought periods are the most picturesque.
It 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.
The Confederate rose is easy to propagate by cutting in the spring. Moist sand is ideal, but almost everything works.
When you consider that the Confederate rose is drought-tolerant, low maintenance and has incredible flowers, you can see why it has stood the test of time and reached heirloom status.