June Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Althea, Rose of Sharon

I can't believe some of my Altheas are already blooming. Althea, also known as Rose of Sharon, usually blooms here in mid-Summer. I love this plant, but I am always thankful for the blooms that usually come in July and August. I'm not sure what to think or how to feel about this. Although I am always grateful for blooms, I can't help but I wonder what I will have blooming in July and August. For that, I guess, I'll just have to wait and see.

Althea is an old-fashioned shrub that grew in gardens of our grandmothers, but it is seldom sold in modern day garden centers. This deciduous plant will grow 8 feet tall or more and blooms reliably even in full shade. 

Blooms can be large or small and come in shades of pink, red, lavender, white, and even blue (still looks lavender to me.) Flowers can be single or double, and they can be quite large.

Rose of Sharon is very easy to grow. Although its botanical name is Hybiscus syriacus, and it truly is in the Hibiscus family, Althea will grow and bloom quite well in dry conditions. I have some in the woods that never receive any supplemental water, and they have grown to be quite large. These water-starved shrubs bloom just as well as the ones I water regularly.

Althea is a popular shrub in old gardens of the South, but it can be grown all over the United States. This old-fashioned favorite is hardy in USDA Zones 5-9. It tolerates air pollution, heat, humidity, and salt air. And if you don't have much shade, you should know that Hibiscus syriacus, like any hibiscus, will grow in full sun too. Here in my garden, the most beautiful altheas are growing in a spot where they receive morning sun and afternoon shade.

Since it blooms on current season's growth, you'll have more flowers if you prune it back hard in late winter or early Spring. Pruning them probably would have kept mine from blooming so early this year, since they started blooming in Spring! I made a note to remind me next year.

Although Althea loses its leaves in Winter, it still makes an excellent privacy screen, since it leafs out very early in the Spring. Foliage is dense on this tall shrub. I love it at the property line, where it helps to screen out the neighbors, but it makes an excellent foundation shrub too, as long as it is not planted in front of a window.  With so many bloom colors and types available, one could plant a very long privacy screen using different bloom colors.

Many new cultivars have been developed which claim to not set seed, but I must be honest and say that most of mine are reseeding anyway. Apparently they did not read the grower's tag! Perhaps due to our long summers after the bloom, they do have time to set seed here. To prevent unwanted seedlings, prune just after flowering instead of waiting until winter.

My red-blooming Althea, Amplissimus, has blooms that are a deep pinkish red and very fluffy like flowers of a hollyhock.

Blooms on Aphrodite resemble a hibiscus flower. Large single blooms are deep pink with a red eye.

Althea Blushing Bride is probably the fanciest one I have. Fluffy bicolored blooms are a soft pink with a dark burgundy center.

Diana has pure white blooms that are very large, but is not blooming this year and probably won't . Someone ran into her with the lawn tractor and tried to prop it up as if I would not know. Last year, I measured blooms that were 5 inches across!

Minerva will bloom a little later, since it is planted in deep shade. 

If you are looking for an easy to grow, low-maintenance shrub that blooms in Summer, you won't be disappointed with Althea.

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