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Try Confederate Rose, a pass-along heirloom

Confederate Rose is an old-fashioned heirloom plant that is actually a hibiscus, not a rose.)
Confederate Rose is an old-fashioned heirloom plant that is actually a hibiscus, not a rose.) MSU Extension Service

Heirloom vegetables get their fair share of gardening attention, but many homeowners don’t realize that some ornamental plants are considered heirlooms as well. We often call heirloom ornamentals “pass-along plants.”

One that I’m becoming fonder of, especially in the later summer and through the fall, is Confederate Rose. This is an old-fashioned plant that is not a rose at all. It is actually a hibiscus that goes by common names such as Cotton rose or Cotton Rosemallow.

Confederate Rose is a wonderful plant that is really unknown outside the Southeast, where it has been grown in landscapes for many — and I mean many — years.

Confederate Rose is in its prime blooming season in late summer and fall, and these plants will produce literally hundreds of blooms per plant. As the older flowers start to fade, new ones open. On a typical day, there will be loads of flowers in varying shades of white, pink and dark pink. I love the 6-inch-diameter, double-form flowers.

When choosing a place for this plant in your landscape, first recognize that it needs full sun. Then consider the size of the plant, which is impressive at up to 10 feet tall or more. I think the best landscape use is as a specimen plant in order to properly display the gorgeous flowers, which bloom in prodigious numbers.

Confederate rose likes a consistently moist planting bed, but it does not like wet feet. The leaves are large and frequently start to look a little wilty on hot summer days, but the plant bounces back the next morning when gardenersmaintain consistent soil moisture.

Typically, this plant dies back to the ground after a hard frost, although it may overwinter in the extreme coastal counties. But don’t worry. Confederate Rose will emerge from winter dormancy to shoot up 8 to 10 feet or more the next season. Cut back Confederate Rose to 4 to 6 inches in late winter to accommodate the next season’s growth, which springs up from the roots.

The best time to take cuttings is in late fall, and here’s where the pass-along plant reference comes in.

Collect cuttings about 12-inches long, and remove all but the two uppermost leaves. Place the stems in a glass jar of water, and put it on a warm and sunny windowsill, avoiding direct sunlight. If all goes as it should, in about eight weeks the stems will develop nice sets of roots. At this point, the new plants can be transplanted into larger containers.

Keep your new plants in a sunny location indoors until later in the spring after all chance of frost has passed.

The Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi has specimens of Confederate Rose, and I am willing a share a few cuttings. If anyone is interested in collecting a cutting to try at home, you must EMAIL ME FIRST at gary.bachman@msstate.edu to make arrangements.

Gary Bachman is a professor of horticulture at the Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi.

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