A Gardening Journal

Swamp Mallow Summer to Fall

Cherry-red flowers of swamp mallow begin in August, and the last blooms might not appear until November.

 

Hibiscus coccineus Broussonetia 090717 640

 

Mallow stems are colorful, too: Burgundy in summer, they turn salmon as frost nears, and keep up the show until the deep freezes of winter.

 

Hibiscus coccineus Broussonetia 090717 stems 640

 

When just "in stem," Hibiscus coccineus is easy to use, because burgundy and salmon play well with many other colors. But it's difficult to find harmonious companions for swamp mallow when it's in bloom. Coccineus means red, but the red of this perennial's flowers is really cherry red. Alongside the oranges and scarlets of potential red-garden companions, it looks too pink, but with roses and pinks, it looks too red.

 

Instead, this perennial performs best when it has the stage to itself. I also keep in mind that whenever stems of a deciduous plant become colorful after they've shed their leaves, the show is even stronger when that plant is used en masse. So each spring, I completely fill a half-height stock tank out in the middle of the lawn with large pots of swamp mallow. True to its common name, this perennial thrives in shallow water; all summer long, the stock tank is easy to top up with a weekly bucket or three. Plus, in such a maximum-moisture situation, the mallows can grow tall and thick without danger of dehydration. More height and more stems mean an even stronger show of color.

 

By now, the mallow's six-foot stems are leafless as well as flower-free. But colorless? Hardly!

 

Hibiscus coccineus 110417 640

 

Hibiscus coccineus isn't reliably hardy this far north—and, certainly, not in above-ground containers. Before Winter's worst arrives, I move the pots into the frost-free shelter of the basement.

 

First, I'll cut the stems off at ground level; they become increasingly brittle in sustained cold and, by then, would tolerate little movement without snapping. Completely durable as long as they aren't jostled, the harvested stems provide handsome height for a dried arrangement the rest of winter.

 

Flowers in summer, colorful stems in fall, and sculptural exclamations in a vase all winter: This perennial provides three exceptional seasonal peaks in a row. What other perennials can match it? The white-flowered swmp mallow, for one. Below, I've set my potted colony of Hibiscus coccineus 'Moon Moth' in front of the tank of the straight species. 

 

Hibiscus coccineus Hibiscus coccineus Moon Moth 110417 640

 

By fall, the same lack of pigment that makes Moon Moth flowers appear white is also evident in their stems: They are pale green, not salmon-pink.

 

Hibiscus coccineus Hibiscus coccineus Moon Moth 110417 closer 640

 

 

Here's a look at how well the purest-white flowers borne by Moon Moth mallow go with lavender and blue.

 

Here's how to grow 'Red Flyer', a hybrid of Hibiscus coccineus with H. grandiflora. The hardiness and handling of H. coccineus are similar.

 
 
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