Richard Bogren, Owings, Allen D.
News Release Distributed 05/10/13
By Allen Owings
LSU AgCenter horticulturist
HAMMOND, La. – Althea goes by the scientific name of Hibiscus syriacus. When they look at althea, most gardeners are reminded of the hibiscus family, to which this popular, Southern heritage plant belongs. These plants are also known as rose of Sharon.
Altheas are native to Asia and were widely used in Europe prior to being brought to the American colonies in the 1700s. They have long been considered durable landscape shrubs.
Althea can be used as an attractive, deciduous hedge or as single blooming specimen plant. They reach heights of 10 feet and are outstanding bloomers from late spring to early fall. Flowers are very attractive and come in shades of white, pink, red, lavender and purple. And the flowers are edible, too.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture had a major breeding program with althea in the 1970s and 1980s. Aphrodite is a USDA variety release from 1988 and is a Louisiana Super Plant for this spring. The variety has clear pink, heavily ruffled petals. And a prominent, dark red eye spot radiates along the veins to the mid-petal.
Aphrodite was chosen as a Louisiana Super plant because of the larger-than-normal flowers and the long blooming period – from early May through Labor Day. Peak flowering performance is longer and the quality of flowers is better than other popular varieties. Plants are sterile – they don’t produce seed – which allows for a long flowering time.
Plants grow erect and do well in a variety of soil types. But they do best in a sandy loam with a pH of 5.5-7.0. Flowering is heavier and growth is more compact when the plants have eight hours of direct sun daily. Shading from nearby plants will produce a taller plant, but slightly less sun is acceptable for a long-term location.
Pruning is recommended for late winter because blooms will only appear on new growth. Flowers will only last a single day; however, they are quickly replaced. Soil moisture is important to ensure constant blooming, so mulch your althea and provide regular watering during dry summer periods. Fertilize annually in spring after new foliage growth commences.
Aphrodite althea is the last of the spring 2013 Louisiana Super Plants to be announced. It joins Little Ruby alternanthera (Joseph’s coat) and the Bandana series of lantanas as must-have plants for your spring and summer landscapes. Louisiana Super Plants for this fall year will be announced in October and November.
Louisiana Super Plants are promoted to generate interest and awareness of these outstanding plants. Information is available through a wide variety of media. Look for information on Louisiana Super Plants in newsletters, magazines and newspapers and on television, radio and the Internet (www.lsuagcenter.com/SuperPlants). In addition, look for signs by Louisiana Super Plants selections at your local nurseries. Much of the trial work on Louisiana Super Plants is conducted at the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station.
You can see more about work being done in landscape horticulture by viewing the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station website at www.lsuagcenter.com/hammond. Also, like us on Facebook by going to www.facebook.com and typing Hammond Research Station in the search box. You can find an abundance of landscape information for both home gardeners and industry professionals.