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Originally published Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 5:30 AM

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Nurturing hibiscus, enjoying beautyberry in all seasons

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris explains how perennial hibiscus can thrive in Western Washington, and sings the praises of beautyberry, which adds color to the garden each season.

Special to The Seattle Times

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Picks

Christianson’s Nursery Third Annual Skagit Valley Giant Pumpkin Festival: 9 a.m.- 6 p.m. Sept. 28. A prize of $1,000 goes for the biggest pumpkin, and cash prizes will be awarded to each of the next nine top pumpkins. There will also be a free talk by Kathleen Bander of Bats Northwest (11 a.m.; reservations requested at 360-466-3821), live music, farm animals, toad races and more. 15806 Best Road, Mount Vernon ().

Fall Abundance Plant Sale: 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. Sept. 28. Great selection of trees, shrubs and perennials, plus many unusual species and varieties. Graham Visitors Center, Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle (arboretumfoundation.org).

Chase Garden Fall Plant Sale: 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. Sept. 28-29. Many uncommon plants including perennials, ground covers, ferns and native forest wildflowers. Free admission to the garden both days. 16015 264th St. E., Orting (chasegarden.org).

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In the Garden

Few, if any, plants can match the exotic look on the flowers blooming now on perennial hibiscus. These flowers are big; ranging anywhere from 7 to 12 inches wide. The blossoms are heavily textured and spectacularly colorful.

In our climate, they usually don’t even begin to flower until August, and each flower lasts only one day, but they’re prolific bloomers and once they start, they usually continue blossoming late into the season.

Perennial hibiscus come in a variety of sizes and can grow anywhere from 3 to 8 feet tall. They die back all the way to the ground in winter, but grow back rapidly once they get started in late spring. These magnificent perennials require a sunny location and very well-drained soil to survive and flower profusely.

You might wonder why a plant with so much tropical charm is rarely seen in Western Washington gardens. The problem is that unless they are in practically perfectly drained soil, they tend to rot in our wet, cold winters.

Avoid that problem by growing perennial hibiscus in pots. After it has finished blooming, store the pot in a dark location in an unheated garage. Water only enough to keep the soil from turning to dust.

In spring put the pot out in a sunny location, feed and water regularly, and be patient. It takes awhile for them to get started, but once they do, you’ll see your hibiscus take off, and by August they will once again put on a hula-inspiring display.

Beautiful beautyberry

One of the best ornamental shrubs for the winter garden has to be Callicarpa bodinieri “Profusion,” commonly known as beautyberry. This attractive arching shrub has something to offer in all seasons. The new growth in spring emerges bronze purple. In summer the leaves turn dark green and serve as a foil for the profuse cover of lavender flowers that appear in August. In fall the leaves turn attractive shades of purple and pink.

There is a reason, however, why the botanical name Callicarpa means “beautiful fruit.” Profuse clusters of intense purple berries form in fall to provide a spectacular display on the bare branches in winter.

Practically indestructible, these shrubs can grow to 12 feet tall and require only full to partial sun and relatively well-drained soil. They bloom and fruit on new growth, so remove wayward branches and prune for shape and size in late winter.

When beautyberry first showed up at nurseries in our area about 20 years ago, one of the selling points was that the birds didn’t eat the berries, so they remained on the shrub practically all winter long. Unfortunately, the birds most likely left them alone because they weren’t familiar with the shrub and therefore didn’t know if the berries were edible.

Evidently, at some point they made an unpopular bird try one to see what would happen because eventually they figured out they not only could eat them but found them to be a gourmet treat.

Beautyberry is well worth planting anyway. You’ll get to enjoy a spectacular ornamental display until the birds devour their much appreciated winter snack about halfway through the season.

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING 5.

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About Ciscoe Morris

Ciscoe Morris' column runs Thursdays. His show "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on King 5.
ciscoe@ciscoe.com

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