The experts at the North Carolina Nursery & Landscape Association and the North Carolina Cooperative Extension know what grows here. For the sixth year in a row, they have selected the 2013 Showstopper Plants—five “must have” plants that will thrive in any Carolina garden.
Perennial: ‘Fireball’ Hibiscus
(Hibiscus ‘Fireball’ PPAF)
What has showy 10-inch red flowers from June through August? It’s the ‘Fireball’ hardy hibiscus, which has been dazzling garden¬ers since its introduction in 2001. Special to this plant is its ability to thrive in the summer heat and humidity. This tough perennial grows to four feet tall in full sun and needs evenly moist soil. Along with its heat tolerance, this perennial hibiscus is cold hardy here. The combination of stunning red flowers plus attractive deeply cut green foliage and distinctive purple colored veins makes ‘Fireball’ a standout in any sunny garden.
Tree: Chinese Pistache
Tough as nails, drought tolerant and pest free are all terms used to describe the Chinese pistache. This beautiful medium-sized tree is perfect for both the home landscape and the urban environment. An unattractive gawky tree when young, Chinese pistache develops into an outstanding specimen with an umbrella-like crown. At maturity it reaches a height of 40 feet and a spread of 25 to 35 feet. During the summer months, Chinese pistache has finely divided, lustrous green foliage. In autumn, fiery orange and red leaves make this Asian native one of the prettiest trees in the landscape. Other than needing well drained soil, this tree will flourish in nearly every soil type.
Shrub: ‘Aztec Fire’ Anise
(Illicium mexicanum ‘Aztec Fire’)
Looking for an evergreen shrub with handsome green foliage? If yes, then ‘Aztec Fire’ anise is the plant for you. This landscape gem is a first cousin to the Florida anise. Unique with its burgundy colored flowers, ‘Aztec Fire’ will grow in full sun but really thrives in partial shade. Give this Mexican native plenty of room; it will typically grow eight feet tall and six feet wide. A bonus is its natural pyramidal growth habit.
Shrub: ‘Shoal Creek’ Chastetree
(Vitex agnus-castus ‘Shoal Creek’)
Native to southern Europe and western Asia, chastetree grows into a large multi-trunked shrub ranging in height from 10 to 15 feet with a broad, spreading growth habit. Unlike the typical species, ‘Shoal Creek’ is an improved cultivar with larger flower spikes of violet-blue flowers and star-shaped, aromatic foliage. It attracts both hummingbirds and butterflies. This plant doesn’t need tender loving care; it thrives in full sunlight, is very low-maintenance, extremely drought tolerant, and will tolerate most soil conditions as long as the soil is well drained.
Shrub: ‘Glowing Embers’ Hydrangea
(Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Glowing Embers’)
‘Glowing Embers’ makes a dazzling flower display in gar¬dens across the South. Abundant 8-inch flower heads start out white, then turn to pink and eventually fade to a reddish-pink color. To insure the clearest pink flower coloration, add lime to the planting soil to help achieve a soil pH between 6 and 6.5. Grow this plant in moist, well-drained soil with ample amounts of organic matter. While hydrangeas will grow in full sun, they grow best in partial shade. ‘Glowing Embers,’ like most mophead hydrangeas, is sensitive to drought-like conditions and will be the first plant in the landscape to wilt when dry.
To learn more about these showstopper plants, visit tarheelgardening.com or extensiongardener.ncsu.edu.
Photos courtesy of the JC Raulston Arboretum.