Althea Plant

A Complete Guide to Growing the Althea Plant

            Although it may be better known in today’s gardening world as the Rose of Sharon, the Althea plant has long been revered for its beauty as a flowering shrub.  A colorful and easy to maintain shrub, the Althea will soon become a favorite in any landscape.

            The official Latin name of the bush is Althea officinalis, which originates from the Greek word altho, meaning to heal.  This name refers to the fact that the plant was used in ancient times as a healing herb.  The leaves and roots were both thought to be very beneficial in the treatment of a variety of ailments, including digestive problems, coughs and inflammation.  Parts of the plant were also used as sources of food; the roots, for example, were cooked along with savory onions and served as a side dish.  Also, the shrub produces a fruit of sorts after the flowers fade away in the form of small round discs.  These fruits were called cheeses, and were also an edible item.  In the gardens of modern day, however, it is only the hummingbirds and butterflies which find them to be a delectable treat for eating.

            The Althea plant, or Rose of Sharon, is an ideal shrub to include in a landscape.  Cuttings from a mature shrub are able to be rooted with little trouble, and can then be planted directly into the ground during spring, summer or fall with success.  The shrubs can also be purchased as potted plants from a nursery and transplanted.

            To take a cutting from an existing shrub, you will need a sharp pair of pruning shears.  The softwood is the part to cut, which is the part of the shrub stem that is neither immature nor fully mature.  The best method of determining what is softwood is to bend the stem in your hands.  Immature stems will only bend, not break, while mature stems will be too rigid to even bend.  Softwood is the stage where the stem will crack and break when bent.  Mornings are the best time to take cuttings.  Choose a stem with at least two sets of leaves and make the cut about one inch below the second leaf node.  Strip away the bottom leaves; this is where the new roots will form.  Dip the stem end first into clean water and then into a commercial rooting hormone powder, coating the wounds well. Now simply place the coated stem end into a pot filled with perlite and a soilless potting mixture, and cut the remaining leaves in half.  Keep the cutting in a warm, moist location until roots develop.

            Altheas should be planted in locations receiving full to part sun, but otherwise tolerates most any conditions.  Heat, cold, wind and soil types are of little concern to this extremely versatile shrub. The Althea plant can grow to be quite large, topping out at around 10 feet tall, but are easily maintained as a smaller, upright shrub if desired by pruning.  All pruning must be done either in late winter or early spring since the shrub flowers on new wood.

Most commonly seen varieties of the Rose of Sharon feature pinkish toned flowers, but there are several cultivars that have been developed with more showy blooms.  Aphrodite bears blooms of dark pink; Diana boasts a pure white ruffly bloom; Blue Bird carries a bluish purple blossom and Lucy shows off with double blooms of reddish purple.

Gardens for many centuries have been graced with the presence of the Althea or Rose of Sharon.  Their beauty is surpassed only by their easy nature, and will certainly be an attractive addition to any landscape.