Hibiscus mutabilis (hi-BIS-kus mew-tah-BIL-iss) aka Confederate Rose is a popular plant in the southern United States where it is also called:
- Confederate Rose Mallow
- Dixie Rosemallow
- Rose Dixie Rosemallow
- Cotton Rose
- Cotton Rosemallow
As the name suggests, this plant is not a rose but a member of the large Mallow hibiscus (Malvaceae – mal-VAY-see-eye) hibiscus tree family.
Confederate rose is a large shrub or small multi-stemmed tree in the Malvaceae (mallow) family native to China and Taiwan.
This recipient of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit hails from China and was first introduced in the US during the 1600s.
It can grow as a perennial in many parts of the southern United States. In colder climates, it is grown as an annual or kept from one year to the next as a houseplant during the colder months.
Confederate Rose Care
Taking care of the Confederate rose tree is relatively easy. This includes providing proper confederate rose bush care to ensure healthy growth.
Size & Growth
Cotton Rose grows quickly to become a small tree with many stems and large flowers or a largish, spreading shrub. This plant may grow to be between 6’ and 15’ feet high and may spread 6’ feet to 10’ feet.
It will typically grow taller and wider in a warmer climate (USDA hardiness zone 9 through 11). In cooler areas, it typically grows to be 6 to 8 feet high.
In USDA hardiness zones 7 through 8, it may die back all the way to the ground as a result of a hard freeze; however, it will return vigorously in the springtime.
The foliage is a rich and lustrous shade of green. Individual leaves are large and impressive and may measure 7” inches across.
Flowering & Fragrance
When do confederate roses bloom? This member of the hibiscus family produces great numbers of large (4″ to 6″ inches across) gorgeous flowers late in the summer and throughout the autumn months.
The astounding aspect of these flowers is how quickly they can change color. They will emerge a pure white or light pink in the morning and change drastically to hot pink, possibly red, by the evening.
Flowers are variable and may be single or double and present in multiple colors on the same bush. The flowers open white and transition to pale pink, hot pink, and deep red, all within a day.
With its bright green foliage and showy flowers, the hibiscus mutabilis is a large shrub (or multi-stemmed tree) that is known for its unique color-changing effect–its flowers open as white but rapidly change colors.
Light & Temperature
Hibiscus mutabilis does well in USDA hardiness zones 7 through 11. It is best placed in partial shade to full sun. Keep in mind that the more sun the plant receives, the more water it will need.
Try planting cotton roses in an area with at least six hours of direct sunlight.
A full sun or part shade lover, this plant is best grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils. Water freely during the growing season and apply a balanced liquid fertilizer monthly.
But even plants that are acclimated to the summer sun can be damaged by extreme heat. In a heatwave, it is important to keep the soil consistently moist so that plants can cope with excessive levels of heat.
Watering & Feeding
Water the plant freely throughout the growing season. In the wintertime, water is very sparingly. Generally speaking, you should water the plant deeply once a week and keep the soil slightly moist during the growing season.
Too much watering can cause disease, such as fungal growth.
It’s best to use a drip hose or a regular garden hose set to a trickle for a slow, deep watering. Avoid overhead watering, as this can lead to mold and mildew problems.
As with most plants, Confederate Rose Mallow does not like to stand in water.
These plants don’t need much hibiscus plant food and can do well with no fertilizer at all when planted in the ground, but without fertilizer, they will grow very slowly.
Your best choice in fertilizer is a liquid or a time-released formula. Look for an NPK ratio of 10 10 10. Fertilize once or twice a month, being careful to follow packaging directions.
Soil & Transplanting
This plant likes well-draining, loamy soil enriched with compost and of average to medium moisture. Top-dress the soil with a thick layer of organic mulch to help retain moisture.
Prune this plant in the winter after its fall blooms fade. Severe pruning to the ground can rejuvenate leggy plants. It propagates by cuttings that root easily.
Be careful not to allow the mulch to come in direct contact with the plant’s stem, as this may cause mold and mildew problems.
Grooming & Maintenance
You will not need extensive pruning. An annual shearing of dead branches to promote new growth should be enough.
This plant needs very little pruning and should not be pruned except to control shape and size and as a preparation for winter.
Confederate Rose Mallow will shed its leaves in colder climates after the first frost. At this time, you should cut the plant back to a few inches above the ground.
In the springtime, new shoots will appear at the plant’s base. Before you know it, you’ll have a flourishing bush.
How To Propagate Confederate Roses
You can propagate the plant by seed sown in early spring. Alternatively, you can take cuttings during the summertime.
Here’s how to grow confederate rose from seed:
As the flowers fade, they transition into brittle seed capsules. It is easy to collect the seeds, save them, and plant them in the springtime.
You can soak the seeds in hot water overnight until the water cools down or file the seeds gently with a nail clipper, then soak them for 24 hours.
Plant the seeds about 1/2 inch deep and cover them with soil. Keep them watered, but ensure they don’t get waterlogged.
Keep the containers in a warm, sheltered spot, such as in a greenhouse or indoors. The temperature should be kept between 65-70°F (18-21°C) for best germination results.
To grow Dixie Rose Mallow from cuttings, you should select a few semi-woody limb tips and take cuttings about a foot long.
Do this at the end of the growing season, just before your first expected frost.
Place the cuttings in a tall vase or bucket of water and set them in a warm, sunny spot inside. Change the water every couple of days to prevent stagnation.
Roots should form within a month or so. The cuttings will do fine kept in water through the deep winter months. Plant them in their own one-gallon pots in January.
Keep them indoors as houseplants or in a greenhouse setting until springtime; transition them to the outdoors and then plant them in the ground or in larger containers as the weather warms up.
Confederate Rose Problems: Pests and Diseases
Watch for aphids, scale insects, mealybugs, and powdery mildew. Deer resistant. Plant in shrub borders for dramatic summer blooms.
As soon as you see them, spray the plant thoroughly with insecticidal soap. Make sure that the entire plant is soaked.
It’s best to apply this product early in the morning to ensure that the plant is dry before nighttime. Being damp overnight could cause problems with powdery mildew.
TIP: You can prevent spider mites, whiteflies, and hibiscus aphid attacks from taking hold by spraying the plant thoroughly with plain water once a week early in the morning.
Confederate Rose is also prone to Southern Stem Blight and leaf spot. Examine the yellow leaves frequently for brown circles. Also, look for brown lesions on the stems and at the plant’s base adjacent to the soil line.
You can prevent Southern Stem Blight from taking hold by making sure that mulch applied around the plants does not touch the stems.
For both of these maladies, the application of a fungicide is appropriate; however, it’s best to avoid fungal growth by allowing plenty of room between plants for good air circulation and avoid overhead watering.
Is The Hibiscus Plant Considered Toxic or Poisonous?
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) members of the Malvaceae family are non-toxic to cats, dogs, and horses.
In fact, many types of Hibiscus are considered edible and are used to make tea, as a flavoring, and as foodstuffs in China. Even so, you should not toss Hibiscus leaves and flowers into your salads willy-nilly.
Different types of Hibiscus have different effects. If you want to experiment with adding Hibiscus of any sort to your diet, be sure to perform a thorough course of research before doing so.
Is The Hibiscus Rose Invasive?
According to invasive.org, Confederate Rose is not considered invasive in any part of North America.
Suggested Uses For The Confederate Rose
Confederate Rose is both drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. This attractive, versatile plant does well as a bedding plant, a back border plant, a low hedge, a specimen plant a patio plant, or a container plant.
It is a good addition to your butterfly or pollinator garden and is also welcome in your medicinal garden.