Occasionally, I receive plants to test-grow. They are properly planted and then left to their own devices. My theory being that if they can grow without pampering, they are ideal for beginning gardeners, those with little time to garden and our challenging environment.

"Sugar Tip" althea (rose of Sharon) is one of my test plants. Two were placed several years ago in slightly larger containers to plant later. They still are in containers sitting on the ground and thriving. Not on my "must have list" before receiving "Sugar Tip," I have come to appreciate its variegated foliage and delicate pink blooms.

Popular in 1930s, althea (Hibiscus syriacus) is an asset in any garden today. The compact vase-shaped shrub may be pruned into a tree-form (similar to crape myrtle), hedge, border, specimen or background plant. Depending on the variety, blooms appear in early summer and continue through fall. It grows in sun to partial shade in any well-drained slightly acidic soil, and is drought tolerant. Container or elevated planting can correct drainage problems.

Maintenance: Late winter or early spring pruning will increase bloom quantity. Remove no more than one-third of the branches. Fertilizing in the spring and fall is recommended.

My plants have never been fed or pruned by me or the resident deer family.

Varieties:

• Red and pink with red centers are prevalent colors with a few white and blue varieties.

• "Aphrodite," deep pink, can be pruned to a small tree, 10-feet tall, starts blooming early summer "Dianna," white, best as a shrub, 8 feet, single bloom, late summer.

• "Red Heart," white with red center, "attractive when trained to a tree," 12 feet, late summer, 5-6-inch blooms.

• "Minerva," lavender, hedge or shrub, 10 feet, mid-summer, needs ample water.

• "Blue Bird," blue with red center, best as a shrub, 8 feet, mid-summer.

Source: First two from gardenhillsnursery.com, 615-208-6246; last three, monrovia.com.

Things to do

• 15 Minutes -- Weed container plants as they are watered.

• Garden -- Water plants in the afternoon early enough that the foliage will dry before night temperatures drop. To increase the size of dahlia flowers, remove side buds and those along the stem as they appear.

• Fertilize roses -- Half-strength feed mums and give a last pinching to produce a busier plant. Cut annuals in half and fertilize to force a second blooming. Divide bearded irises and replant. Scatter hollyhock seed. Cut daylily spent stalks to the ground. Remove its browned foliage by "raking" through it with gloved hands. Cut and dry ornamental grasses to dry for fall arrangements.

• House plants -- Check outside houseplants for moisture on a daily basis by sticking your finger an inch into the soil. Water if the soil does not feel damp.

• Insects -- Hose blast leafhopper cottony substances off of stems, and repeat as needed. Although an insecticide is not necessary, check plants for viruses, as they can be transmitted by leafhoppers. Use a battery powered car vacuum to capture whiteflies and other insects that hide in foliage. Empty the contents of the vac into a bag and dispose of it.

• Lawn -- Change mower oil and spark plugs as needed. Replace and sharpen old blades. Set the mower deck at the highest setting to shade the grass roots. Mow no more than one third of the blade height at a time. Edge beds.

• Trees and shrubs -- Prune hedges' vertical sides slanting slightly in to expose the lower portion to the sun.

• Vegetables -- Cut back basil, mint and oregano to keep from going to seed and to use fresh, and to dry or freeze. Pick cucumbers, okra and squash before they reach maturity. Leaving them on the vine reduces flowering. Create a dam around melon stems to prevent stem rot from overwatering. For large melons, remove blooms after three melons are set.

• Wildlife -- Keep birdbaths elevated and grounded, and keep filled with fresh water. Clean and refresh pet water bowls daily.

Contact Carolyn Roof, the Sun's gardening columnist, at carolynroof02@gmail.com.

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