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Buds That Don’t Open

Garden Reports and Rejoicing – September 25

I have a White Chiffon rose of Sharon that I love, except for one tiny habit…it self seeds prolifically. Not all rose of Sharon do this. For fifteen years I grew a double flowering pink variety that didn’t produce any offspring at all. This white one, however, manufactures dozens of eager-beaver seedlings every spring, to the point that I’ve decided to spend twenty minutes each fall cutting off the seeds and putting them in a trash bag.

Today as I pruned the plants I remembered that several people commented on them when they visited my gardens last weekend. “That must be a late-blooming variety,” one person said, while another commented, “Look at those big buds…it will be wonderful when they come into bloom!”

To all of these comments I responded by saying that these weren’t buds but seeds. Although my rose of Sharon still had a few flowers on them, they were the last of the blossoms not the beginning. What I realized after the third or fourth comment about the shrub’s “buds” was that the seedpods are much, much more showy than the developing flowers are.

This led to an ah-ha! moment. At least twice a month someone calls GardenLine and asks about a rose of Sharon that has buds that don’t open. I explain that there are, rarely, such plants and in the trade they’re called “mules.” As in stubborn as a… This seems to be something genetic to a few plants and I usually suggest pruning the canes hard in the spring to see if the plant will be shocked out of their mule-ness.

After hearing one person after another comment about the big “buds” on my shrubs, however, I realized that most of my callers aren’t seeing buds that won’t open, but the larger seed pods. I am willing to bet that most have just missed the main flowering period and because the seeds are much bigger, and showier, than the actual developing flowers, they are assuming that these are buds that don’t open.

It’s human nature to be more aware of what’s large and showy, and miss what’s smaller and subtler. And once we’ve decided that what we’re seeing are unopened buds, it’s hard to reverse directions and admit that perhaps we haven’t paid attention until the larger object was put in our path. Sometimes we humans are the mules…

Seeing such large, round pods with a few flowers, it's understandable that people think that they're buds.

8 comments to Buds That Don’t Open

  • I don’t know about being a Mule or not but some times I am very stubborn about some things. I get it set in my mind that that’s the way it is and nothing is going to change my mind. Then the Mule comes along and kikes me in the ass and things change.

    Have a good night,

  • You always make me smile, John! Thanks for dropping by

  • I’m confused. I bought hibiscus syriacus ‘White Chiffon’ because it is sterile. It sets seeds, but they don’t germinate. Several sources say this, including the Missouri Botanical Garden database. But you are getting viable seeds? And a lot of them? Now I’m concerned.

    My ‘White Chiffon’ Rose of Sharon flowers beautifully but I do not get any growing seedlings from it. Yet. Should I worry?

  • Laurrie,
    It was billed as being sterile? Really? Yikes. Mine self-seeds like crazy. Now I feel cheated. If yours hasn’t produced seedlings at this point I wouldn’t worry…mine self-seeded from day one. I’m jealous of yours.

  • shelley bicknell

    I have a big 6 year old purple rose of sharon that gets buds every year and will not open.I am not missing anything,I check it every day.It is very frustrating,every other rose of sharon I have blooms beautifully. I will try cutting the canes back this spring,I would be so thrilled if that works.

  • Shelley,
    Give it a try – it might be one of the RoS that we call a mule and I’ve heard reports that shocking them by a hard pruning in the spring can stimulate a bloom. Let me know if it works, OK?

  • Barb Ellman


    I am trying to expand my Blue Chiffon from the one we have. Now I have read about the “seedlings” and using them for “transplanting” them in other parts of the yard or garden. How do I do that? I am not quite sure what I should be looking for to cut or when to do it. I’m used to taking the “seed pods” of my other flowering plants and planting them els where, but have yet been able to figure out how to do it to my Blue Chiffon and be able to give my sisters their own.

    Up until recently we did not know the name of this wounderful plant we had been calling it a “Hummingbird Bush” as our local Hummingbirds love this plant as well as the butterflies and honey bees. We love this plant and I would love to share it as well as plant it in more areas of the yard. If you could email me what I need to do I would be greatful.

  • You won’t be able to get the same plant from seeds of a Blue Chiffon – you’ll have to take cuttings for your sisters, or buy them one at your garden center. As a hybrid the seedlings won’t “come true,” that is the flowers may be another color.