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05/18/2017 | Comments

This heavenly plant originated in Asia and the Pacific Islands. Its beauty makes it is easy to understand why it’s Hawaii’s state flower. There are thousands of combinations of colors, and some flowers measure from 2” to a whopping 12” in diameter. The hibiscus is a member of the mallow family, which encompasses nearly 300 species including trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals.

Although native to tropical regions, there are a few species that have naturalized to our southern states. We are blessed to have the ability to grow them in our diocese, adding a flair of show-stopping brilliance to our Colorado landscapes.

These beautiful, exotic-looking flowers are short-lived, typically blooming for only one day. Once finished blooming, a self-grooming feature begins; the flower will close up and drop off.

Indoor hibiscus are generally easy plants to grow if cultural requirements are followed. The soil should be rich, well- drained and planted in a good potting mix that could contain two parts potting soil, two parts peat moss and one part perlite or vermiculite.

The hibiscus does not tolerate cold temperatures. Warm temperatures are needed for flower buds to develop. Indoors, they should be grown in a warm, sunny location where daytime temperatures range from 65° to 75°F and do not drop below 55°F. If it is too cold, flower buds may drop off or fail to form altogether.

 Hibiscus cannot withstand extreme fluctuations of temperatures or humidity. Therefore, avoid placing them in drafty areas, near radiators, or in entryways where they’ll be blasted with intermittent shots of cold air.

Hibiscus require bright light to bloom well indoors. A sunny western or southern exposure that has at least 4-5 hours of bright, direct light is best. The more light they have, the better they’ll bloom, indoors or out.

The soil should be kept moist, not saturated. Don’t allow the soil to dry out to the point of wilting. Check the pot to make sure drainage holes are present. Excess water should be emptied from the tray. During winter months, allow the soil to dry out a bit more between waterings.

Hibiscus are heavy feeders and require a balanced fertilizer such as a 20-20-20 or 10-10-10. Use at half the label-recommended strength every 2-3 weeks when plants are placed outside for the summer. Indoors, fertilize less often, using a ½-strength formulation every month or so in spring and summer and less frequently in winter.

Pruning should take place in late winter to encourage a bushier plant. Any leggy growth that may have shot up can be trimmed back. Hibiscus can withstand a fairly heavy pruning, especially if a smaller plant size is desired. Remember, this will include pruning off flower buds in addition to the foliage, so it will take longer to bloom.

When considering perennial plants for the outdoor garden, it is worth mentioning the next three hibiscus plants. All were grown and tested for survival in our Colorado climate at the Colorado State University test garden.

Regarding Hibiscus Summerific® Cranberry Crush from Walter’s Gardens/ Proven Winners, the judges stated that, “Cranberry Crush Rose Mallow continues to be a fantastic grower with their dark red blooms and dark glossy foliage. The leaves were deeply lobed and had an attractive dark red hue that matured into dark green.” They also noted that “these plants gave the garden a dramatic tropical effect and would be great for late summer color in the back of a border”.

The Summerific® Cherry Cheesecake Rose Mallow from Walters Garden/Proven Winners with saucer-sized flowers are a stunning contrast of rich cherry-red and bright white which gives a very tropical or exotic feel to the landscape. This selection is rated highly for its ability to produce huge flowers evenly over the entire plant. Plants are very uniform and healthy with foliage that reaches all the way to the ground. Be patient with this hibiscus as it comes up very late in the spring, but is well worth the wait when the showy flowers start to open in late July.

The Midnight Marvel Hibiscus from Walters Gardens/ Proven Winners — this flower/foliage combination made a spectacular showing. Dark bronze foliage made a perfect backdrop to the beautiful flowers with a rich, red color. Many flowers came into bloom together and created a good visual impact.  Plants were vigorous but maintained a nice size without getting too large as observed in some other hibiscus. 

The flower of a hibiscus is like a prayer; it blooms, then closes up tight and falls softly to land in the hands of God.

(Kerry Peetz is a master gardener and member of Sacred Heart Parish in Colorado Springs.)

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