Hibiscus

The following post was written several years ago for the Flagler-Palm Coast News-Tribune, a newspaper published in Flagler County, Fl. (located about 30 miles north of Daytona Beach, on the east coast of Florida, Zone 9-B)

My absolute favorite flower is the Hibiscus. I’m sure many people would say roses were their favorite, but to me, there is just no other flower as beautiful as a Hibiscus.
My passion for Hibiscus started when I learned about Hibiscus hybrids and the grafted varieties. Several years ago I took a trip to south Florida and met a man by the name of Winn Soldani, Hibiscus breeder and owner of Fancy Hibiscus. His nursery, nothing more than a small back yard in the heart of Pompano Beach, was filled with the most amazing Hibiscus I had ever seen.
There were flowers nine inches across. I saw a flower that was red in the center, surrounded by a ring of purple surrounded by a ring of pink. Another bloom was pink in the center, with red and yellow splotches. They were magnificent – out of this world gorgeous.
I came home with 12. And at $12.50 a piece for a small plant, it was a pretty hefty investment. On later trips to South Florida, more Hibiscus would make their way home into my collection. Today, I’m still just as crazy about them. If I see one that is really unusual – or one that I don’t have – I have to have it.
The latest Hibiscus I have gotten excited about is one called Red Hot. This Red Hot Hibiscus is so special it’s patented and was selected as the best new tropical plant by horticulture experts at the Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition in Fort Lauderdale last year. The foliage is absolutely fantastic, with leaves colored red, pink, white, light green and dark green. The flowers are small single red blooms.
I have two large plants in containers, and they have performed very well for me in both full sun and in part shade.
I also really like Hibiscus with small dainty flowers as well, and have a plant which produces small little pom-pom like blooms in peach, and another similar one which has red blossoms. I love Hibiscus with double blooms and have several in three different shades of pink. This year I was lucky to find a double yellow, which is not something you see everyday.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, is one of more than 100 species belonging to the Mallow or Malvaceae family. This tropical and subtropical shrub ranges in size from 2 to 15 feet and the six basic colors grown include red, orange, yellow, white, lavender and brown.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of different colors available. Most blooms are single or double and some are neither.
Most blooms will only stay open for a day, some maybe two. The average size of a bloom is probably about 5 inches and there are many variations in the number and arrangement of petals.
Although Hibiscus will die back after a freeze, most years it will come back from the roots. In 2001, I saw many that did not, because of the severity of that particular winter.
I have lost a few to a freeze myself, so now only Hibiscus which I can easily replace are planted in the ground, and the rest stay in pots.
Every winter, I shove them in my garage along with hundreds of other tropicals. I make sure they are really healthy and don’t have any insects before I put them away. By the second or third week of December, the Hibiscus are in their new temporary home. I keep an eye on them all winter, and if they start to wilt really bad I’ll give them some water.
They will stay in the garage until I bring them out in the middle of March, the time when the last danger of frost has passed. Then each plant is pruned about 1/3, watered and put out in the sunshine. A few weeks later, I begin fertilizing them with a 20-20-20 liquid fertilizer. They recover very quickly and in a short time begin blooming.
Sometimes they will get aphids and scale. For aphids, I take my hose and pressure wash the infected plants to get some of the insects off. For scale, I usually try to scrape them off. To treat both insects I’ll spray with a horticultural oil. Grasshoppers like to munch on them also, and whether they live or die depends on what kind of mood I am in, since one must resort to violence in order to get the job done.
I am a firm believer of the power of 20-20-20 fertilizer, and will use it monthly during the summer and early fall. Hibiscus also prefer a rich soil, so I will give my Hibiscus a top dressing of horse manure usually once a year. Before planting a Hibiscus in the ground, I always amend the soil by adding peat humus and manure. It’s best to amend the whole area and not just the planting hole if possible.
As far as water requirements, most Hibiscus are drought tolerant to a point. I’m often surprised how long they can hold up in our heat and droughts. But they really do fare better with regular watering. I usually give mine a good soaking every third day and use saucers under the ones I have in containers.

For more information on buying Hibiscus, check out Winn Soldani’s web site at :

http://www.fancyhibiscus.com/

For more information about the Tropical Plan Industry Exhibition, go to :

http://www.fngla.org/tpie/

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