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Hibiscus

Botanical/Latin
   Hibiscus

Pronunciation
   HI-bis-kus

Common Name
   Rose Mallow

Hardiness zone range
   4-10

Light Preference
Full Sun


General Comments
Tropical-looking perennials with spectacular, large, saucer or plate-sized flowers, in bright vivid shades of pink, red and white, produced in summer and continuing into early autumn. The enormous flowers are held on strong woody stems and are prominently displayed above large, slightly hairy, leaves.

They are sun lovers but will perform reasonably well in light shade, where they get at least a few hours of sunlight. In deeper shade, they produce less flowers and lanky growth that will need staking. In sunny conditions, they flower prolifically and are unlikely to ever need staking.


Culture & Care
They are vigorous and thrive best in rich, fertile soils that have a capacity to retain moisture in summer. They will tolerate, and even do quite well in, drier conditions, but their preference is for plenty of moisture. Incorporate extra organic matter at planting time, mulch well, and water during dry periods.

They flower on the current year's growth, so good culture is important. Applying a spring dressing of a well-balanced fertilizer, supplemented periodically during the growing season, will produce strong growth and, ultimately, more flowers.

They are slow to emerge from winter dormancy in spring, so be patient. They wait until the ground temperatures rise, before emerging from winter hibernation. In late autumn or early winter, after the frosts blacken the leaves, tidy up the crowns by trimming back the stems, leaving about 8-12 inches to mark their positions. They can be cut back to ground level when the new growth pushes through in spring.


Uses
The huge flowers are truly impressive. They can be used as individual specimens or in bold groups to define a position and act like a beacon or focal point, beckoning the eye to a distant spot. On the other hand, when viewed "up close and personal" the sheer enormity of the blooms are absolutely stunning. To create drama and effect, place them in prominent positions, like front door beds or in clear view of a living room window.

Young children are intrigued and amazed by these "giant" flowers and leaves, so a great deal of fun can be generated when junior visitors discover them. They are great plants for placing around patios, swimming and bathing areas. Their lush, tropical appearance helps create the atmosphere of far flung tropical locations.

In sunny beds and borders, they add the same tropical look, making them a great backdrop for annuals and low growing perennials. Or mix them in with evergreen shrubs so the big cheery flowers can liven up any summer blandness. They are natural swampy plants, so when used in moist wildflower meadows or near water features, butterflies come to visit, adding to their allure.


Background
They were collected and described by botanists as early as 1574. The botanical name comes from the Greek word for mallow (Althea), which they closely resemble. This is why they are commonly called the Rose Mallows.

There are over 200 species of Hibiscus distributed throughout the world. Most are found in tropical zones and are well known for their use as house and conservatory plants, as well as their associations with the tropical islands of Hawaii or the south Pacific. They are descended from species which are native to wet areas in the Eastern States of North America, so they are perfectly at home, in our gardening zones. We list the hardy garden types and the cultivars we offer.


Splendor Suggestions
Watering in dry summer periods can be tedious, time consuming and ineffective, because the water evaporates and tends to trickle off the hard crusty surface.

With plants like these, consider permanently laying soaker hose and snaking it around the plants. The advantage of this is that the water is supplied close to the roots, it is retained longer, there is reduced "run off" and evaporation, and it looks nice. The soaker hose can be disguised under a layer of mulch with the connecting end conveniently left near a path or faucet.


Companion Plants
The white flowers of summersweet Clethera and the variegated foliage of Cornus alba 'Argenteo-marginata' and 'Ivory Halo' make good shrub companions. Late flowering Astilbe chinensis cultivars, like 'Pumila', 'Purple Candles' or 'Visions', are good for adding color closer to the ground.


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