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On Gardening: Hail, the hibiscus! Queen of tropical flowers

June 15, 2015

Red coleus makes a great partner with this hibiscus as it echoes the colors int he throat while serving as a terrific contrast with the golden yellow.

The first time I traveled to the Caribbean I was stunned at all of the beauty. It wasn’t just the crystal clear water but that it seemed hibiscuses were blooming everywhere. Now when I go to a garden center and see one for sale, or perhaps see some innovative gardener using them in the landscape or containers, I have visual memories of the islands. It’s funny how plants can mentally take us to where either our budget or time won’t allow.

In Savannah, Ga., we about 265 days of frost-free weather each year, meaning our backyards can resemble the exotic look of the Caribbean. Yours can, too; you may have fewer growing days, but I assure you that the hibiscus is a born bloomer, giving you one of the best buys for your gardening dollar.

The tropical hibiscus is known botanically as Hibiscus rosa-sinensis and originated in China. It is kin to our well-known swamp hibiscus or mallow. Today there are hundreds of varieties available in most colors you could want other than blue. There are even those that change colors throughout the day, two of my favorites being Rum Runner and Voodoo Queen.

Hibiscus flowers are spectacular, displaying bright oranges, yellows, red, pinks, whites and blends of these colors. Some even have double blossoms. The dark green foliage is handsome and contrasts nicely with the beautiful flowers. The flowers generally stay open only for a day but are produced for months during our long growing season.

Many of us are so awestruck by their beauty we treat them like a trophy. It is hard to find fault with this because they are so mesmerizing with color and texture. Once you start giving them partners, however, their beauty will become even more stunning. Whether you put them in a mixed container or the landscape, hand selecting combinations for your hibiscus will bring even more joy when it comes to this treasured tropical.

In the landscape nothing can create the island look more quickly that partnering with coarse texture foliage like bananas and elephant ears. By all means do that, but go even smaller or micro in your target of partnerships. Consider using coleus of all colors. It seems all colors of hibiscus are made more beautiful with the side-by-side partnership of lime green or chartreuse. If this sounds fun, then look no further than the Wasabi coleus, the best lime selection in the market.

Many hibiscuses are riveting because of their multi-colored flowers. With these selections we can choose coleus to echo a particular color in the bloom while simultaneously serving as a showy contrast, or complement, with others. Once you start trying these partnerships you’ll find yourself adopting the same color scheme applications for your hibiscus that you use in other parts of the landscape.

Hibiscus belongs in the landscape whether combined with bananas, cannas or some other tropical plant. The requirements are much like any other annual we grow. Plant your hibiscus in well-drained, well-prepared beds because they absolutely cannot take wet feet, but use a good layer of mulch to keep the soil evenly moist through the season and of, course, to make weed control easier.

Choose a site with plenty of sunlight. Morning sun and filtered afternoon light are just about perfect in our state. Hibiscus blooms on new growth so it is important to keep it growing vigorously throughout the season. Keep them well fed and watered during droughty periods.

The hibiscus is the queen of tropical flowers, and though most of treat them as annuals your love of them will grow by giving them some hand selected companions. Many of us have more than 100 days to bask in their beauty, so let’s get started!

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