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Hibiscus Basics


The beautiful, dream-like flowers of the hibiscus plant are a joy to the summer garden

Hibiscus are popular around the world for their tropical representation and for the dainty blooms. These plants range from dwarf to towering in size and blooms can be proportionate. The colors - thanks to hybridizing - also offer up a wide range of hues.

There are two basic types of hibiscus: "hardy" (Hisbiscus moscheutos) and tropical. When shopping for hibiscus, the tags may not differentiate between the two. You'll have to look at the leaves. Hardy hibiscus has lighter green, matte leaves while the tropical varieties will have deep green and shiny leaves. It's also important to know what size to expect and to pre-plan where the hibiscus will be planted.

Tropical hibiscus, obviously, are very fussy about habitat. They do best in warm year-round climates, but with plenty of misting. Outside of their native regions, these plants do best in pots and in controlled indoor greenhouse environments.

Hardy hibiscus, on the other hand, is a perennial delight that can be enjoyed under many conditions. Once established, it is more tolerant of watering conditions and less susceptible to pest infestations. Most hardy hibiscus can overwinter in non-tropical regions.

Some new gardeners may panic when their hibiscus does not show signs of life in the spring. These plants are notorious for being "late-bloomers," sometimes waiting until mid- to late-summer before making an appearance. One they show, hibiscus will bloom like crazy until the first hard frost.

To have a hardy hibiscus flowering by the next spring, plant it in July and no later than sometime in September. This will give the roots a chance to establish before winter.

They'll thrive in well-draining organic mix, but they can survive a range of soils. They do like about six hours of sun. Water frequently and keep the ground moist, especially in the first two years. After that, they will be more tolerant.

Protect in winter with several inches of mulch. You can cut the branches back to about 6-12 inches above-ground.

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