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HOMES & GARDENS : Add a mallow touch to your garden this autumn.

Byline: JULIAN RANSON

For me hibiscus syriacus, or the "Tree Mallow," is one of the best sights in the garden this month.

Granted it can be a tricky time to find colour in the shrub border if you forget the hydrangea for a moment but there's still no denying the beauty of hibiscus.

I suppose the hibiscus is a deceiving plant on account of its beautifully tropical blooms that look as if they would be quite at home in the Mediterranean sunshine.

In fact, while hibiscus love the sun they are very much at home in this part of the world.

The hibiscus makes a very worthy garden plant. It is invaluable for providing colour from August until the first frosts in shades of white, pink, mauve andblue. Growing up to 10ft tall, they provide a magnificent background of colour for lower growing plants which shortly come into their own, such as penstemons.

But nevertheless they are stunning in their own right.

Being compact and upright plants they are very easy to manage and no specialist knowledge will be needed to make them a success.

Hibiscus will, however, respond to careful siting.

Firstly, they love as much sun as they can get, so a south facing position will be great.

Make sure they receive shelter from wind that may spoil the buds and a well-drained soil isalmost a must. When planting hibiscus prepare the ground well, ensuring that plenty of organic matter is dug into the soil.

It is not unusual for hibiscus the "sulk" for a year or two after planting.

Little growth may be made at first and blooms may be just a little shy to start with, but with just a little patience you will be rewarded many times over with weeks of tropical like show-stopping blooms for years to come.

Recent thinking suggests that hibiscus respond well to being cultivated in a similar way to many roses.

A fairly hard prune in early spring to remove last year's flowering wood will encourage plenty of new growth and flowers to follow. You will lose some height from the plant but the increased quantity of blooms will be well worth it.

An application of granular rose fertiliser at this time should keep your plant happy for many weeks and a follow up in June would keep things moving.

Keep an eye on the foliage through the spring and summer and if signs of yellowing are evident feed with a fertiliser containing iron, such as Maxicrop with Sequestered Iron.

Here are a selection of beautiful hibiscus that would add vitality to your garden Blue Bird: Stunning blooms, like big blue saucers on a vigorous plant.

Bredon Springs: large purple flowers with a crimson centre.

Dorothy Crane: large white flowers with a crimson centre.

Hamabo White: flowers with a crimson blotch.

Lavender Chiffon: semi double lavender petals with red rays at the base

Lenny: large pinky mauve flowers with a crimson centre.

Meehanii: a variegated variety with lilac-mauve blooms Julian Ranson is Notcutts garden centre manager, Shirley, Solihull
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 27, 2005
Words:508
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