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Hibiscus newsmakers.

A warm tropical paradise with gentle ocean breezes is what hibiscus (H. rosasinensis) brings to mind. The state flower of Hawaii, this evergreen hibiscus has long been a symbol of the beauty and lushness of the tropics. If you live in a mild-winter area of the West, you can bring a bit of paradise to your garden by planting hibiscus now for dazzling blooms from summer through fall. You have more choices than ever, including numerous compact varieties as described on page 142.

Old favorities such as 'Agnes Galt', 'Brilliant', 'Kona Improved', and 'White Wings' are exceptionally vigorous, but they will eventually reach a towering height of 10 to 15 feet, which makes them less adaptable to landscapes than lower-growing varieties.

The compact varieties that are widely sold range from a modest 4 to 8 feet. They're slower-growing than their towering cousins, so they don't tend to come back as quickly when nipped by frost. One that is more resistant to damage is 'President', shown above.

The newer varieties of tall-growing hibiscus ('Amour', 'Cherie', 'Empire', and the Itsy Bitsy strain) also grow more slowly, so they're easier to control. However, they too are more apt to be set back by frost. For best results with all tall hibiscus, plant them where they'll have room to spread.

Hisbiscus blooms are of two kinds: the classic single type with five petals or fluffy doubles with many petals. Petal edges may be smooth, slightly wavy, or ruffled. The choice of colors includes white, yellow, orange, pink, red, salmon, coral, and some lavenders (in varieties sold in Hawaii).

flowering starts once the weather warms in early summer and lasts until winter reduces bud formation. With the varieties listed in our chart, flowers last only a day (the exception is 'Ross Estey', whose blooms last two to three days). In Hawaii, hibiscus bloom year-round.

For a one-day bouquet, you can snip blooms and float them in a shallow bowl or place them in a broad basket (flowers last equally long in or out of water). Florists sometimes tie the blooms to long wires for arrangements.

Where can you succeed with hibiscus?

If you live where frosts are rare and summers aren't foggy and cool, you can grow hibiscus successfully.

The ideal growing climate is in Hawaii, and gardeners there can choose from many more varieties than the ones listed in our chart. Also, hibiscus grown in Hawaii may reach several feet higher than we indicate in the chart but can be maintained at these sizes by pruning.

Elsewhere, varieties must be able to tolerate an occasional frost, which limits the choices. Where frosts are likely, choose a compact variety and plant it in a spot with some overhead protection, such as under the eaves.

Gardeners in low and intermediate deserts should plant hibiscus on a south-facing wall to provide extra warmth in winter and some afternoon shade in the hottest summer months.

Care: sun, water, fertilizer, pruning

Nurseries should be well stocked with hibiscus this month, and you'll be able to see some in bloom. Plants in gallon cans cost about $7.

Choose a sunny spot in the garden away from drying winds, and prepare fast-draining soil with plenty of organic matter. Handle the plants gently, taking care not to disturb the rootball when planting.

Hibiscus do best with abundant water during hot weather, but don't overwater in cool weather. They'll be most vigorous if given a mild dose of nitrogen fertilizer once a month during the growing season, or apply slow-release fertilizer. Stop feeding in September so plants will harden off before cold weather arrives.

To keep plants in shape, prune in spring after new growth starts. Remove any crossing branches as well as any frost-damaged wood. Neglected plants may need severe pruning. Generally, you should cut out about a third of the old wood. flowers develop on new growth.

Watch for aphids; wash them off with a strong spray of water before populations get out of hand. If mealybugs attack (they look like turfts of cotton on stems and in leaf joints), apply an insecticide labeled for mealybug control.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:May 1, 1985
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