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Hibiscus: Tropical Gems of the Garden

Updated on September 15, 2017
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Catherine is a California certified nursery professional. Her interests are birds, insects, integrated pest management, & organic gardening.

Close your eyes for a moment and try to visualize the look of a lovely South Pacific island girl. The beautiful large bloom in her long, flowing black hair is probably a hibiscus. It is the most recognizable and beloved of the tropical flowers, and, though exotic in appearance, is quite easy to grow.

Tropical Hibiscus

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. This red variety is extremely heat tolerant.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. This red variety is extremely heat tolerant. | Source

Hibiscus, a member of the mallow family, is a distant cousin of the hollyhock. Although there are many varieties including the Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus and the hardy Hibiscus moscheutos, a relative of the native swamp mallow found in the wetlands of the eastern United States, it is its tropical cousin that grabs the limelight. It comes to us from Asia and the islands of the Pacific Ocean. One variety, Hibiscus brackenridgei, is the state flower of Hawaii. Another, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, comes from China, and its brilliant red variety serves as the national flower of Malaysia.

in 1997, Rob Dupont, a hybridizer of tropical hibiscus from Dupont Nursery in Louisiana, began experimenting with new cultivars and achieved spectacular results. He grafted plants with showy blooms on to a stronger mother root to ensure both vigor and ornamentation. This class of hybrids features an amazing array of color combinations in spectacular patterns on over-sized blooms. Armstrong Growers introduced them on the west coast as "Hotbiscus" in reference to their eye-catching qualities. These plants are more compact, making them ideal for containers. They also prefer partial shade and adapt well to being tucked among other lush tropical plants.

Hardy Hibiscus

 This is a hardy Hibiscus moscheutos, a non-tropical relative of the native swamp mallow from the Eastern US.  It has the largest blooms which can reach up to a foot across.
This is a hardy Hibiscus moscheutos, a non-tropical relative of the native swamp mallow from the Eastern US. It has the largest blooms which can reach up to a foot across.

Stunning Hybrids

Tropical hibiscus "Black Magic" from Dupont Nursery is an award-winner.
Tropical hibiscus "Black Magic" from Dupont Nursery is an award-winner. | Source
"C'est  le Bon" Hotbiscus
"C'est le Bon" Hotbiscus | Source

General Care

Hibiscus prefers a temperature range of 60-90 degrees. California, Florida, and Hawaii provide the best climates for year-round growth in the U.S.; however, these exotic beauties can be enjoyed elsewhere with a few more considerations.

In temperate areas, hibiscus can reach 15 feet in the garden making it a good choice for a showy hedge. Fast growing, these can gain 3 feet in just one year! Some more compact varieties such as the showy "hotbiscus" will stay under 3 ft. where they are perfectly suited for containers.

Protection from the Cold:

Being tropical, these plants are very cold sensitive and need protection from drying winds. As winter approaches, it is important to heed frost warnings and cover plants with plastic sheeting or a plant blanket. In regions with winter temperatures consistently below freezing, it is preferable to grow hibiscus in pots which can easily be brought indoors. Plants will need to be pruned to within 5" of the main stem and will most likely drop all leaves until they are placed outdoors again in spring. While dormant, watering and feeding should be minimal.

Light:

It is essential to provide 6-8 hours of bright light indoors even if it has to come from fluorescent sources. Although some growers will enjoy continuous indoor blooms in the cool season with ample light and fertilizers, it is important to give your plant a rest and not force bloom at this time. When placed outside in late March, the hibiscus will begin to leaf out and prepare for the warm season flowering by June. Treating hibiscus as an annual in the coldest climates is also a good to way to ensure a stunning display of prolific blooms. Hibiscus needs at least 6-8 hours of sun per day. The exception is Hotbiscus which prefers moderate afternoon shade. Red varieties are usually more sun tolerant.

Water:

All hibiscus needs regular deep-watering during the blooming period and should never be allowed to get soggy nor to completely dry out. This is especially important during the first 2 years of growth. Extreme fluctuations in watering will make the plant more prone to insect damage. A layer of coir will help keep plant roots evenly moist and cool.

Nutrients:

Since these plants are heavy feeders, it is important to fertilize every 4-6 weeks during the growing season. As tempting as it may be to give them a super bloomer, they still need ample potash for root development. Choose one that has both phosphorus and significant potassium like Gro-More Hawaiian Bud & Bloom. An organic food like a 6-5-3 is also a good choice, especially on newer shrubs. Feeding with iron and micro-nutrients in the spring will help with the yellow leaves and support overall vigor. Dead-head spent flowers and lightly prune to shape.

Pests and Diseases

Hibiscus is generally not prone to disease and will thrive in well-drained soil in either containers or directly in the ground. Over-watering in the cool dormant season can cause root-rot and bring fungus gnats, but it is rare. Also, it is important to NEVER let a container plant sit in a saucer of water. A plant will drown without aeration to its roots.

Aphids:

Young buds and tender growth are magnets for an infestation. Aphids are very visible and can be easily washed off with a good blast of water or fed to hungry ladybugs and lacewing larva.

Thrips:

Unlike aphids, these are so tiny that plant damage is the first indication of their presence. Unopened buds, deformed leaves, yellowing, and bud drop are symptoms. To check for thrips, tap a flower over a clean sheet of white paper, and you should be able to see them scurrying way.

Spider mites:

These tiny reddish spiders weave delicate webs over branch tips. Prevention is best. Consistent watering, good aeration, and occasional plant washing to rid the leaves of dust and air-born pollutants will help. Use an organic control like insecticidal soap or neem oil once mites show up. Be sure to check undersides of leaves.

White fly:

This is the most common pest and a difficult one to eradicate once the plant is heavily infested. The adults lay eggs on the undersides of leaves and cover them with a waxy protective coating. The Giant Whitefly- Aleurodicus dugesii- comes from Mexico and is a real problem here in California and elsewhere. The long spiral waxy filaments look like white hair and are a shock to gardeners! There are many controls including systemic insecticides which work effectively from the inside out. These are applied as a soil drench and are taken up through the root system. Unfortunately, the plant will be toxic to unintended insects and pollinators as well.

I recommend an organic approach even though it requires more diligence and patience. Targeting bugs without true necessity often skews the balance in the food chain and creates an even bigger problem. The USDA also uses a parasitic wasp- Encarsia formosa- as a biological control against the whitefly.

  1. Keep the plants healthy with proper care.
  2. Apply worm castings at the time of planting.
  3. Routinely clean tops and undersides of leaves with a blast of water.
  4. Apply neem or paraffinic oil spray as needed.
  5. If the problem still continues, a systemic pesticide ,which works from the inside out, may be necessary.

Ants:

Ants are usually present with whiteflies and aphids because they harvest the sticky honeydew that the insects produce. The sticky deposits on the leaves blacken with mold and interfere with the plant's ability to perform photosynthesis, further weakening the plant. Use organic controls like Tanglefoot goo applied to strips of paper and wrapped around tree branches. Diatomaceous earth, the crushed skeletons of tiny sea creatures, pierces the ant bodies and dries them up. It can be applied to ant nests or sprinkled around the edges of containers.

 The hairy filaments associated with the giant w white fly are actually a waxy, water resistant protection for eggs and young insects.
The hairy filaments associated with the giant w white fly are actually a waxy, water resistant protection for eggs and young insects. | Source

As soon as the danger of frost is gone and the sun lingers longer, it will be the perfect time to plant some of these tropical gems. Whether planting in containers or in the ground, apply a bit or micorrhizae fertilizer next to the rootball to help the roots take up nutrients. Water, fertilize regularly, place in a nice sunny area until the summer heat becomes intense, and keep an eye out for insects. By the first of July, you will have a spectacular show of blooms to enjoy all summer long.

Put on your aloha shirt and grab that Mai Tai. Ah! paradise!

© 2011 Catherine Tally

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    • cat on a soapbox profile image
      Author

      Catherine Tally 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hi oliversmum,

      I'm so glad that you enjoy hibiscus and found my hub interesting and helpful! Thank you for stopping by to read and comment. I appreciate your kind compliments. :)

    • oliversmum profile image

      oliversmum 5 years ago from australia

      cat on a soapbox Hi. Wonderful hub.

      Thank you for all this great information on these beautiful plants.

      I loved all the photographs. Thumbs up and very useful. :):)

    • cat on a soapbox profile image
      Author

      Catherine Tally 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      gitrdun,

      Thank you! Drop by my hubpages again :>)

    • gitrdun4444 profile image

      gitrdun4444 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Very informative hub, and I just love the hibiscus! My favorite is the orange and yellow ones. But they are beautiful. Thanks for the hub.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image
      Author

      Catherine Tally 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      shwetaji, I love to hear from fellow flower lovers :>)

      I am happy that you enjoyed my hub. Thanks for reading.

      UlrikeGrace, Thank you for your kind comments. I appreciate your reading my hub! Blessings to you as well :>)

    • UlrikeGrace profile image

      UlrikeGrace 6 years ago from Canada

      I love Hibiscus Flowers...of all varieties...thanks for the well written and informative hub!Blessings to you. Ulrike Grace

    • shwetaji profile image

      shwetaji 6 years ago from INDIA

      THANK YOU..I'M FROM INDIA...I LOVE FLOWERS...THANK YOU FOR PROVIDING DIS INFORMATION...

    • elayne001 profile image

      Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      Living in Hawaii, we have plenty of hibiscus flowers here. They are so beautiful. I love the big yellow ones. Great information.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image
      Author

      Catherine Tally 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thank you, Ripplemaker! I appreciate your nice comments :>)

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Beautiful, graceful flower! :)

      Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination! :) Follow this link and go to the Home Category. Vote, vote, vote! http://bit.ly/eIjMq9

    • cat on a soapbox profile image
      Author

      Catherine Tally 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Manny,

      Thank you for your kind comments. I can't take credit for the photographs here. They are ones chosen to fit the content of my blog. They really do justice to the beauty of the tropical "hotbiscus." I'm glad you are following me. I am anxious to see more of your lovely photography as well!

    • mannyrolando profile image

      mannyrolando 6 years ago

      Excellent hub, it is so informative! You really seem to know what you are talking about! Your photographs of the hibiscus flowers are wonderful. I have a large pink hibiscus plant and it's currently blooming really nice.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image
      Author

      Catherine Tally 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hi Kathi,

      Thanks for your comment. You must have the hardy variety with the huge blooms that dies back in Winter and comes back in Spring. I love deer, but they do help themselves to a garden buffet :>)

    • Fossillady profile image

      Kathi 6 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      I have two hibiscus bushes, not tropical, and the deer really go after them...have to watch em like a hawk...hee..other than that, they are fairly easy to take care of...maybe occasional watering in the dryer months

    • Harlan Colt profile image

      Harlan Colt 6 years ago from the Rocky Mountains

      PurrrRRRrrrrRRRrrrrr

    • cat on a soapbox profile image
      Author

      Catherine Tally 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thanks, Harlan. You are one of those candidates to have a gorgeous hib during the summer when it blooms, then toss it when the season ends. I can just see a lovely bloom on that Grand Piano! Thanks for the vote up :>)

    • Harlan Colt profile image

      Harlan Colt 6 years ago from the Rocky Mountains

      Cat,

      I love this. I wish I could have one, but I live with a good 5 months of cold/freezing temps and I really don't have an indoor place to set it. I would have to get rid of the Grand Piano and THAT is NOT going to happen. LOL!

      Thank you for a great hub tho. I voted up and useful!

      I am trying to get into the habit of always voting.

      - Best Wishes

      - Harlan

    • cat on a soapbox profile image
      Author

      Catherine Tally 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thanks, Will. I value your comments.

      I hope the memories are GOOD ones :>)

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Great Hub and brings back memories! My mother was a florist and grew all sorts of flowers.