Friday, August 3, 2012

Rose Mallow

Hibiscus "Luna"
I don't know why, but I seem to need to say the plant "hibiscus" in my Julia Child voice.  OK, that's weird but still it's a true confession.

I've had a little hibiscus bush for years tucked in a corner on the south of the house.  It desperately needs moved to let it spread and have more light.  On the other hand, it is protected from wind and crazy northern weather. 

I totally lost my mind at one of my favorite garden stores, Monticello Indiana Garden Station.  There beckoning me was this beautiful 3 foot blooming hibiscus "Turn of the Century". 

Totally loosing my mind because it's the wrong time of the year to plant them, we are in the middle of a severe drought and, seriously, did I need another bush in my yard?

Hibiscus are sensitive to our northern climate and have typically been a tropical plant.  One look at the huge flowers and it transports you to an island vacation.  The flowers are bright, big and showy.

Hibiscus is from the mallow family and are available in annual, perennial, shrub and trees.  The hardy hibiscus is also called rose mallow and swamp mallow.  The flowers open for one day and a chance to see them unfurl in the morning is pretty close to watching a miracle.

Flowers are in colors and shades of red, white, yellow, peach/orange, and purple.  I caution you to read the label carefully and shop reputable garden centers before buying for a Zone 5 garden.  Typically, they aren't cheap and there are some pretty crazy claims in catalog hibiscus.  Buying one may give you a very expensive annual.  The "hardy hibiscus" and "dinner-plate hibiscus" are names of Hibiscus moscheutos (the one you must have for them to survive in cold climates.)  

Never fear, come spring you will find your plant has totally died down to the ground (herbaceous perennial) and will be very late sending up new sprouts.  Don't panic and don't accidentally dig it up.  (Most should be marked so you don't disturb or accidentally remove.)  They bloom late July into August.

Hibiscus need well drained moist soil; rich in nutrients or enhanced with manure and compost.  They do well planted in areas where it stays moist such as beside water, low areas and where you will remember to water come dry periods.  They benefit from substantial mulching. 

Hibiscus "Turn of the Century"
I typically dig the hole for a new plant a bit deep.  The top of the soil is even to where it is in the pot but the entire plant base is below the ground around.  I then make a rim around the hole with more soil so water does not run off yet it is not standing in water nor planted too deep.  This makes establishing the plant easier.  Again, read your label:  Some like full sun while others prefer some afternoon shade. 

Many nations, where this plant is native, have quite varied uses:  paper, tea from the flowers, candied, as a vegetable, and as a natural die.

The hibiscus flower is often a topic for Asian paintings, weavers, personal adornment and decor.   It has been used for medical purposes in China, by herbalist and the American native Indians.

Butterflies and hummingbirds LOVE hibiscus and some moths use them as food.  The hibiscus sawfly can be controlled by an application of insecticide each early summer and fall.  They are deer resistant.  A big downside is they are a very favorite for Japanese beetles - as are all mallow plants.  Either spray with insecticide or religiously pick them off every morning - otherwise you'll have no flowers.

Hibiscus"Luna" at the Ball Horticulture Display
The only other piece of information you should tuck into your bonnet:  In some countries, putting a red hibiscus flower behind your ear means you're available for marriage.  Could be awkward.            

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