The first time I traveled to the Caribbean I was stunned at all of the beauty. It wasn’t just the crystal clear water but that it seemed hibiscuses were blooming everywhere. Now when I see one, I have visual memories of the islands. It’s funny how plants can mentally take us where either our budget or time won’t allow.
The hibiscus is a born bloomer, giving you one of the best buys for your gardening dollar. The tropical hibiscus is known botanically as Hibiscus rosa-sinensis and originated in China. It is kin to our well-known swamp hibiscus or mallow.
Hibiscus flowers are spectacular, displaying bright oranges, yellows, red, pinks, whites and blends of these colors. Some even have double blossoms. The dark green foliage is handsome and contrasts nicely with the beautiful flowers.
Many of us are so awestruck by their beauty we treat them like a trophy. It is hard to find fault with this because they are so mesmerizing with color and texture. Once you start giving them partners, however, their beauty will become even more stunning.
In the landscape nothing can create the island look more quickly that partnering with coarse texture foliage like bananas and elephant ears. By all means do that, but go even smaller or micro in your target of partnerships. Consider using coleus of all colors.
Hibiscus belongs in the landscape whether combined with bananas, cannas or some other tropical plant. The requirements are much like any other annual we grow. Plant your hibiscus in well-drained, well-prepared beds because they absolutely cannot take wet feet, but use a good layer of mulch to keep the soil evenly moist and of, course, to make weed control easier.
Choose a site with plenty of sunlight, preferably morning sun and filtered afternoon light. Hibiscus blooms on new growth so it is important to keep it growing vigorously throughout the season. Keep them well fed and, if rain doesn’t provide, watered.
Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South.”