Monday, August 29, 2011

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Hibiscus



Flowers of Cranberry Crush hibiscus
'Cranberry Crush'
Say the word "hibiscus," and most people think of the colorful tropical plant that's parked on countless patios every summer.

What many don't realize, though, is that there's a hardy perennial version that blooms from this time of year until frost. Its large flowers are a welcome addition to the garden at a time when few other plants are still providing color.

That is especially true this year when our extensive stretch of 100-degree weather prompted many long-blooming plants to stop earlier than usual. Heat exhaustion, I guess.

Hardy hibiscus flowers can be very large, 8 to 12 inches across, and the plants need to be staked as a result. Some people unfortunately avoid them as a result and that's a shame. The plant has come a long way in recent years and are worthy of a second look.

Initially, hibiscus moscheutos only came in red, pink or white and had rounded leaves like hollyhocks, another member of the mallow family. The latest hybrids come in a broader array of colors and have much more intersting leaves that provide year-round interest.


Leaves of Cranberry Crush hibiscus
The leaves of 'Cranberry Crush'
Cranberry Crush, for example, has reddish-green lobed leaves and almost black buds that open to a scarlet red flower. Copper King has leaves that turn a copper color in the fall.

And then there's Blue River II, which despite its name, has the purest white flowers you've ever seen. It would be fantastic in a moon garden.


Blue River II hibiscus
'Blue River II'
Because these beauties are late to bloom, they also are late to wake up in the spring -- as late as early June, depending on the weather. One of my former neighbors who had these in her yard was constantly fighting the urge to dig these up every spring because she feared they had died.

Hardy hibiscus are hybrids of native wildflowers, though, and they returned reliably, year after year, even with the cold Minnesota winters. They especially work well with spring bulbs as the bulbs are finished blooming by the time the hibiscus starts growing.

These plants started out in swamps so they like consistent moisture for the first year. But once established, they can withstand drought. They need at least six hours of sun and keep blooming despite sweltering temperatures.

Hardy hibiscus don't have the same insect problems that tropical hibiscus can, although be on the lookout for Japanese beetles. Hibiscus should be cut back after a hard frost to about 12 inches and mulched.


Peppermint Schnapps hibiscus
'Peppermint Schnapps'

So if you want some color in your garden when all the kids (or grandkids) are back in school and the temperatures outside are a bit more comfortable for lounging, take a look at hibiscus. You don't need to move to a tropical isle to enjoy them.

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