The Styled Ramblings of Heavy Petal's Bruce Bailey

Hot for Hibiscus 2011!

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The Hot for Hibiscus event is something that has grown slowly here at Heavy Petal Nursery. This is not the first year I have held this event– it has become an annual thing.

Last year I had a couple of friends come help, the weather was cool and I was forcing the hibiscus to bloom in the greenhouse. We had to haul them all out of the greenhouse the morning of the event, but what a show when the blooms started to open! This year I don’t have that problem, though it is cool again. Odd weather.  This year I also have a few friends I have invited to come vend. One of my friends specializes in ferns, and the other is an expert in clematis. I have also invited a few artisans.

Please enjoy a few of the pictures I have assembled into a slide show at the bottom of the page.

Hardy hibiscus, Hibiscus moscheutos, commonly refered to as swamp mallow, rose mallow, or sea hollyhock are showy perennials for any garden. I will remind everyone again I am in USDA zone 5.

Hibiscus m. are late to awaken, usually rising from the ground when it becomes warm (about the time you plant tomatoes) and then they grow with the heat. Dependable bloomers, plants tend to start blooming in my area (zone 5) in late July and keep going till the first heavy frost. Feed them heavily when they start to come up. Slow release fertilizer is fine, manure tea is great as it is there for those hungry awakening roots. You can pinch them back if you want to keep them to size. This also promotes side shoots which equal more branching and more blossoms. I try to dead head my plants to keep them clean and keep them blooming.

In the past I have been raising about 600 hardy hibiscus plants yearly. This year I am raising around one thousand and have about 250 seedlings that I am working with. Yes, a small breeding program—something new for me, but an adventure none the less.

Now I get asked questions all the time like—do they spread?

The answer is not really. They have a central base root and each year produce more canes off this center. They are not going to be invasive, misbehave, or takeover.

Where do I plant one of these hibiscus in my garden?

Well, they are a tall perennial—so back of the border. I have seen them easily reach six feet. I suggest planting them in a hot spot in your garden, or an area that receives a lot of sun. Please don’t put them someplace where they are kept cool and shady.

How much water do they need?

Well, I am in the desert so I would say keep the soil moist. I would say that anywhere with most perennials, but they also have a fantastic root system and could go through short periods of drought if they had to. I have seen a garden that the people moving and put their house up for sale. The person tending the house neglected most things, but the not the lawn. Shrubs and perennials looked dry, but the hibiscus still bloomed. Not the same way as if they were well-tended, but they did bloom.

Customers come up to me and start to talk about the hibiscus they purchased the previous year. Cringing as I am expecting the worse, they proceed with their tale, but it tends to be the opposite. One woman started in on me that her hibiscus was too big for the spot, had already gotten taller than the fence and was pushing other perennials aside. What should she do? I suggested moving the perennials and buying a few more hibiscus. That is exactly what she did and is very happy about it.

Hardy hibiscus are not plants for those who are meek gardeners or weak at heart. They are lusty plants. People see them at my booth at the local farmers market—

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flowers become objects of desire. Reds leer out at passers-by, pinks sparkle, mauve and plums seduce.  The flowers are commonly refered to as dinner plates because of their rounded shape and size, but there are several varieties that are lobed like the classic hibiscus we all think of.

I only sell one white variety—Blue Danube II. It is clean, and clear, has no red ‘eye’ and the foliage has a slightly different tint that comes off as blue next to the white plate size blossoms.

Foliage is also another thing to look at when purchasing your hardy hibiscus.

I recall as a child that the only foliage I really saw was a green leaf that reminded me of a Tilia (little leaf linden) but some of the foliage may just more interesting than the flowers themselves. Kopper King and Plum Crazy were a couple of the first I grew with colored foliage. Kopper King has maple-like leaves and the white blossoms with red veins and ‘eye’ just pop on these plants. Plum Crazy is double named. The foliage is plum tinted but so are the flowers—plum with a deep plum eye. Summer Storm with the leaves ranging from maroon to black-purple with clear cotton candy pink blossoms with a red ‘eye’.  Fireball, a smoky red bloomer with burgundy blushes to the foliage. The foliage can be quite lovely in the mixed border before the blossoms ever appear.

In the United States these plants are widely grown from Massachusetts to Michigan, southwards to Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. In southern states Hibiscus coccineus is more common being the native swamp mallow found in tidal marshes.

On the west side of the Rockies I have seen them in Boise and here in the Pacific Northwest. I remember seeing them in central California as a kid too. To me they are a great ‘Steam Punk’ Garden plant. They pay homage to the Victorian gardens of the late 19th Century but are definitely contemporary as well. Hardy hibiscus fit my aesthetic.

Enjoy and Happy Gardening!

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One response

  1. Captions?????

    July 20, 2011 at 3:08 am

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