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Past Articles Library | Trees | A Little Taste of the Tropics-The Hibiscus Plant

Oh, have you ever desired to just get away to a tropical paradise?  Well, the trip may not be in the budget for this year but plant material that reminds of the tropics is and can easily be found in your local nursery.  What am I referring to?  Well, it is not a palm or a banana tree but instead a hibiscus plant.

A hibiscus plant can either be grown as a shrub or pruned into a small tree.  If grown as a shrub, it can easily be pruned into a hedge.  On the other hand, if limited to one stem the hibiscus can be turned into a small tree.

Also, there are two varieties of hibiscus plant.  One is a tropical type that can survive to zone 9 in the US Plant Hardiness Zone Map.  The hardy variety can survive in areas that are covered in zone 5 and above.

This deciduous shrub has vegetation that is a dark green and grows to 15 feet in frost-free areas.   The blooms’ colors can range from red to peach to yellow.  Humans are not the only organisms that find this plant beautiful.  Hummingbirds and butterflies can be seen frolicking around the flowers.

Both types of hibiscus have very similar requirements.  They both like a well-drained soil that is acidic by nature and contains a fair amount of organic matter.  To meet these needs, mix peat moss into the garden soil before planting your hibiscus.  Once that is done, dig a hole 2 to 3 times the width of the container while keeping the depth the same as the pot.  Add extra peat moss and compost to the removed soil before filling in the hole.  After that is done, cut the pot away from the hibiscus plant and tease the roots.  This is done by raking your fingers over the root ball so that the roots are loosened up.  Once that is done, place in the hole and backfill with the prepared soil.  Water in to remove air pockets and then backfill again as needed.

This tropical beauty requires 1 inch of water a week, so monitoring soil moisture is very important.  Also, hibiscus requires a lot of fertilizer that is high in potassium and low in phosphorus.  A fertilizer high in phosphorus will cause the plant to die.  Apply a full strength amount of 10-4-12 fertilizer in the spring.  Apply fertilizer again in the summer but this time makes it half strength.

Hibiscus plants can use a periodic pruning.  This will help the plant keep shape but it will cause the plant to take more time to flower.  Prune the plant in the late winter and always remember to make the cuts at an angle.

The process described above is for hibiscus plants planted outdoors but did you know that you can also grow them indoors?   Well, you can and it is not as difficult as you may imagine.  To grow your hibiscus plant inside begins with the container.  The first step of this process is to choose a proper container.  Since a hibiscus can either be trained to grow as a shrub or small tree, one will need to choose a container that is deep but also wide to create a stable base.  After you have chosen your container, the next step is to wash and sterilize the container.  This can be done by placing the pot in soapy water, washing as usual, and drying out in the sun.  This last step will not only dry the container but also sterilize it.  Once the container is prepared, the next step is to prepare the soil.

Soil for an indoor hibiscus plant consists of coco coir, peat moss, composted bark, which holds moisture and provides nutrition.  Sand and/or perlite will be added as the drainage component while compost will provide beneficial bacteria.   Mix equal parts of the listed ingredients described above before planting.

After the soil has been made, place drainage material in the bottom of the container and fill half way up with the potting soil mixture.  Cut the plant out of its original container and place in the pot.  Fill in with soil and gently tap on a table surface to settle the soil.   Add additional soil until the lower level of the rim is reached and the plant has been planted at the same level as it was in the original container.  Water in until water comes out of the bottom of the pot.   

Place in a sunny location and care for as described above. 

Monitor both indoor and outdoor hibiscus plants for white fly infestations.  If that happens, apply a horticulture insecticide or mix dish soap and water and apply to the foliage using a spray bottle. 

Pruning is very important when it comes to indoor hibiscus.  To control the growth and keep them looking their best, prune branches one node at a time.  A node is where the leaf attaches to the stem and while this approach does take some time it is easier to go a little slow then to cut off a branch that you realize, later on, that you needed.

But do not let your pruning material go to waste when it comes to the hibiscus.  The branches removed can easily be rooted to start new hibiscus.  To do this procedure, fill a flat with an all-purpose soil and water in until water begins to come out of the bottom of the flat.  Once that has happened, set the flat aside to drain. 

While the flat is draining, go out and take a few cuttings that are 5 to 6 inches long and about the diameter of a pencil.  Make sure that these cutting are done at an angle.  This will benefit both the mother plant and the cutting.  Once that is done, remove the leaves from the bottom of the cut branch and dip into a commercial rooting hormone or honey.  Poke a hole in the soil that was placed in the flat and place the cutting inside that hole.  Gently push the soil around the cutting.  Place the flat in a sunny location and monitor the soil moisture.  Only water when the soil is dry.

In a month, check the cuttings to see if they have rooted by gently tugging on the cutting.  If you get resistance, then the cutting has rooted.  If not, let it set for an addition 2 to 3 weeks.   At that point, if the cuttings have not rooted remove and do again.

Once the cuttings have rooted, remove from the flat and plant each one in a small container.  Pinch the first inch off the tip to encourage bushy growth.  Continue to water and care as usual.  Once the weather warms, gradually take the plant outside to harden off.  After your local frost-free date has passed, you can leave it outside with the rest of your indoor plants.

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Purple Knight Alternanthera

This ground cover likes partial sun to full sun.

It grows 16 to 20 inches (40-50 cm) tall, and 2 to 3 feet (60-90 cm) wide. It is very heat tolerant.

Its beautiful purple leaves make an excellent accent plant in the garden.

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