Memorial Day traditionally kicks off the start of summer but here in North Texas, gardeners have been thinking about (dreading?) summer for the past month or two. The temperatures have crept up. Then jumped up. And with that summer is here.
What plants can survive – let alone thrive – a Texas summer? Above 100 degree days. Nighttime lows a sticky 85 degrees. Endless days, weeks, with no rain in sight.
Hibiscus are a great option. While some are native to this region and others from far away continents, all do very well in this area and offer bold splashes of color that will last through the summertime.
Where to even begin when talking about hibiscus? Malvaviscus… What a mouthful the Latin name is! They are often referred to as mallows, which is much easier on the tongue.
Some hibiscus are perennial in North Texas, while others are not. But almost all of them have large, tropical looking blooms. Wiki reports that they have “conspicuous” flowers. You think?!
As Steve Bender wrote in “Passalong Plants, “If you are the kind of gardener who considers bright, splashy colors and big, bold blooms an affront to polite society, then you should probably pass (hibiscus) by.”
Not one to shy away from big and bold, I grow a number of hibiscus varieties and am always looking for more.
Tropical hibiscus are available in a wide range of colors – reds, oranges, yellows, pinks and white and many variations in between and blends thereof.
I bring my tropical hibiscus into the garage once temperatures get into the 40s at night, though I will schlep them outside and water them on warm winter days. (I just have to remember to get them back inside before the temperatures drop!)
Hibiscus schizopetalus, sometimes called fringed rose mallow or spider hibiscus… It has delicate petals that hang downward, sure to stop garden visitors in their steps. (Photo below.)
Texas star hibiscus – hibiscus coccineus – a native hibiscus. Sometimes called scarlet rose mallow. This hibiscus can grow in swampy areas or in a pond, but will also tolerate drier (though not dry!) areas of the garden. Like all hibiscus, it will do best with ample water and fertilizer. It can grow to 6-7 feet tall in one season, so is best planted at the back of the flower bed. Texas star hibiscus is also available in white, if bright red is not your style.
Perennial hibiscus – hibiscus moscheutos – sometimes called hardy hibiscus. This hibiscus is available in red, pinks, white and variations of those. (Photos below.)
All hibiscus can tolerate some afternoon shade, but do best in full sun. The more sun, the more flowers. Likewise, more fertilizer, more flowers. I feed my perennial hibiscus once in the spring, early summer and late summer. I try to fertilize my container plants, hibiscus included, once a month as container soils do not hold nutrients as well.
Perennial hibiscus will die to the ground in the winter. Do not remove the dead plant stalks until spring, when new growth is emerging. I top-dress hibiscus with fresh compost each spring when I cut them back.
Both tropical and perennial hibiscus are easy to grow, with big rewards.
There are several hundred species of hibiscus, from our 35 rose mallows that are native to southeastern part United States to hibiscus syriacus (also known as both Rose of Sharon and Shrub Althea) which can be grown as a large shrub or a small tree. I am still exploring all the nooks and crannies of this genus. To nourish me along this horticultural quest, I am experimenting with food and drinks made from hibiscus. (Next up: Hibiscus lemon bars…)