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The gardener’s pot o’ mari-gold

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Home Grow Your Own Grow Your Own

Aloha hibiscus, how are ya?

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alohahibiscus.jpgIf you can’t quite afford a trip to an exotic isle, lei-ing out on magnificent beaches, here’s one island maiden that’s always on hand and ready to please.

Ideally planted in late spring to early summer, it may be a little late in the piece to begin planting hibiscus, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate them at their most bloom-tiful best and plan ahead for later in the year.

The hibiscus hype

Offering a warm contrast to tropical gardens, hibiscus flowers bring flamboyant colours from late spring right through to early autumn.

The two most common types of hibiscus are the Fijian and the Hawaiian. Easy to care for, with smaller flowers than the larger, more brash, Hawaiian variety, Fijian hibiscus are tolerant of colder weather and retain their leaves in winter.

Bred by Jack Clark, Clark’s hybrid varieties have been developed specifically to suit the New Zealand climate. These Kiwi cuties were developed by crossing Hawaiian and Fijian varieties, resulting in stunning flowers on hardy plants.

Hibiscus syriacus, or Rose of Sharon is also available in New Zealand. This deciduous lovely features pale pink flowers with red centres. Blooming late – from summer to autumn – Sharon is one cool customer, able to withstand reasonably chilly temperatures.

A much rarer but highly prized hibiscus, the Cotton Rose is a sun-lover that proves great things develop with age. Because the light pink colour of their flowers darkens within a few days, shrubs feature a rich contrast of shades.

How, where and when to plant:

When creating a backyard paradise, choose a warm, sunny location, sheltered from winds and frost, for your hibiscus. Try to plant near rocks or walls which will provide necessary shelter and retain heat during colder months.

Hibiscus can be planted directly into the garden or grown in containers. If looking to plant in containers ensure plants receive adequate water and are moved to warmer locations when temperatures drop.

Use a light, free-draining soil with a mixture of organic compost, sand and topsoil to protect against root rot.

Care:

Although these sun-bakers like it hot, ensuring your hibiscus receive enough water is crucial to their development; water deeply, particularly in summer.

Mulching is also very important to help retain moisture during warmer months and keep roots cosy in winter. Try pea straw for optimum results as this will also impede weed growth and add valuable nitrogen to the soil.

Some beautiful specimens, as we all know well, have a tendency to watch what they eat; the hibiscus is no ‘model’ for weight-watching! Requiring regular feeding, hibiscus prefer square meals of slow release fertiliser every three to four months.

Hibiscus should be pruned from late winter to early spring, once the last frost has passed, to stimulate fresh growth. When pruning, remember to cut the branches roughly one or two centimetres above the intersection of the stem and leaf (or eye).

Pests:

Wherever there’s a beauty there’s bound to be a beast and, when it comes to pests, the hibiscus has many suitors. So here’s a short guide to thwarting the unwelcome advances of such pesty players!

Attracted by pollen, hibiscus beetles can cause ‘holy’ hell as these small (usually 3-4mm in size) black insects chew holes in the petals. Spray pyrethrum during autumn and spring when these bug-ers are out and at play.

And those sooty-footed aphids go a-courting the hibiscus as well! Spotted in black or green clusters, aphids leave behind a dusty trail of mould that’s hard to miss. However, broad spectrum insecticide combined with a fungicide, or other specialised treatments, should put the soot to the sword!

Sap-sucking sods that stick to stems can really make a mealy of this precious hibiscus! Found in leaf ridges, the soil or close to stems, mealy bugs can be treated with a systemic pesticide which will be absorbed through the plant’s roots and poison mealy bugs. 

The talk of the town and a hot topic in the tropics, hibiscus flowers conjure up images of islands in the sun and long, leisurely summers. Even though the weather may not be wonderful, these pacific princesses can still bring a little taste of paradise to your place.