Hibiscus a great choice for a soggy summer
We are certainly used to warm, humid weather here in the Lowcountry, but the recent onslaught of rainfall has left many wondering if we will ever see the sun again.
Even the most easygoing plants in my garden are beginning to show side effects of too much water.
The drought-tolerant plants are struggling the most. Unsure what to do with such an abundance of water, they are giving up the ghost with root rot and subsequent wilting and ugly foliar fungal diseases from splashing water.
One group of plants that seems to be just thrilled with the large amount of moisture is the tropical and native members of the hibiscus family. Flowering prolifically around the Lowcountry, despite the soggy summer, bright blooming hibiscus are putting on quite a show.
Members of the genus Hibiscus are part of a larger group of plants in the family Malvaceae. Grown throughout the world for their beautiful flowers, fruits and fiber, this family includes cotton, okra, Confederate Rose and Hollyhock, just to name a few.
Chinese Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), known as the “Queen of the Tropics,” conjures images of the islands and is the most widely available type of hibiscus in the horticulture trade.
The botanical name literally translates to ‘Chinese rose’ and is thought to have made its way to the South Pacific through the trade routes, becoming the official flower of Hawaii.
While Chinese Hibiscus is treated as an annual in South Carolina, it’s actually a perennial shrub in its native regions of Asia. It is not cold hardy anywhere in the state, but it can be overwintered indoors and brought back outside after all danger of frost has passed.
If you overwinter one of the new dwarf types, don’t be alarmed when it grows to normal hibiscus proportions the following season. They are not hybridized or bred to be smaller but are sprayed with a growth regulator to keep their size in check. Since they are intended for use as annuals, most gardeners will never see them outgrow the effects of the chemical growth regulator.
Chinese hibiscus is available in punchy tropical colors, including red, orange, yellow, pink, lavender and apricot. Many gardeners grow them in large containers so they can be moved in and out with the seasons. It can be a struggle to keep the containerized plants moist during the summer, as their roots quickly expand to fill the pots. This summer, they are receiving ample water through natural rainfall and are flowering abundantly.
My favorite member of the hibiscus family is Scarlet Swamp Hibiscus or Texas Star Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus). This southeastern native plant was made for wet conditions, naturally thriving in swamps, marshes and boggy ditches.
With extra-large single red flowers, Scarlet Swamp Hibiscus blooms until fall when it dies back to the ground. Plant this native in just about any condition, except full shade, and it will reward you with gorgeous blooms and frequent visits by hummingbirds.
Another popular perennial hibiscus is the native Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). Rose Mallow blooms from August through October in the Lowcountry and thrives in marshy areas. These old-fashioned favorites boast huge dinner-plate sized blooms, often up to 10 inches across.
Rose Mallow is a native plant that has been used regularly in hibiscus breeding, giving rise to many of the perennial hybrids available such as:
‘Kopper King’ and the new and improved ‘Copper Queen’ both prized for finely cut, bronzy red foliage and light pink to white flowers with deep mahogany centers;
‘Turn of the Century’ featuring pink flowers with a pinwheel patterned red center;
Proven Winners has a line of perennial hibiscus called Summerific with cultivars including ‘Summer Storm’ and ‘Berrylicious’.
Cut perennial hibiscus back three to six inches above the ground at the onset of winter weather. Plant these hardy hibiscus alongside cannas, elephant ears and crinums, all of which take kindly to boggy conditions.
Native Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) is sometimes referred to as Sleeping Hibiscus because the bright red flower petals never fully open. Hummingbirds love to drink nectar from the many small, one-inch red flowers that adorn the 3-6 feet herbaceous shrub.
Found naturally growing along streambeds and at the woods edge, Turk’s Cap is a good choice to brighten shady corners in the garden, and can handle slightly wet feet.
For more about tropical and native hibiscus check out the Clemson Home and Garden Information Center Factsheet on Hibiscus at http://bit.ly/EnIPw.
For more on native species that thrive in the Lowcountry, search “hibiscus” at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center at www.wildflower.org.
Master Gardener class
Want to learn more about gardening? Applications are being accepted for the 2013-14 Clemson Extension Tri-County Master Gardener Training Course.
The course will be 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursdays, beginning Sept. 19 (except holidays) through December at North Charleston City Hall. Candidates must apply by Aug. 2. Candidate interviews will be held Aug. 12-16.
For details, go to www.clemson.edu/extension/mg/counties/tri_county/.
Amy L. Dabbs is the urban horticulture extension agent and Tri-County Master Gardener coordinator for the Clemson University Cooperative Extension. Send questions to email@example.com