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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Zone 7? Gotta have Hibiscus!

There is perhaps no flower that conjures images of the tropics than the flower of a Hibiscus!

Though they look like they have to be strictly a tropical plant, there are a lot of "cold hardy" hibiscus varieties that can thrive in Zone 4 temperatures (my wife's sister has one in her Minnesota front yard!).

These great flowering plants are hybrids of North American natives such as the Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). The flowers are HUGE, up to 12" in diameter or larger depending on the variety. They come in many different colors, growth habits and leaf patterns. New varieties appear on the market each year as many gardeners have fallen in love with these hardy perennials.

When the frosts hit in the fall, just cut the plant down to a couple inches from the ground and lightly mulch (more for moisture retention than warmth in Zone 7). In late spring the plant will put out new growth at a fantastic rate and bloom until frost as long as it's well watered and fertilized.

If there is a downside to these great plants, it's that they can be hard to find, though I have started seeing them at the big home improvement stores and a few local nurseries. If you go to a local store make sure that you are purchasing a cold hardy hibiscus and not the more commonly sold tropical varieties! Unfortunately the two varieties can be mislabeled easily as there are so many different forms of cold hardy hibiscus. I recommend purchasing them online from a catalog nursery or one of the many hobbyist that specialize in these plants.

While they grow well from seed, I recommend buying a small potted plant. Since they grow fast, spend the money you would for a larger plant on two or more smaller ones. If you're like me, once you see the flowers from one you'll want more!

This image is one I took of my Fantasia hardy hibiscus. I bought it in June as a small quart plant with just one main stalk. It has grown fast and puts out a new 8" flower or two every day!

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