Prairies - Touch of the tropics
by Linda Stilkowski
For Prairie gardeners, a touch of the tropics can bring vibrant colour to those months of winter white.
If you're a big fan of flamboyant flowers, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis may be just the houseplant for you. Originating in China, tropical hibiscus is used extensively for hybridizing—or, in the case of the yellow hibiscus (Hibiscus brackenridge, Hawaii's state flower), for adorning the hair of wahines. Garden centres now offer larger selections of hybrids to satisfy increasing demand for new and striking specimens—some the size of a dinner plate!
Tropical hibiscus respond to bright light, high humidity and even temperatures close to 20'C. A light, soilless mix is recommended, as good drainage is essential. Choose a large pot relative to the plant when transplanting but the pot need not be deep. Hibiscus appreciate a lot of soil around their shallow roots. Many will get as large as you let them, or can be kept compact with pruning.
Feed with a water-soluble, slow-release 18-10-28 fertilizer or compost tea every month. If your home is dry, set your plants on a tray filled with pebbles and water. Supplementing some hibiscus with artificial light will result in lusher growth and more flowers—typically a new bloom every day!
Monitor for pests by using sticky, yellow card traps. Aphids and whiteflies can be controlled with a good shower. Seal off the soil around the base of the pot with some plastic and spray with a lukewarm stream of water directly on the foliage, particularly on the undersides. Persistent pests can be treated with a mild insecticidal soap. When spring finally arrives, hibiscus do double-duty as spectacular patio plants.
Nadeen Pickard of Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba, is so smitten with hibiscus that she recently imported more than 100 cultivars from Australia, making her private collection the largest in Canada. Pickard is the secretary/treasurer for the International Hibiscus Society (IHS), a Web-based society dedicated to the care, culture and beauty of this exotic plant. Visit the IHS Web site at www.internationalhibiscussociety.org