GARDEN VIEW: Hibiscus – southern charm and tropical delight


Anyone who grew up in the south is likely to remember Althea, also called Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus). It is a tall shrub in their gardens. When I was a child, growing up in southern Louisiana, we had a whole row of these 8-foot tall hibiscus growing along a fence, alternating with lavender and pink varieties. They put on quite a show of flowers in the heat of summer, when everything else in the garden was gasping for air and holding on for cooler times.

Hibiscus can be divided into two broad categories, the hardy hibiscus and the tropical hibiscus. We can grow both types in our south Texas climate, with some precaution. The tropical hibiscus, which includes some wildly colored varieties, must be protected when temperatures dip below 38 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some nurserymen recommend growing tropical hibiscus in pots and moving them inside when the weather chills. This is the way to go in areas north of the Rio Grande Valley or in unprotected areas. In south Texas, if they are grown in a protected yard, it is possible to put them in the ground and cover them when the temperatures get below 38 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tropical hibiscus requires shady conditions. They will not survive in full sunlight, especially during the summer. Both tropical and hardy hibiscus require well drained soils.

The hardy hibiscus requires full sunlight. Most varieties, including our native hibiscus, Malvariscus arboreus, will tolerate some light shade from afternoon sun. The turk’s cap, is a favorite of hummingbirds and all of us should find a spot in our garden for this variety.

The Althea also performs well, although I have not seen many plantings of this old fashion garden shrub. They are available in single or double flowers in either white, pink or lavender colored blooms. Once established (after the first year) both the native turk’s cap and the Althea are drought tolerant. My turk’s cap is in a well mulched bed, shaded from afternoon sun and protected from drying winds, and I water it deeply once a month in the summer.

The Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) is one of the most popular hardy hibiscus in the nursery trade. This hibiscus has hundreds of hybrids with numerous colors and color combinations. The Chinese hibiscus performs well in the Valley in full sun or light shade. They bloom several times a year and produce multiple flowers on a plant each day.

Hibiscus flowers open for one day only. If you would like to use them scattered on a table as a decoration, simply cut them early in the morning, as soon as they open. Place them on a plate in the refrigerator until time to decorate your table.

No matter if you choose a hardy type or a tropical hibiscus, either can thrive in South Texas gardens. Keep in mind that the tropical will perform best under shade conditions and both types require well drained soils enriched with organic matter. Check with local nurserymen for the best color selections.

Barbara Storz is a local horticulturist. You can listen to her at 7 a.m. Saturdays on 710 KURV Radio, or e-mail her at bstorz