In this month's Manatee Life, we profiled Curt Sinclair and his nursery, Exotic Hibiscus. During our interview, he gave us these handy tips for keeping your hibiscus plants healthy and beautiful.
First, hibiscus plants require at least 50 percent full sun. If you're keeping them in pots, never allow water to stand.
Sinclair says that healthy, fertilized plants (fertilized once a month) are more tolerant of insect attacks, but that plants should be watered well before applying any chemicals. He says the best time to spray for insects is in the morning or evening, when temperatures are below 80 degrees, and that you should be sure to coat the undersides of leaves as well as the tops. For serious infestations, repeat spraying every five to seven days (and add liquid fertilizer and unscented detergent soap to your mixture when spraying) until the insects are under control.
Orthene and soap controls most of the pests that affect hibiscus plants. Another common problem is a black, "sooty" mold, that while unattractive, doesn't harm the plant. Sinclair says never use Malathion on hibiscus plants.
And don't be afraid to ship those beautiful blooms to friends and loved ones up North. The day I visited Sinclair, a couple from Michigan was loading a pick-up bed full for the drive home (the nursery wraps every plant in oversized bags that protect them from the elements). Sinclair says he ships to northern climates all the time, and that 33 degrees or less will not hurt a healthy hibiscus. If you experience hard freezes, though, your hibiscus plants are better off in pots that can be moved indoors in the winter.
If you live in colder climates, do not prune much after the first of October (unless you plan to move the plant inside). If you cannot cover outdoor plants, mulch as heavily as you can to protect them against frost.
If you plan to move the plant indoors for the winter, prune two to three weeks before digging. Keep a misting bottle nearby to moisten the leaves and protect them from dry indoor heat.
Follow these tips and you'll be enjoying spectacular blooms for years to come.