It is not too often that a noticeable giant leap forward is made in the gardening world these days. But that is how I feel about what has taken place in the realm of hibiscus over the past 5 to 10 years. Thanks in large part to the very hard work and dedication of handful of world class hybridizers of which several originate from Southern California we have seen a transformation away from the prototypical hibiscus plant and bloom. We all know the monotone but so cute red and yellow blooms that could cover a tall and open looking wild bush that more likely then not were the backdrop or accent piece of a garden. Well the days of that approach are numbered here in So Cal…
The first big advance was producing beautiful large size blooms that present themselves well (not drooping down). Flowers that are 9” or more in diameter can get pretty heavy so the stem needs to be strong otherwise nothing to see but the underside of petals when you pass by. So right there you have a beautiful multicolored bloom of a size that few other if any type of plants can match.
The next advance and in my opinion the most important is creating a high quality bush to grow such blooms on. Now this is no easy task when you are dealing with a tropical woody shrub. It takes a lot of time and discipline as a hybridizer to go beyond getting a pretty seedling bloom and focus on the plant and it’s characteristics. Over time you identify which parents seem to best pass along genes for robust plants that are lush, vigorous, generously branch out, are most disease and pest resistant and also can bloom easily and in high volumes. Then it is years of patience as you might get 2% acceptable seedlings per generation that you then cross again and again to further improve the bush quality. Years turns into a decade or more until you arrive at where we are at today.
In my opinion Charles & Cindy Black have been the lone crusaders in understanding how fundamentally important this is for the future of fancy hibiscus. To create an entire hybridizing program with that goal in mind and then to execute it as well as they have is truly remarkable. Now we have a full package that is really a sight to behold.
The last advance which I feel we are now starting to get into is the ability to grow these tropical shrubs in ground year round. The more traditional varieties are hardy and do not require too much care in the ground as long as you don’t get freezing night temperatures. But these new hybrids are much more demanding to the point where most everyone assumed come winter these plants need to be brought indoors or under protective sheltering to survive.
Thanks to a lot of painstaking research and experimentation by growers and hybridizers around the world we now have defined the primary steps needed in regards to successfully growing fancy hibiscus. The right soil and drainage, correct inputs and amounts of fertilizers, irrigation, and growing strategy based on location is now a systematic process to follow. The only variable (and this is a hugely important one) left to work out is the modifications needed for your specific micro-climate. And when I say micro-climate it can even mean the difference from one side of your garden to the other.
The fun and the challenge now is finding the right balance of all these factors to not only successfully grow these plants but to exceed expectations. As I drive around Southern California everyday I see endless gardens and landscapes and I still have yet to see anything as eye catching as a lush green bush with huge 9” blooms of the most beautiful color combo flowers jumping out at you from across the street. When you succeed the rewards are really worth it. Everyday people stop in their tracks when they see these plants in my yard and are moved to the core.
What other plant can do that…