The long wait for us weather wimps here in Southern California is about over. Fortunately this year being a La Nina winter meant not a whole bunch of rain events or below average temperatures. We did have about a normal amount of wind events and we were lucky in that department as La Nina weather patterns can make for a much windier winter but the jet stream was so far north of us we didn’t get many weather systems over Nevada (inside sliders) that typically create the strongest wind events for us.
Why does this matter? Well if you haven’t already figured out that growing hibiscus, especially exotic hibiscus they are totally controlled by the weather we get. Even with our best efforts to give them ideal inputs and lot of TLC the weather can still cause major problems and cancel out months worth of heroic work. So being we had a relatively mild winter our outlook for this spring and summer is looking quite good. So that is really good news and we are getting more excited by the week. But we are still not out of the woods yet. We are still getting weather systems just to the north of us causing mild daytime temps and more importantly cold nights in the low to mid 40s which means our hibiscus are not quite ready to do their full on spring growth spurts yet.
What you should be seeing now on some of your hibiscus is some beginning and moderate growth spurts on your strongest and healthiest plants. Ones that suffered during winter and became unhappy will probably still not show much in the way of any new growth or hints they are waking up yet. So as a good grower you will resist the temptation to start watering and fertilizing them like they are in full on spring growth mode. Don’t let the calendar fool you into thinking it’s time to get them going full force. March in So Cal can still be full on winter at times and if anything your hibiscus will get more confused than ever with the back and forth of winter and spring.
It is crucial that during this stretch when the weather pattern has yet to fully shift over to spring and night temps that don’t get under 50F to restrain from watering them much yet. Their metabolism is still in slow motion and they cannot uptake much in the way of water and fertilizers yet. This is especially true if your hibiscus dropped a lot of leaves during winter. It has limited ability to transpire out water so the soil around the roots will stay very wet which is a dangerous situation with the colder temps still. A great guide to know how much water and ferts to give is to go by the size of the new leaves. Baby leaves means small amounts of water and as the leaves grow in size you can match that growth rate with increases in water. Most importantly don’t forget the Golden Rule of growing hibiscus: What you see now was caused by events 2-3 weeks ago. So don’t get too excited if you get a day near 80F and think you can give them immediate spring inputs. That 80F degree heat will take a week or two to effect your hibiscus plants so be patient and keep it in mind as you strategize the inputs you need to give your plants.
Also this is the best time of year to prune your hibiscus. Yes you might be missing all those gorgeous blooms but if you see that your are getting primarily top growth on the branches then it is time to prune. To get a nice symmetrical bush with blooms over more of your hibiscus plant and more branching you will have to prune it. Actually hibiscus do much better when pruned especially if your plant has good genetics for a strong and vigorous bush (Hidden Valley Hibiscus are bred especially for this). Also pruning helps to make your hibiscus less vulnerable to wind damage since they aren’t as tall with longer branches. When you prune make sure to cut just above a node on a branch that is pointing outwards. You want all branches to grow away from the center of the plant. Over time you will learn the growth pattern of each variety you have and what type of pruning will be best for it.
For example if you have a hibiscus plant that has strong branches that grow vertically then you don’t have to prune down as much. On the other hand it you have a variety that grows more thin branches that tend to flop you might have to prune down a lot lower to encourage it to grow thicker branches that will grow more upright. Some varieties can have such poor growth habits that no matter where you prune them the branches will always be thin and floppy. This is why we are such big fans of hybridizers that pay attention to the plant attributes as well as a pretty bloom. Boy are we lucky HVH happens to be our own So Cal hybridizers and sellers of exotic hibiscus. Over time you will appreciate this factor more and more with all the effort needed to have successful hibiscus plants.
So we can now see the light at the end of the winter tunnel which for all others living in our country is not much of a tunnel. April tends to be the first month of the year we get some really warm temps. If temps get into the mid and upper 80s especially when they don’t do this gradually then expect lots of yellow leaves. The last part of spring for hibiscus is to drop all of last year’s leaves and replace them with new ones. Hibiscus are interesting in that they will produce new leaves but they will only be suited for mild to warm temps. When we get our first really hot weather typically in early July our hibiscus will again yellow and drop all their spring leaves and produce new ones that are geared for hot temperatures. And on top of that the plant figures that if there is abundant heat it will not need as many leaves so it won’t grow back as many leaves as they had in spring. This is a bit unfortunate as your hibiscus might not look as lush as it did during the spring after growing in all it’s new leaves. On the flip side the blooms from heatwaves are the prettiest you can get.
So there you have it – things to look forward to in spring. Let’s all hope that the pandemic continues to ease for all of us and we can soon get together in person and get our hibiscus thing on full force again. We miss you all and look forward to that day very much!