Hibiscus, a genus of more than 200 species — most of which can bloom spring through fall — can be grown in a variety of habitats, from damp, densely-wooded areas to arid, rocky areas. They also come in nearly every form: annual, perennial, 2 to 25 feet tall, with different leaf shapes and colors and a wide palette of blossom colors, including white, yellow, pink, red, blue and purple.
Most varieties of hibiscus do not tolerate cold temperatures, yet there are more than a few that can tolerate life in the Tracy area — if given a little protection from our coldest winter days and nights. Hibiscus coccineus, H. moscheutos and H. sinosyriacus are among the species that are most likely to do well here.
The hibiscus that I was contacted about was damaged by spending the winter unprotected, but it has since regrown after having the dead parts cut off. As with any cold-damaged plant, it’s best to wait until both the days and nights are warm before removing any damage.
Luckily for us, hibiscus can tolerate alkaline soil. That does not mean we in Tracy can just plant them directly into our yards, though; they need humus-rich, fast-draining soil, too. You will need to incorporate a lot of amendment before planting and be prepared to water often (and fertilize monthly) during the growing season. They need far less water (and no fertilization) in the winter.
Hibiscuses are susceptible to a host of viruses, root and stem rot, rust, fungal leaf spots and many common garden pests. Even so, hibiscus can be a wonderful addition to any landscape, providing a lot of beauty and drama in return for a little planning and effort.
• University of California-certified master gardeners are available to answer gardening questions from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 953-6112 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions for Heather Hamilton can be sent to email@example.com.