The Q&A Archives: Three Kinds of Common Hibiscus

Question: My hibiscus occassionally goes through periods where many of the leaves turn yellow. It's a potted plant and I feed it once a month or so. Is the yellowing a sign of too many nutrients or too much water? During the winter, I pruned it severely and covered it with clear plastic which protected it from snow and wind. It didn't do anything until June, when it started to sprout new growth. Will the plant mature before September and is what I did the correct regimen or is something else called for. Everyone tells me these plants won't survive the winter outside.

Answer: There are three kinds of common hibiscus: 1) the exotic and truly tropical Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, the flower behind the ear of Hawaiian ladies, and a popular pot plant in the northern climes of the continental U.S. It survives only in the deepest south and California. It has deepest green shiny foliage and flowers in every color but green and blue. 2) the common rose-of-sharon or Hibiscus syriacus, which is a hardy shrub with small bluish, pinkish, or reddish flowers. Although rarely sold as blooming plants in small containers, I don't see why it can't. 3) the tropical-looking but hardy Hibisus moshuetos which has the biggest flowers of all (9-12 inches across!). The leaves, too, are huge, but pale in color. The flowers come in white throughpink to deep rose, some with eyes . Your potted hibiscus, especially if it was a gift or purchased in a florist or supermarket, is probably the first. As an indoor plant, it likes full hot sun, even moisture (not sogginess), and an occasional feedingwith a complete fertilizer (not too high in nitrogen but must have iron). Overwatering is the most common cause of lower leaves yellowing. As for your outdoor hibiscus, if it is indeed the first kind, you have something special. If it's the last, youat least have a nice garden plant (and one of my favorite perennials).

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