There's an easy and inexpensive solution to make your yard stand out on the landscape.
By JOHN A. STARNES JR.
Published June 12, 2004
[Times photo: Jim Damaske]
The colorful blooms of the hibiscus can offer relief from bland hedges.
Let's face it, landscape hedges are about as exciting as reruns of Hawaii Five-0, but this is Florida, and we can change from boring to bodacious with the elegance of hibiscus shrubs.
Imagine an alluring apricot or regal red hibiscus in place of a drab ligustrum. The hibiscus' colorful blooms personify Florida's splendor and offer an inexpensive solution to our sometimes bland landscapes.
The husky own-root shrubs sold in 1-gallon pots cost from $3 to $4 (those expensive, grafted shrubs revert to the root stock after a hard freeze kills the tops) and are easy to root from cuttings in builder's sand. Space them 2 to 3 feet apart in a sunny location and in fertile soil. They will quickly merge into a hedge that can be kept formally clipped or allowed to display their natural grace. A hard cut-back each March will keep them in bounds; lay the branches on the ground on both sides of the hedge to decay into a natural mulch that will soon be hidden as they grow back.
I've been creating hibiscus hedges for clients since 1984 and have developed these steps: Plant them 4 inches deeper than they grew in the pot (this is insurance against hard freezes that might kill the base of the plant).
Lightly sprinkle dolomitic limestone on them annually if in acid soil (the norm in inland central Florida), feed the entire yard each March, July, September and December with menhaden fish meal or Calf-Manna pellets and keep them mulched for rich, moist soil.
A hibiscus hedge can create exotic, soft to the skin privacy for a swimming pool or hot tub, mask a long stretch of boring chain link fence, define a property line, add welcome color to the front of your home, plus add some zing to salads. Yup, hibiscus petals are edible, and fresh petals tossed in with that Romaine and arugula add a mildly sweet taste and relief from sorry sameness.
Bug and disease problems are very minimal with well-fed, deeply mulched hibiscus shrubs, though mealy bugs will infest those stressed long term by drought, starvation or chronically soggy soil.
Can't think of the last time someone admired your drab green hedges? Go ahead, yank 'em out and invite in the cheer and ease of hibiscus as a celebration of life in this lovely state we call home.
John A. Starnes Jr., born in Key West, is an avid organic gardener and rosarian who studies, collects, cultivates and hybridizes roses for the diverse regions of Florida. He can be reached at email@example.com
Speaking of hibiscus. There will be a show and sale from 1-4 p.m. Sunday at the Pinellas County Extension Service near Heritage Village, 12175 125th St. N, Largo. The event is free. There will be a presentation on rooting hibiscus at 2 p.m. For more information, call (727) 582-2100 or log on to: http://sunsetchapter.org