With these showy hibiscus, even seeing isn't believing

The large hybrids are the mainstay at a nursery with six greenhouses.

By JACKIE RIPLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published October 19, 2007


Hibiscus the size of dinner plates. Shades that look almost incandescent. Hard to believe? That's what's growing at Unbelievable Hibiscus, a plant nursery in Wesley Chapel.

"Unbelievable is what everybody says when they see them," said Don Mixon who owns the nursery with longtime companion Kathy Grandoff. "You have to reach over to touch it to realize it's real."

Mixon, president of the bay area's Sunset chapter of the American Hibiscus Society, has been growing hybrid hibiscus for nine years. And while he likes to refer to his operation as a hobby, it now includes six greenhouses and still is growing.

"I just started growing more and more," said Mixon, whose collection of hybrid hibiscus numbers 1,000 varieties and 10,000 plants. "The first year we grew more plants than we could protect from the cold."

That's when Mixon started building greenhouses on the couple's 10-acre spread, and Grandoff told him to get the paperwork in order. She was going to start selling to the public.

"The joy of hybridizing is when you get a seed, plant it and it grows into something you can name," Grandoff said. "Then you can register it in the International Hibiscus site that goes around the world."

Mixon and Grandoff have registered three hybrids. They named the first, "Utterly Confused," because the petals don't open until around 4 in the afternoon. They named their second - a plant with a pastel lavender bud - "Angelic Rose." And the third they named "Red High Heels." It's a bright red flower that looks as if it's been sprinkled with powered sugar.

"When you graft two, you can get offspring that looks like the mother or the father," Mixon said. "Or you get one that looks like neither, and then you've got a new kind."

Those new kinds of hibiscus are what drew members of the Town 'N Country Garden Circle to Unbelievable Hibiscus last week. Members toured the nursery and then were given some hands-on advice on grafting.

Some of the tips Mixon shared included the type of grafting knife to use, which in his case is a $5 model that he tosses when the blades get dull.

He also talked about his preference for biodegradable rubber and paraffin to wrap newly grafted stalks.

And he discussed the best time to graft, which for Mixon is based on the phases of the moon.

"In the beginning when I'd see a full moon and had not grafted, I knew I'd missed my chance that month," said Mixon who grafts on a new moon, or the four to five days preceding it.

Hibiscus at the nursery are nearly three times more expensive than the more common plants, and they require a little more care.

"The garden variety you can walk off and leave," Mixon said. "You can also do that to these, but if you really want them to bloom, you need to fertilize."

Mixon charges between $15 and $20 for a gallon-pot size hybrid hibiscus, and about $12 for a 4-inch plant.

The couple also have a hybrid way of doing business.

They don't keep regular business hours but ask customers to call first and to knock on the front door.

"We sell between 4,000 and 5,000 plants a year," Mixon said. "But that's not a lot when you compare it to big nurseries that sell about 100,000 a year."

Jackie Ripley can be reached at ripley@sptimes.com or at 813 269-5308.

Fast facts

In bloom

Unbelievable Hibiscus, 9224 Old Pasco Road

For more information, call (813) 390-6040.