The Perennial Hibiscus - A Dinner Plate Flower
It's perhaps strange that the perennial hibiscus is not seen more often, at least outside of warmer climate areas. Part of it might be due to an assumption that it's a tropical plant. There are indeed species of the hibiscus plant that are only suitable for sub-tropical and tropical climates, mainly the Chinese hibiscus, but even these can be grown indoors as attractive house plants if need be. Although when grown in the more northern latitudes, the Chinese hibiscus varieties are grown as annuals, when grown outdoors they are nevertheless perennial hibiscus plants in their native regions.
The primary perennial hibiscus found growing throughout the United States is the Rose Mallow, and has the botanical name Hibiscus moscheutos. Hardy in all growing zones, the Rose Mallow can grow to a height of up to 8 feet. It blooms during the summer and features the largest flowers found in any hibiscus species. If it's a dinner plate bloom that's desired, this species will fill the bill, as its blooms can often reach a foot across. This perennial hibiscus is usually grown from seed, but a number of varieties exist which have been propagated from cuttings. The colors of the blooms cover a range from red to pink, rose, and white. Some of the more common varieties of H. moscheutos are the Southern Belle, Disco Belle, and Rio Carnival. The stems of this species die back to the ground each winter but the plant bounces back with new growth each spring.
The species H. mutabilis, the Confederate Rose is grown as a perennial in cooler climates, but in warm weather climates grows more like a shrub or even a small tree. Its flowers are not a foot wide, but still attain a diameter of around 6 inches. The blossoms are a little unusual, as when they first open they're white to pink in color, gradually turning to a deep shade of red by the end of their first day.
The Blue Hibiscus, H. huegeliii, also called the Alogyne, though considered a perennial hibiscus, is in reality an evergreen shrub. This species is grown mostly in warmer climates. It is frost tolerant, though barely so. It can be planted from seed and taken indoors to overwinter in colder climates.
Not A Hardy Perennial But Many Varieties Available - The Chinese or tropical hibiscus species should not be completely ignored however, even though they cannot be grown as perennials in many locations. If planted from seeds, they may not bloom at all the first year unless the summers are quite warm. This species really must be treated as a tropical plant, but as such makes a delightful house plant where for all practical purposes it can be treated the same as a perennial hibiscus.
Care - Regardless of the species, the hibiscus plant requires good drainage, or it will not do well. Perennial hibiscus that do well in cooler climates should be grown in partial or filtered shade in areas or locations where the mid-day sun is very hot. Hibiscus plants should be fed at least monthly during the growing and blooming season, and watered frequently as well. If the soil has good drainage chances of over watering are slight. The hibiscus plant is generally not terribly susceptible to disease, but aphids can be a fairly common problem, so an eye needs to be kept on the plants so these pests can be removed as soon as they are first observed.
If planting hibiscus for the first time, trying either a perennial hibiscus or an annual as a house plant is highly recommended, not only to get familiar with growing the plant but to gain an appreciation of the beauty to be found in the blossoms.