Q: Recently you mentioned a shrub that wears Hawaiian-looking flowers. We have a short bush, only 4 feet tall, that makes those kinds of flowers, but they are a lot larger, easily eight inches across, and the plant hasn’t gotten nearly as big as the one you spoke of. What do we have growing, and how do we care for it from now on? – H.F., West Side
A: I believe the plant you’re describing is a perennial hibiscus (H. moscheutos). Clearly, your plant is a relative of the Rose of Sharon (H. syriacus) just a completely different type of hibiscus.
Caring for the perennial hibiscus is easy. They grow best in places that offer a bit of protection from strong winds and like quite a bit of sun to perform their best. This type of hibiscus dies to the ground each year, resting dormant until the soils warm, and they pop back up the following late-spring and repeat their glorious blooming for you.
For the winter care, you’ll want to cut the stems back to ground level after the first true killing frost. Not the first one that usually happens near Halloween and gets everyone scrambling to protect and bring in the tender plants, but waiting until the growing season is officially over for this year. Then consider offering a layer of protective mulch, about 2 inches thick, to cover the growing area. That will keep the root stock cozy and safe throughout the dormant months to come. Consider placing a marking stake into the area near the hibiscus as a visual reminder that something precious lies beneath and needs occasional watering during the winter to keep it further insulated and viable.
For the time being, keep the hibiscus plant adequately watered being sure to not overwater, enjoy the rest of those marvelous dinner plate-sized blooms it might yet offer and know it has everything under control and should be back like a Phoenix rising again next year. Again, the perennial hibiscus is an easy-to-grow marvel to have in the landscape in these parts.
Q: Is it really an OK time of year to plant a tree? We thought that should be done in the springtime? – T.N., Albuquerque
A: Living in our odd climate we have the advantage of being able to plant a lot of things this time of year and expect success (as long as things are tended all winter long) the following growing season. Sturdy creatures like trees and shrubs gain a much appreciated leg up by being planted this time of year. Because the weather stays on the mild side during winter and our soils don’t freeze hard, there is usually a certain amount of root development. Having created a more encompassing root system, while not having to support gobs of above-ground growth as is expected in the spring, they are ahead of the game.
So if you can find the tree you want and are willing to tend it during the dormant months, then, yes, this is one of the best times of year to plant most trees. It’s work, but both you and the tree will be better off in the long run by planting now as we head into our quiet season.
Need tips on growing your garden? Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your garden-related questions to Digging In, Rio West, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM, 87103.