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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Growing Tropical Hibiscus in the Desert is Not Easy

Tropical hibiscus growing in Las Vegas Nevada in the Mojave Desert.
Q. I'm forwarding pictures of my existing hibiscus that turned brown this past winter.  It actually looks like there's some growth on two of them but the others look pretty grim.  Should I give them a chance to grow or start again?  Also, if I do attempt to let these live should I trim them to the ground?

A. It looks like your hibiscus really got hammered this past winter. And this winter was not really that cold. These are most likely tropical hibiscus.

Hibiscus is a common name for a number of different plants with different attributes. These range from the tropical hibiscus to plants that we call hibiscus but are winter hardy in our climate.
Roselle hibiscus growing on MoCa Farm in the Philippines.

Your hibiscus was probably one of the tropical or subtropical types. Judging from your picture, the soil looks like it was hardly improved at all and rocks are strewn along the surface. These issues must be addressed if you expect these plants to do well at all in the future.

They need a lot of soil amendment added at the time of planting. Even though they can handle a lot of heat, they cannot handle the extreme heat and low humidity of unshaded south and western microclimates of the Mojave Desert.

They will look best protected from late afternoon sun and the soil covered with organic mulch. They will also do better if surrounded with plants that need moist, organic soils as well.

I would cut them to the ground in the spring, fertilize and water them and see if they will come back. Pull the rock away from them and put down a layer of compost about one inch thick followed by three inches of wood mulch on the surface. Keep the wood mulch away from the stems of the plants by about 12 inches.

In the future you will treat them like herbaceous perennials; let them grow during the warm and hot months and cut them to the ground after they freeze back. Pile mulch around their base that is three to four inches deep. This may be enough to minimize winter cold damage.

Here is an article we (MoCa Farm) wrote for Food Tank on the growing and culinary use of Roselle hibiscus in the Philippines. http://foodtank.com/news/2014/02/a-love-affair-with-roselle 

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