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A Call to Colors

New 'hotbiscus' a veritable hues corporation.


As plant buyer for all of Armstrong Garden Centers, John Bagnasco has seen a lot of plants. But nothing prepared him for the first time he saw "hotbiscus" several years ago.

"I went to a hibiscus show in Florida and nearly fainted on the spot when I saw these particular hibiscus," Bagnasco said. "Unlike standard hibiscus, which generally come in red, yellow or white, these flowers come in a stunning array of colors and color combinations. The flowers are also very large. Many blooms reach 10 to 12 inches across."

It's amazing how many colors one flower can have, said Jamie Platt, assistant manager of Armstrong Garden Center in San Juan Capistrano, where they carry hundreds of "hotbiscus" "in pink, blue, yellow, orange, brown, gray, peach and lavender, to name just a few."

"Some look like sunsets, others have blotching, striping and spots," he said.

People don't come into the nursery intending to buy a hibiscus, but many walk out with one, Platt said.

"Customers can't help but look at them and want one," he said.

Unlike traditional hibiscus, which require full sun to flower well, "hotbiscus" bloom in the partial shade commonly found in Southern California yards. The flowers also hold onto the plants longer than regular hibiscus. "Hotbiscus" blooms remain on the plant for two to three days.

These special hibiscus were not available commercially until last year. "They were originally grown only by backyard growers in Florida," said Bagnasco, who worked to get them produced on a large scale.

Before they could begin production, they had to find good rootstocks on which to graft the flowers because the original bushes were rangy and unattractive. When they found grafting stock, they trademarked the plants "hotbiscus," which refers to more than 200 varieties of hibiscus that will do well in our area. They are sold in 2-gallon containers for $25.

"Hotbiscus" require the same care as traditional hibiscus. Keep the following growing tips in mind.

* Plant in partial shade. If you only have a full-sun location available, they can adapt. Give the plant time to acclimate to full sun and expect some initial yellowing. Feed regularly to counteract this.

* Plant in well-draining soil and use care when transplanting. Do not break up the root ball; transplant intact.

* When planting in containers, use at least a 5-gallon or 14-inch container and make sure to plant in a good potting soil.

* Keep hibiscus moist but not soggy.

* Fertilize regularly. Hibiscus are heavy feeders. Feed every two weeks if using a water-soluble fertilizer and once a month when using a granular food throughout the growing season (mid-March through October).

* Armstrong Garden Centers, (626) 914-1091.


Some Variations

"Hotbiscus" varieties tend to be short, compact growers that do well in the ground and containers. Most range in size from 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 feet wide and tall. Here are a few popular varieties:

* 'Amber Suzanne': Huge double flower with a white edge and crimson petals spotted with white. Heavy bloomer.

* 'Byron Metts': Nonstop bloomer with 9- to 10-inch pure white flowers with a vivid yellow reverse.

* 'California Dreamin' ': Said to resemble a sunset, the edges of this 8-inch flower are tangerine. Inside, the flower is orange-red fading into a pink center.

* 'Donna Lynn': Low spreading bush with 8-inch blossoms that are a light purple with a straw yellow edge that blends to a ring of jasper red.

* 'Dragon's Breath': Spectacular deep red 6- to 8-inch blooms with white rays and a white reverse.

* 'Fantasy Charm': These enormous 8- to 9-inch pink and white blooms have striking ruffled petals. Performs well in high heat.

* 'Fifth Dimension': This variety is said to have started the "hotbiscus" craze in California. The flower has a persimmon-orange edge that changes to yellow after the flower has been open several hours. The rest of the flower is a vivid gun-metal gray-purple with radiating white spokes and a small red center. Heavy bloomer.

* 'High Voltage': A popular cultivar with 7- to 8-inch blooms that are soft pink, deepening into a maroon center.

* 'Tamibon': This 8- to 10-inch flower has a blood-red center that is banded by pink, then white and edged in yellow.

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