PRAIRIE GARDENER: Hardy hibiscus gives us a taste of the tropics

One of the showiest flowering shrubs we can have in our outdoor landscape is the Chinese or tropical hibiscus. And for 17 years Mary and Al Morken, 440 Campbell Drive, have enjoyed such a wonderful plant as have their neighbors.

Darrel Koehler
Darrel Koehler

One of the showiest flowering shrubs we can have in our outdoor landscape is the Chinese or tropical hibiscus. And for 17 years Mary and Al Morken, 440 Campbell Drive, have enjoyed such a wonderful plant as have their neighbors.

There are seven hibiscus grown including at least two that can live outdoors year-around here. They are the rose-mallow and the rose of Sharon. The kind that the Morkens have must be brought indoor when it becomes cold. We often associate it with the South Pacific and Hawaii where people wear the large blooms in their hair while enjoying umbrella drinks and the soft tropical breezes. We digress.

Mary Morken said their plant was a gift. They take it out each spring after frost danger has ended in our region. It sits on their front entrance until early autumn when frost danger is again a problem. During the remainder of the year it is placed in a sunny window.

The Morkens almost lost the plant several years ago due to a severe aphid infestation. They used a systemic pesticide and were barely able to save the plant. It looked very rough for several months until it fully recovered.

They now apply a systemic pesticide as a defense against the return of the aphids. During the growing season they apply fertilizer on an every other week basis along with frequent watering during hot, dry days. No fertilizer is applied during winter. The care of the plant, which is blanketed with red flowers, is done in shifts with one taking the winter and the other the summer. Mary prunes it in the fall when she gives the large plant a haircut so it will fit in its winter space.


The plant goes through a "molt" when first brought into the house in fall. Our homes tend to be too warm and dry in winter for many house plants. They do keep their heat down and the plant soon adjusts to the new conditions. There usually are late buds that will develop into blooms in the fall.

However, if you over-winter them in the house, don't become concerned if some leaves drop. You can mist the plant and ensure that it is well watered. It may look a little rough by spring, but it will perk up quickly.

The blooms last about a day. A good time to enjoy the beauty of this tropical plant is late afternoon. It blooms continuously throughout the summer. Colors range from white through pink to red, from yellow to apricot to orange. Potted hibiscus plants are available at many garden centers, especially in spring. Some just keep the plants on decks or patios in summer, discarding it after a frost.

You are welcome to take a stroll down Campbell Driver and enjoy viewing this unique plant.

Tender plants

Many gardeners place house plants outdoors for the summer. Most benefit from this move. However, these plants are mostly of tropical origin, so they don't take even a light frost. If a frosty night is anticipated, take them indoors to a garage or porch. Now would also be a good time to divide and repot house plants. It is a good idea to quarantine them for a week to check for spider mites and other pests that may spread to your other house plants. There are pesticides that can take care of the problem. Insecticide soaps also work.

Herb tip

A Grand Forks reader wants to grow tarragon in her garden. Although few people grow this herb, it is not difficult. The plant is hardy to winter cold as it is to summer heat. There are two kinds of tarragon. One is the French variety, which is used as an herb. It is well-behaved, spreading only slowly and not self-seeding. There also is a Russian variety, which lacks in flavor and tends to spread as it self-seeds. Tarragon is most often used as a dried herb. It has an anise or licorice-like flavor as do several other herbs. Many people use fresh tarragon to infuse with vinegar. You pour the vinegar hot over the herb and then seal in a bottle for two or three weeks. Tarragon is a perfect accompaniment to fish.


If you have an established clump of tarragon, you can simply dig it up and divide into sections and replant. Old plants like to be renewed every few years and replanted somewhere else. The herb requires full sun and soil that drains easily. Wet soils are often fatal to tarragon in winter. Just before winter sets in, mulch the plants well with straw, leaves or compost. Remove covering in spring as growth begins.

Borer update

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture in St. Paul reports emerald ash borers are now found in Winona County in extreme southeastern Minnesota. The department also detected the insect in another location in Houston County, in that same region of the state. The two sites are eight miles apart. It's the second detection in Houston County, which is across the Mississippi from La Crosse, Wis. Officials have imposed a quarantine on Winona County, barring people from moving out of the county any items potentially infested with the borer. So far, the borers are confined to the Twin Cities and the two counties in southeastern Minnesota. There have been no reports in other areas of the state or in North Dakota.

Pet waste

Anyone who owns a dog in an urban area knows the mess the animals can create with their feces. Now there is a professional waste management company, "Oh Crap" which can handle all the dirty work for you for a fee. They claim you will never have to touch dog feces again and this service can maintain a clean, healthy lawn as well. There is a monthly fee of $49 per month for this service. For more information, call (701) 741-9273. The deadline is Sept. 15.

Koehler is the Herald's garden columnist. Send garden questions to him in care of the Grand Forks Herald, Box 6008, Grand Forks ND 58206-6008. Tune in the weekly gardening show airing at 1:10 p.m. Tuesdays on KNOX Radio 1310 (A.M.).

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