June Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Hibiscus coccineus, Swamp Mallow

It's hard for me to believe people continue to spend money on those tropical hibiscus plants every year, when they could buy the hardy hibiscus instead and enjoy the same plants year after year. Hardy Hibiscus is native to the Southeastern United States and is a perennial plant that tolerates whatever weather nature dishes out. 

One such hardy hibiscus is Hibiscus coccineus, known by many common names. Folks from Texas like to call it Texas Star Hibiscus. Like most things from Texas, Texas Star can become a huge plant quickly, if it likes its planting spot. (Actually, the USDA Plant Database doesn't show this Hibiscus naturally occurring in Texas. Any of you Texans out there know different?  We welcome your comments!) Also known as Swamp Hibiscus, this hibiscus loves most or wet soil. Swamp Mallow or just Mallow is another common name for this wonderful native plant. The common name Scarlet Hibiscus speaks for itself, since the blooms definitely are scarlet in color.

Hibiscus coccineus grows beautifully beside a creek bank or pond edge, but it will grow just as well in regular garden soil. 

New foliage begins as a bronzy reddish green which I find very attractive. Leaves are shaped somewhat like a maple leaf, but some visitors who seem to be familiar with marijuana tell me this hibiscus looks like a marijuana plant. I have never seen marijuana, so I can only take their word for it. 

The blooms which can best be described by a photograph are bright red and quite large. This is another plant in our garden that attracts pollinators by the droves. I have measured the bright flowers up to 6 inches across. And whether Texas can truly claim Texas Star Hibiscus or not, the blooms are indeed star-shaped. And once it starts blooming in June, it will continue to do so until cool weather arrives in the Fall.

Hibiscus coccineus will reach a height of 10 feet or more where water is plentiful, so remember that when you plant it. 

Mix in a large amount of compost or composted manure when you plant any hibiscus, because they all enjoy rich soil. Although native hibiscus can tolerate seasonal drought, you'll get the most lush foliage and many more flowers if you can water your plants regularly. We don't have the luxury of a creek or pond on our property, but my largest specimen gets watered by the sprinkler at the greenhouse almost daily. That's probably why it's about 3 feet taller than most plant encyclopedias describe.

Hibiscus enjoys full sun and will not bloom without it. Really, no shade at all is best.

Unfortunately, Hibiscus coccineus won't thrive in the Northern states, and is winter hardy only in USDA Zones 7 and warmer. (If you are in USDA Zones 5-8, check out Hibiscus moscheutos.)

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