From my window I can see into my neighbor's garden that they started this year. I've been admiring a tropical hibiscus they planted because it has been blooming and the flaming red flower screams out for admiration. From the sidewalk the blooming shrub is hidden by a morning glory vine that has ensconced their fence. From my window I have a clear view of the plant. I keep meaning to catch one of the new gardeners and point out a sad fact about the hibiscus that they planted and are probably admiring as they go in and out of their home. When the first frost hits Chicago in a couple of weeks, that hibiscus is a goner!
Tropical Hibiscus Mistake
Years ago, I too, fell for a showy hibiscus in a garden center. It was late summer and desperate to extend the gardening season I bought one on impulse and brought it home, and planted it. It was a beautiful standard and the blooms caught the eye of many at the time. When winter came the hibiscus froze and died. The following spring one family member asked why the hibiscus hadn't returned. I was too ashamed to admit that I had done something so dumb as to plant a tropical hibiscus in the ground in Chicago. So I pretended like I didn't know what plant they were referring to. Mostly my embarrassment stemmed from the fact that I paid upwards of fifty dollars for the plant.
Sometimes garden centers in Chicago clearly label them as TROPICAL and other times there's no label. The only warning for the newbie gardener that their plant will die (if left outside when winter hits) is the fact that they're sold with the annuals. I wonder how many gardeners buy these plants every year and assume that because they look like a tree or shrub they'll survive our winters?
If you're one of the many gardeners in Chicago who bought a tropical hibiscus and planted them in the ground or in containers on a deck or patio garden, you'll have to bring the plant indoors. If it is planted in the ground you can attempt to save the plant by digging it up (disturbing the roots as little as possible) and potting it. If the hibiscus is planted in a pot, bring the pot indoors before the first frost. They will require a lot of sunlight and humidity over the winter to be kept healthy. Many will probably lose their leaves from the shock of being moved indoors, but with some care you can overwinter the plant just fine.
You can get your fix of tropical looking blooms by planting Hibiscus moscheutos, also commonly referred to as 'dinner plate hibiscus' (due to the large blooms), 'hardy hibiscus,' 'rose mallow,' and 'swamp mallows.' These, unlike their tropical cousins, will return the next year in our northern climate and provide the showy blooms that their tropical cousins are known for. Hibiscus moscheutos is a herbaceous perennial; the stems will die down to the ground in the winter and new growth will emerge from below ground in the spring.They bloom in the garden during late summer and look almost identical to the tropical hibiscus. If you look closely you'll see the leaves of Hibiscus moscheutos are larger and aren't glossy like the tropical hibiscus pictured above.
I'm currently leaning towards not telling my neighbor to dig their hibiscus up and bring it indoors. I think there are some lessons every gardener needs to learn on his/her own. This was one of mine.