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Springtime Kicks off Hibiscus Show Season


A kaleidoscope of blooms plucked from Gloria Mikulenka’s hibiscus collection.

A kaleidoscope of blooms plucked from Gloria Mikulenka’s hibiscus collection.

Dramatic tropical flower will be featured at Sugar Land event

By Judy Latta Photos by Pat Merritt and Linda Anderson

Spring is upon us, and as warm weather blossoms begin to burst, few are as stunning and impressive as the eye-catching exotic hibiscus. Also known as “the Queen of the Tropics,” hibiscus colors range from snowy white to yellow, orange, peach, pink, red, purple, lavender, blue and brown. Hybrid varieties include all sorts of color blends and multi-color combinations. With massive vibrant blooms set against dark green foliage on sizeable shrubs, these flowers are a striking element of any southern garden.

 

Show and Sale Event

Whether you are an enthusiast of the beautiful hibiscus or just a casual gardener, be sure to check out the Lone Star Chapter of the American Hibiscus Society’s (AHS) annual show and sale event coming up on Saturday, May 7 at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Sugar Land, located at 702 Burney Road.

The show will open in the morning to competitors and AHS members with competitions among four categories of exhibitors: Amateur, Collector, Open Collector and Commercial. Exhibitors will enter single, double or miniature hibiscus blooms to be inspected by a panel of judges, who will evaluate as many as 500 blooms based on their form, size, color, substance and condition. There will also be a competition for seedlings. Judges will award gold seal prizes, as well as blue and red ribbon awards. After the initial awards are given, the gold seal blooms will be grouped according to class for final judging for head table honors, the highest distinction at the show. The facility will then open free to the public from 1-4 p.m., when patrons are invited to come and view the competition blooms and purchase plants.

According to Ottmar Schimek, President of the Lone Star Chapter of AHS, this is an event you’ll want to see. “If you miss our show, you miss the convenience of buying quality plants that cannot be found in local nurseries. You will also miss the opportunity to meet with experienced growers to ask fertilization, insect control, or any other hibiscus question that you may have. We will have 200 to 300 different bloom varieties on display.”

 

A Wide Range of Exhibitors Will Show Many Variations of the Flower

Exhibitors will come from all over the area and beyond, some with a wealth of experience growing hibiscus plants and some new to the hobby. Retired teacher Gloria Mikulenka, second vice president of the Lone Star chapter, will be an open collector exhibitor and a judge for the show. She currently grows around 450 different varieties of exotic hibiscus, along with many common garden varieties. “I have mostly singles, but also have many doubles and minis,” which are blooms under five inches, she explains. “I have all colors, but really love the blues, browns and especially the multi-colored.” In 2015, her plants earned 10 head table awards.

Gloria, who now has three backyard greenhouses full of hibiscus shrubs and seedlings, and is often seen wearing clothing with hibiscus prints and a silver necklace in the shape of the flower she loves, got her start at an American Hibiscus Society event. “I attended a Lone Star Hibiscus show in Sugar Land with my daughter about seven years ago. I couldn’t believe my eyes,” she says. “My first question upon seeing all of the magnificent exotic blooms was ‘Are they real?’ I laugh now because I hear that same question from all of the newcomers at our shows.” She ended up buying several plants at that show and became obsessed.

Cindy Wilson, the Lone Star chapter secretary, will also both exhibit and judge the show. She hasn’t been around the show circuit as long as some of the other society members, but she is no less devoted. “A friend took me to a hibiscus show five years ago. I saw all of the incredible blooms on display and I was hooked. I started buying plants that day and at one time had over 1,500 varieties in my collection,” she explains. “With the youngest of my four children graduating from Cy-Fair High School and heading to Rice University in the fall, I have downsized my house, yard and hibiscus collection. I currently have approximately 75 different varieties.”

In addition to the actual growing, Cindy enjoys the frantic pace of planning and participating with the show. “We begin picking blooms two to three days before the show and food becomes unnecessary as our refrigerators fill up with boxes of blooms that we hope will be winners,” she says.  The day of the event, “We gently open the blooms that are completely ready to open and place semi-closed blooms outside in the sun while we pray to the hibiscus gods that they will open. If you arrive early you will see exhibitors rushing outside every few minutes, trying to wait for the perfect moment to bring their bloom inside for judging.” According to Cindy, the highlight of the show occurs when the winning blooms are placed on the head table, and the public is admitted to view the winners and to shop for flowers to take home.

A more experienced exhibitor and member of the Lone Star chapter, Pat Merritt, has been growing hibiscus for more than 30 years. Her late husband, Roz, was an award winning hybridizer. Hybridizing is the process of cross-breeding flowers to create new variety seedlings that grow into flowers with unique color combinations and patterns. Over the years, Pat has grown more than a thousand different varieties of hibiscus in her garden and has earned many awards for her plants.

In addition to growing hibiscus, Pat also photographs the flowers and she, along with the late Barry Schleuter, one of the foremost hibiscus hybridizers in the country, revised the The Tropical Hibiscus Handbook, a comprehensive guide on caring for the plant. She is also a contributor to YourHoustonGarden.com, which offers practical advice and information from local experts on gardening in this area.

For more information on the Lone Star Chapter of the American Hibiscus Society or the Hibiscus Show and Sale event, visit lonestarahs.org.

 

Pat Merritt’s Tips for Growing Healthy Hibiscus in Houston

Feeding: Tropical Hibiscus are heavy feeders. Fertilize at least every two weeks with a fertilizer labeled for hibiscus. This will be one with an N-P-K formula of 2-1-2, such as 20-10-20 or 18-10-28. N-P-K = Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium. Hibiscus like more nitrogen and potassium (potash) than phosphorous. Keep the middle number of your fertilizer low. Space City water-soluble hibiscus fertilizer, 18-10-28, makes an excellent foliar spray for tropical hibiscus. Mix organics such as fish emulsion with water-soluble hibiscus fertilizer. Apply Epsom salts at a rate of one tablespoon per gallon once a month for more abundant blooms. Epsom salts may be sprinkled on top of the soil in pots or in-ground plants and watered in, or mixed with water or fertilizer and applied once each month.

Pruning: Tropical hibiscus are tropical evergreens. As such, they do not HAVE to be pruned. However, hibiscus bloom on new growth. Pruning causes branching, and branching means new growth. Prune hibiscus to shape and to suit yourself. It takes from 60 to 90 days for a pruned hibiscus to begin blooming again on the pruned branches. Some growers will prune their hibiscus plants in three stages: one-third of the branches at one time, then another third a month later, with the final one-third pruned a month after that. When pruning, make each cut just above an outward and upward-facing eye, which is where a leaf is growing or will grow. This causes new growth to be directed up and away from the interior of the plant. Make sure pruning is done at a time of year when the new growth it stimulates will not be affected by freezes. In the Houston area, this means pruning can begin about mid-February.

Root Pruning: Potted hibiscus plants will benefit from root-pruning about every second or third growing season. Remove the plant from the pot and scrape off the outside one-inch of soil from the sides and bottom. The plant may be returned to the same pot with fresh potting mixture, or moved up one pot size.

Repotting: When repotting hibiscus, it is better to move them up only one pot size at a time. Placing a one-gallon hibiscus into a five-gallon pot may produce a plant that spends a long time growing new roots instead of blooming.

Mulching: Mulching potted hibiscus plants will aid in retaining moisture and discouraging weeds. Using a product such as Cedarcide’s shredded cedar mulch will help keep snail and slug populations under control.

Staking: Stake tall plants to prevent wind damage to roots.

Spent Blooms and Leaves: Picking and disposing of spent blooms will cut down on fungus from soggy blossoms falling on leaves and into the pots. Keeping spent blooms plucked will not necessarily cause more blooming. It’s just good plant hygiene.

Hibiscus get yellow leaves for a living. If new, green leaves are pushing out, don’t worry about a few yellow leaves. Yellow leaves will not green up again. If they bother you, pluck them off.

Share your blooms. They can bring great joy to those unable to grow and care for their own plants. Hibiscus pollen is not airborne, so it’s very unlikely that even highly allergy-prone people will be affected by it.

Tahitian-Princess

Tahitian Princess

Nitro-Xpress

Nitro Xpress

Lion-Tamer

Lion Tamer

Grand-Hyatt

Grand Hyatt

Electric-Pizzazz

Electric Pizzazz

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This hibiscus, purchased at the show, produced these beautiful triplets one summer morning.

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There will be between 200-300 different bloom varieties on display at this year’s show.

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The hibiscus bloom is beautiful to display. At the show you can meet experienced growers to answer your questions on fertilization, insect control, and more.

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Gloria Mikulenka shows off a few of her early spring blooms in one of her greenhouses.

Copper-Moon

Copper Moon

Black-Rainbow

Black Rainbow

Angel's-Wings

Angel’s Wings


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