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I have a secret

Hi Guys, appreciate the interest.  I hope it's what you expected but doubt
that it is.  Sorry Sue, didn't mean to create a big traffic log problem. As
most of the writings in the IHS are of a scientific nature yet read by novice
and expert alike I tried to write something...uh...different.  Here it is
attached as an email.


I have a secret!  This is not the type of thing I share with too many of my
other male friends who spend much of their day either watching sporting events
or talking about them.  They may not understand.  There are some things that
are perhaps better kept a secret.  You see when you are in love it's hard to
share the feelings with other people.  The emotions are too difficult to
express; the passions too complicated to explain.  When I talk about my love I
try to do so in more muted tones.  I say things with a little less energy than
I want to.  It is better that way because some parts of society wouldn't
understand this kind of love from this kind of man.  A flick of the head and a
rolling of the eyes is enough to convey that, "Hey, I'm a guy too. Of course,
I don't take this seriously."   Each time I feign indifference, I've betrayed
my love.  I've disrespected it.  I feel less whole.  But my love understands.
At least I convince myself that my love understands.  Oh, but when another who
shares my love comes along, and they do more frequently now, the world opens
up and I can share my love with them.  The relief I feel when meeting a
kindred soul.  That's when I can make up to my love for all the nonchalance
I've shown.  That's when I can give my love all the adoration and attention it
deserves.  You see, I'm in love with Hibiscus.

You'll notice that I didn't say I was fascinated with Hibiscus.  Or that I
found them intellectually stimulating.  I don't really.  As an Historian, I'm
far more interested in an intellectual way in the interactions of humans than
I am in plants.  Nor am I a botanist and I know little about DNA or chromosome
counts.  I'm just a guy who is in love with the tremendous colors and size and
different shapes and textures and varieties of the modern day exotic Hibiscus.
You see?  There I go.  Too excited!

I once was told that there are two types of people out there:  The engineer
and the poet.  The engineer is fascinated with things.  They want to see how
they work and what makes them tick.  They like to deconstruct so they can
understand the internal workings.  The poet doesn't see it that way.  He's
more romantic and doesn't get beyond the beauty.  The poet wants to write
songs, or paint in a reverent almost worshipful way.  I guess I fit into the
poet category.  He takes it for granted that Hibiscus flowers have five petals
and leaves it at that.  He doesn't need to know why.  When it comes to long
discussions of KNO3, or the fact that too much calcium blocks out magnesium,
or the exact soil composition (in fact, I have a book on soils sitting on my
desk that I've never opened), or especially anytime somebody uses "parts per
million" in a sentence, my eyes glaze over.  This type of study about my love
would be like looking at my wife as a chemical composition. just a bunch of
cells.  Does this make me a bad grower?  Does this mean that I shouldn't be
the proprietor of A Touch of the Tropics?  Am I unable to grow mass quantities
of beautiful plants?  I don't think so.  I believe that my passion more than
makes up for my lack of scientific inquiry.

There can be downsides to my relationship with Hibiscus rosa sinensis.  Like
all love affairs there are darker moments.  They, at times, seem very fickle.
There is a whole array of things that upset them.  Sometimes I give them too
much attention, too much water in the winter, too much sun or shade in the
summer.  Other times I don't give them enough attention, not enough water, not
enough food or not the right kind of food.  This was especially true when our
love was new.  It took me time to find the happy medium.  Now, I know what to
look for and can remedy problems before my love becomes sulky and sullen.

In general, there are a few rules that should govern how you take care of your
new love.  In summer, they rarely need more than a few hours of sunlight for
me in Northern California.  Four to five hours is adequate to make them bloom
nicely while giving the best color and the longest duration for the flowers.
I have found that it's almost impossible to over water here during the summer,
as long as they are not sitting in water.  In winter, watering can be cut back
severely.  If they are kept in an area without too much light and are not
growing, only water them enough so that they don't droop.  Otherwise, benign
neglect is the best option.  Never water over the tops of the leaves in winter
as this may cause fungal problems.

Hibiscus are not only loved by humans.  Aphids, white flies, and spider mites
seem to be the worst of the offenders.  Again, that is here in this area.
Other areas have other problems such as thrips, mealy bugs, scale and some
others.  The best cure is to act quickly when the signs first appear.  I
assure you that at some time you will have a problem.  If you notice
discoloration of the leaves, check your plant carefully particularly on the
undersides of the leaves.  Look for webbing, small white sacs on the leaves or
masses of small green, black or white bugs on the buds.  These last are
aphids.  Another indication of aphids will be if you see ants unusually
attentive to your Hibiscus.  Ants are the cowboys who use aphids are their
cattle, rounding them up and putting them out to pasture on your buds where
they secrete sweet "honeydew" that the ants savor and harvest.  Many insect
problems can be avoided or at least mitigated by spraying your plant with a
forceful spray of water once or twice a week.  You may not eliminate them but
you certainly will make it difficult on them so they won't think your love is
their love.

Tip die-off is a common problem here in the winter, though I think it's more
of a problem in the summer in the tropics.  Leaves seem to melt away leaving a
bare branch at the tips of stems.  This is a fungal problem and is typically
easy to deal with by cutting back the offending branch.  On larger plants, I
use it as an excuse to prune.  On smaller plants, it can be deadly.  It is
easy to combat but you should know why it's happening so you can avoid it in
the future.

Lastly, while not necessary to keep your plant alive, pruning will
reinvigorate your love and make it bloom all the more.  Just be aware that
Hibiscus bloom on new growth so after you prune you won't see flowers for a
couple of months, but ultimately you will see more of them and your plant will
look much nicer.  I hate to cut off buds.  So instead, I cut just a branch or
two at a time so that I can still enjoy flowers while doing the necessary

I call these lessons the learning curve of Hibiscus.  The more you learn the
faster the curve straightens out and the faster your love grows.  By being
proactive and responsive to changing conditions, you will forestall the
frustration that quite often accompanies your love affair.  Ignoring problems
will not make them go away.  They will generally get worse until you think
your love is unrequited.  However, if you just pay some attention and get to
know your plants, soon your love will grow and you will have a secret too.


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