Published on 04/13/17

Enormous blossoms of exquisite beauty on 'South Pacific Sipper'

By Norman Winter

Across the tee box in my backyard, my neighbor has been turning his pool into a virtual paradise with a pergola and rock work. Now all he needs is a ‘South Pacific Sipper’! This sounds like the perfect tropical beverage to sip while you go floating across the clear blue water, but in reality it is one of the most beautiful hibiscuses on the market.

‘South Pacific Sipper’ might best be described as a fancy hibiscus, and indeed it is. It is also one born to grow and produces flowers so large they defy logic. They are somewhat ruffled and though called “double,” they open up in a most exotic fashion. Though it sounds crazy, it is one of those plants that will have you taking photos of it every day because you think today’s blooms are even prettier than the blooms from the day before.

When the ‘South Pacific Sipper’ left the breeder’s hand, it was first called ‘Nectar Pink.’ You might still find ‘Nectar Pink’ in some markets — the name gives a clue about the color. ‘South Pacific Sipper,’ however, is more prevalent and the name fits better. I’ve seen hummingbirds, swallowtail and even sulphur butterflies visiting the tropical blooms.

The ‘South Pacific Sipper’ hibiscus is known botanically as Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. It originates in China and is kin to our well-known swamp hibiscus or mallow. Today there are hundreds of varieties available in most colors other than blue. There are even varieties that change colors throughout the day. The dark green foliage is handsome and contrasts nicely with the beautiful flowers that generally stay open only for a day. The flowers are, however, produced for months during our long growing season, which make them worth every penny, even if only treated as an annual.

As spring arrives throughout the country, garden centers are unloading hibiscuses in huge quantities. You have to agree there is no other plant that conjures up visions of those islands in the South Pacific or in the Caribbean. When you find the hot pink ‘South Pacific Sipper’ with what seems to be 9-inch flowers or hibiscuses in some other colors, you will want several.

The hibiscus belongs in containers on the patio or deck or in that special spot in the landscape. Their requirements are much like any other annual. Plant your hibiscus in well-drained, well-prepared beds because they absolutely cannot take wet feet. Use a good layer of mulch to keep the soil evenly moist through the season and, of course, to make weed control easier.

Choose a site with plenty of sunlight. Morning sun and filtered afternoon light are just about perfect. Hibiscus blooms on new growth, so it is important to keep it growing vigorously throughout the season. Keep them well fed and watered during drought periods.

Many gardeners think that the prolific flower production of a hibiscus requires high amounts of super-bloom-type fertilizers that are high in phosphorous. This is not the case. Hibiscus prefers a slow-release, balanced fertilizer formula, such as a 6-6-6, in light, monthly applications.  

Keep in mind that those growing in containers that are watered daily will quickly leach the nutrients from the soil. You will have to apply a dilute water-soluble fertilizer weekly or controlled-release granules per formula recommendation.

I must confess that my bride is the buyer of all of our hibiscuses, including the ‘South Pacific Sipper.’ She is also the daily horticulturist that keeps them ever so picturesque. I also know she would be the first to tell you to get on the bandwagon this spring and let a tropical hibiscus bring joy to your gardening.

Follow me on Twitter @CGBGgardenguru.

Norman Winter is the director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm in Savannah, Georgia.

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