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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - March 26, 2012

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Planting, Watering, Shrubs
Title: Decline ot Heartleaf rosemallow from Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

My tulipan del monte -a new small plant from the wildflower center--did great all winter and was forming a new flower bud, just died in a matter of a few days. It looks like it "dried up", no visible damage, nothing broken, or eaten, but it has gotten plenty of moisture with our recent rains. Could it have gotten too much water? It's in regular garden soil, Austin, not clay.

ANSWER:

Hibiscus martianus (Heartleaf rosemallow)

The only thing that has truly changed since you purchased that plant in (we assume) the Fall Plant Sale, is that the rains have come back. Our best guess is that the plant did not have good enough drainage, which was okay when there wasn't any water anyway, but with the rains came the possibility of water standing on the roots of that plant. As you can see from this USDA Plant Profile, it grows naturally on the coast of South Texas. If we sold it in our Plant Sale, that means that our Garden staff were confident that it would thrive in Austin, but of course, when you bought it we were still in the grips of a drought.

From our webpage on this page (which read by following the plant link above) we found this information:

"Heartleaf hibiscus has spectacular flowers two and three inches across. It is a wonderful, small, drought-tolerant hibiscus from South Texas. For it to successfully winter in Austin, mulch or protect it adequately. Grows well in a container or in the ground."

We don't think we had enough cold last winter for this plant to suffer without mulch, but then, in comparison with South Texas, maybe we did. It is such a nice plant, with virtually year-round flowering in the right conditions, we are going to suggest desperate measures. Plants are tough, and this one may still be alive. Now, before it starts getting too hot, we suggest you carefully dig it back up, getting all the roots you can. Trim it back some, you may even hit some green wood, which definitely means it is alive and if you see any obviously rotted roots, trim them off, too, but leave as much root as you can. Next dig a bigger hole, and mix the native dirt with a good percentage of good quality compost. This not only will assist in drainage, but will help the tiny little rootlets that we hope will start to grow to access the trace minerals and nutrients they need from the soil. Do not fertilize. Native plants rarely need fertilization anyway, and no plant under stress (which this one obviously is) should be fertilized. Get it back in the ground, allowing the compost to heighten the planting spot, again helping with drainage. Stick a hose down in that soft soil and let the water dribble very slowly until water comes to the surface. Do that about once a week, at least until you can tell if it is established and alive. And mulch it right away, the mulch will help protect the roots from heat and cold, and as it decomposes will improve the texture of the soil.

It may not bloom again this year (after all, it's had a hard year, being dead and all), but we think it may come back in the Fall. Basically, we could blame this on transplant shock, which kills a lot of new plants. But transplant shock has many different causes, we just hope we found the right cause for your problem.

 

From the Image Gallery


Heartleaf rosemallow
Hibiscus martianus

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