Saturday, March 9, 2013

High on hibiscus

What started as a baby gift in 1989 has grown into a hobby of hybridization, flower shows and meeting other people who have a passion for hibiscus.

Jim Gedicke, a senior risk management analyst at HighMount Exploration & Production LLC, has been growing hibiscus since 1989.
“My youngest daughter was born in 1989,” Gedicke said. “Somebody gave us a baby gift that included a planter with a common red hibiscus in it. We planted it in the yard. It did well, grew large and flowered all of the time. We really thought it was a nice plant.”
Gedicke’s opportunity to enjoy the plant at his New Orleans home didn’t last long.
“We had a really bad freeze during December 1989 and it killed the plant,” he said. “Next spring we went out and bought three more plants. Each year since then we’ve bought a few more and have planted them around the yard.”

While at Dupont Nursery in Plaquemine, La., Jim Gedicke
 checks out the hibiscus being hybridized by the company.
Photos courtesy of Jim Gedicke.
In 2002 while visiting Dupont Nursery in Plaquemine, La., Gedicke had the opportunity to meet and talk with hibiscus breeder Bobby Dupont.
“He gave us tour of the greenhouse and showed us the seedlings he was working on,” Gedicke said. “We bought $80-$90 worth of plants that day.”
Gedicke now has over 130 varieties of hibiscus either planted in his home landscape or in containers.

Detoured by Hurricane Katrina
Gedicke lives in New Orleans, but commutes to Houston for his job. When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, Gedicke’s job moved permanently to Houston. He still owns his home in New Orleans and rents an apartment in Houston.
Gedicke is a member of the American Hibiscus Society and attends meetings and shows in both Louisiana and Texas.

Jim Gedicke prepares blooms for judging
at a hibiscus flower show in Lafayette, La.
Photo by Damon Veach.
“In Houston since I live in an apartment, I don’t keep any plants on a permanent basis,” he said. “I may bring some plants with me to Houston if I want to attend a weekend flower show and the plants look like they may bloom within a week. If they bloom, I may enter the flowers in a show.”
Gedicke has installed an automated watering system in New Orleans so he doesn’t have to be concerned with the plants while he’s working in Houston.
“I spent about $40 on my irrigation system at Home Depot,” he said. “It’s a manifold that I can hook up with four hoses. It has a battery-powered timer that opens and closes a valve. The hoses are attached to foliar sprinklers. I basically water in the morning for 10 minutes and in the late afternoon for 10 minutes using city water.”
Gedicke said another important factor when growing hibiscus, especially in containers, is using a well-drained soil.
“When I first started growing hibiscus people always told me about the soil,” he said. “I didn’t care about the soil. To me soil was dirt. I found out that the soil is very important and you need to use one that drains well. Based on my experience, hibiscus like to be watered regularly, but they don’t like to be sitting in water. It’s also important to try to water the plants every day so they don’t dry out.”
One of things that Gedicke is going to be working on this year is raising his container-grown hibiscus plants up off the ground.
“I’ve found that earthworms are the biggest killers of my plants than anything else,” he said. “They crawl into the pots through the drain holes and then they can’t get out. Earthworms make castings and after a while the soil holds water and doesn’t drain. This can cause the plants to get root rot. I bought some concrete paver stones to put the pots on those to raise them up off the ground. I found the earthworms will crawl over the stones and still get into the pots. I am now in the process of building some wooden tables along with using cinder blocks so I can keep the pots off the ground to prevent earthworms from coming in.”

Picking varieties that work
Gedicke said he has found the garden varieties of hibiscus are better because they seem to be hardier and bloom better.
“There might be a variety that grows really well and has a nice flower, but if it only blooms once or twice a year you aren’t going to get a lot of enjoyment out of it,” he said. “A lot of it is trial and error to find out which ones do well and which ones don’t.”
Although Gedicke has limited space in his yard he has found the plants do much better in the ground than they do in pots.
“The plants in the ground can send a tap root down to wherever the water is,” he said. “They kind of self-regulate themselves. I never really water the ones in my yard unless it is really a drought period. They usually survive on just the natural rain.
"If you live in an area where you don’t have to worry about freezes, planting them in the ground is better. If you have to be concerned about freezing temperatures then plant them in pots. You can move them around when they are in pots so they are easier to protect.”
Gedicke said one of his favorite varieties is 'Creole Lady'.

‘Creole Lady’ produces one of
Jim Gedicke’s favorite blooms.
“I planted one in my yard and it really grows better in the ground than in a pot,” he said. It is one of my steadiest bloomers in the ground. When it first opens the flower has rich colors that fade and change as the day goes on. If you pick the bloom early in the day and bring it inside, it will keep its rich colors all day. I’ve found that blooms placed in shot glasses make nice indoor table decorations. And the flowers will last a day or two.”
Jim Gedicke uses ‘Love Pat’ for
hybridizing new varieties.
Other varieties that Gedicke likes and he has won flower awards for include: ‘June’s Dragon’ and 'Love Pat'. He said he uses 'Love Pat' for hybridizing because it produces very fertile pollen. ‘Night Runner’ is another favorite that he said bloomed soon after he purchased it when the plant was only about 4 inches tall.
For more: Jim Gedicke,

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