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The baking hot days of February make gardening outdoors almost impossible. It is time to retreat to the patio and fill it with cool, leafy plants and pops of colour.
Hibiscus is normally regarded as an outdoor shrub, but it also grows well as a patio plant. Those for the patio tend to be compact ornamental standards with huge flowers in bright yellow, red or pink.
Patio hibiscus need a few hours of direct sunlight to flower but keep them away from glass or the leaves could burn. It helps to keep newly bought hibiscus in the shade for about two weeks so the plant has time to adjust, then move it into a sunnier spot.
Water daily or even twice daily on very hot days because the potting mix dries quickly. If the plant drops its flower buds or the leaves turn yellow, it is not getting enough water.
Hibiscus. Picture: Pixabay
Over-watering can cause root rot. If the pot is on a saucer don’t let it stand in water but empty out the saucer after a few hours. Always feel the soil by pushing your finger into the soil up to the second knuckle.
Feed the plant lightly but regularly with a water-soluble fertiliser that has nitrogen for the leaves and high levels of potassium for flowering.
Prune plants in autumn or spring, reducing the length of the branches by about one third. This keeps the plants bushy and stimulates flowering.
A most unusual plant for the patio and a well-timed gift for Valentine’s day is Curcuma, also known as Siamese tulips. These are tall, elegant tropical plants (members of the ginger family) that produce spire purple flowers, with spear-shaped green leaves that have a dark midrib. With the right care they will flower throughout summer.
Circuma. Picture: Pixabay
When grown indoors Curcuma does best in a warm, bright room with high light. Water twice a week because the soil should be consistently moist but not waterlogged. It does not like water in the flower bracts. If the leaves develop brown tips, it means the soil is too dry. Add liquid fertiliser to the water every two weeks.
When the flower fades cut off the stem at soil level so the plant can put its energy into producing a new flower stem. A plant can produce two to five new flowers in a season. Plants go dormant in winter and should be kept on the dry side. For outdoor growth, plant in positions that receive morning sun.
For vivid colour and sumptuous blooms, little can match tuberous Begonia elatior in full flower; another good Valentine’s gift. Their array of colours allows them to harmonise with any décor scheme. There are some striking new colours; soft peach with a sunny yellow centre, iridescent pink and pink with white-edged petals.
Begonias. Picture: Pixabay
They thrive indoors in bright to medium indirect light and a warm room, so don’t keep them too near a window while night temperatures are still low. Begonias do not handle cold well. Keep the soil slightly moist but do not allow it to become soggy. A half a cup of water once or twice a week in summer should be enough.
Fertilise with a liquid fertiliser for flowers once a month. Because begonias grown indoors are especially susceptible to root rot be careful not to over water. Push your finger into the potting mix and if it is still moist, delay watering by a day.
Also, water below the leaves to prevent fungus disease. Tuberous begonias can be planted outdoors in summer in a position that receives morning sun and afternoon shade. Plant them in fertile, well-composted soil that drains well.
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