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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

A hardy hibiscus for Long Island, money tree care

A money tree also known as Pachira aquatica.

A money tree also known as Pachira aquatica. The braided trunk is what makes it a tree. Photo Credit: Getty Images iStockphoto

DEAR JESSICA: I bought a money tree about six to eight years ago, and it had been doing beautifully until recently, when it began shooting up vines from the bottom. How should I care for this plant?

— Joe Biasi,

Roslyn Heights

DEAR JOE: Malabar chestnut plants (Pachira aquatica) are typically trained into tree form with five braided trunks. Sold as “money trees,” the plants are said to symbolize prosperity and good fortune. According to lore, the braids tightly contain luck, which is passed on to the plant’s grower.

As your plant gets taller, you should braid new growth, provide indirect sunlight and a humid environment, and water every week to 10 days, being careful not to overwater. Money trees grown indoors can reach 6 feet in height.

If shoots sprout from the base, you should remove them to retain the plant’s tree-shaped habit. Otherwise, you’ll end up with an ill-shaped, awkwardly swollen money bush. Another reason to remove those shoots is that in order to grow and mature, they will steal a disproportionate amount of the plant’s overall energy supply, which may result in the ultimate decline of your money tree, and that would be bad luck.

 

DEAR JESSICA: Thank you for your recent articles about hibiscus plants. Unfortunately, I do not have room in my house or a sunny location to keep my plant over winter. I have it downstairs in the basement. I do have a plant “spotlight” that I keep on for 12 hours a day, and the temperature does not go below 60 degrees. Will this suffice until the summer, when I can return it outside? Is there any special plant LED or bulb that you recommend?

— Glenn Cisek,

via email

 

DEAR GLENN: There are two ways to overwinter a hibiscus indoors. The first way, which I’ve written about recently, involves keeping the plant as a houseplant, in the brightest, warmest spot you have.

You can also opt to let it go dormant.

Either way, your 60-degree basement with a grow light probably won’t meet the plant’s needs. It’s too cool to keep it as a houseplant and too warm for it to go dormant.

To allow the plant to go dormant, you’ll have to keep it at around 50 degrees. An unheated basement typically is best for this. Water it from time to time, but only enough to keep the soil from drying out completely. Then, around mid-April, move it into the main part of the house and resume regular watering until it’s safe to move it outdoors, in May.

On another front, when selecting grow lights, opt for full-spectrum LED or fluorescent bulbs, which replicate the different types of light found in sunlight. Just make sure they are labeled full-spectrum.

 

DEAR JESSICA: In your column of Dec. 24, you wrote about overwintering hibiscus. I have had two hibiscus plants for many years now that are in the soil, and come back every year. In late fall, I cut them down as far as I can and they come back bigger each spring. They are beautiful and bloom twice over the season.

— Susan Parfey,

Flushing

 

DEAR SUSAN: You are growing hardy hibiscus, a perennial plant that can thrive here in Zone 7 and survive our winters. This is a different plant than tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), which is hardy only in zones 10 and 11 (think Los Angeles and Miami) and typically is sold in pots at nurseries every spring, although it’s sometimes planted in the ground and treated as an annual shrub.

The large-flowered hardy variety you’re growing, Hibiscus moscheutos, sports blooms as large as 10 inches wide and will survive winters all the way down to Zone 4, which, to provide a frame of reference, includes parts of Minnesota and Maine.

MASTER GARDENER CLASSES

Want to train to become a master gardener? Now is your chance: The Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Nassau County is accepting applications for its biannual horticultural training program. As a class of 2007 graduate, I can attest to the quality of the education received from Cornell University faculty, CCE staff and local horticulturists, which includes classroom sessions, hands-on training and field trips. The cost of the course is $350, plus $70 for materials, and includes CCE-Nassau membership. For details, or to apply, visit ccenassau.org/mastergardener or call 516-565-5265, ext. 14. The application deadline is Feb. 28.

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