gardening and inspiration

The Difference Between Surviving and Flourishing

Hibiscus flowers do not require water, the blooms will stay viable until their time has passed, with or without watering.

When we moved into this house, my friend told me that the small bushes that were planted in front of the house were Hibiscus bushes. I was very excited about having Hibiscus bushes in front of my house in our new subtropical home and while at the time they looked like short sticks with a few leaves, I looked each day to see if any of their majestic blooms had appeared. Alas, about ten days ago I saw our first bloom.


It was beautiful, but as you can see there was damage. One petal appeared to be chewed on. Also I noticed holes in nearly every leaf of every bush. This was the work of a pest for sure. The question is, who was the culprit? I consulted my favorite resource on the topic:


I searched for bugs that chew holes and found that among those are slugs, sawfly larvae, and Japanese Beatles. The Sawfly Larvae seemed to be the most likely of the three as I am pretty sure I have seen these pests crawling around near by. In fact, the book even has a picture of one on a Hibiscus plant. The suggestions for controlling this pest include squashing them, knocking them into soapy water, clipping off leaves that are infested with colonies, and attracting birds to your garden to eat them. 20130502-153833.jpg

Another thing to consider with pest control is that plants are less susceptible to pest damage when they are healthy. When I look around the island, I see Hibiscus bushes everywhere. I did the research on the Hibiscus plant and it’s ideal growing conditions. Hibiscus grows well throughout Asia, Hawaii, Mexico, and Florida plus certain varieties have even been cultivated for Europe. The truth is, the Base landscapers chose these plants for a reason–they are easy to grow here. They are in the perfect climate range and can survive Typhoon Alley. But what if I don’t just want them to survive? What if I want more blooms and have a way to encourage the plant to produce them? It would also be nice if the plants had a few less holes.

So this was my POA: I was going to set out to comb through the mulch and apply organic fertilizer (from my kitchen) into the soil each morning until I had made it to each one of my ma’o hau hele (“Hibiscus” in Hawaiian Language). In the meantime, as I sifted through I would keep my eyes open for pests that I could eradicate either with my shovel, the large cup of soapy water I could throw them into, or my favorite weapon of choice:20130502-153842.jpg

a spray bottle filled with warm water, soap, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper! This spray is especially meant for pests that tend to hide under leaves. Some pests detest the smell of garlic and cayenne and so it deters them from coming around.

For fertilizer, I learned that the Hibiscus needs 1 part phosphorous, 3 parts nitrogen, and 5 parts potash (or potassium). My logic tells me that the rain here brings a good bit of nitrogen so I didn’t need to supplement it with too much and it needs so little phosphorous that I am reluctant to add any for fear of burning the plants (This nutrient also has a reputation for creating showy blooms temporarily only to weaken the soil quality in the long run). So I applied my used coffee grounds from each morning’s coffee with chopped up banana peels directly into the soil near each plant. With this I was able to fertilize about 3 bushes per day.

Today, (10 days later) I walked outside to find this lovely sight:


A beautiful, healthy Ma’o hau, hele! Not just one, but two:

DSC02852Notice how there is one on each end?

Here is the lesson I have learned from the Hibiscus: Anyone can survive a new environment. These days, if you are a military wife, you have benefits. Living overseas has it’s benefits. We live in a home on a Base where we pay no rent or utilities. All of our essential needs are at the commissary and BX and it is in fact such a large base we have a convenience shop and restaurants around the corner of our neighborhood. The gas station and car care shop are down the street. As you can probably figure out, I don’t have to leave a one mile radius to survive here. But where’s the fun in that?

Just like the Hibiscus, I can survive with or without the comforts I was used to in the States. I can make it out here whether I complain or find joy. I can choose to just get by, or I can make conscious choices each day to enrich my life so that I may flourish. If I hadn’t put in the effort to fertilize the soil around my bushes, they would have survived; but just look at that flower! I have resolved that in order to flourish in Japan, I should leave the neighborhood, explore the island, eat THEIR food rather than just pray the commissary will stock what I want, learn their language, do things that I know bring me joy while being open to trying new projects and adventures, meet new people, and affect my environment with the rich things I have been blessed with before.

What will you do today? Survive? Or flourish?

I urge to you to do all that you can to flourish!




5 thoughts on “The Difference Between Surviving and Flourishing”

  1. Marissa, when you add coffee grounds to the soil, how much do you use? I want to do this for some of my vegetables, but don’t want to overdo it! Also, a couple of your pepper plants are starting to yellow, I’m not sure if it is from too much rain or lack of fertilizer, any ideas? They are all “surviving” and producing small peppers, but I want them to thrive!

  2. Meg, fortunately coffee grounds that have already been brewed are a low dose of nitrogen with little to no acid and if I’m not mistaken I believe they slow release their nutrients. Another idea would be to throw the coffee into a compost and use the compost in about 3 months when it’s broken down since compost is usually very well balanced and gentle. As for the yellowing, I had that happen from time to time and it came and went. Yellow leaves are confusing because they could mean too much water, or they could mean that plant needs nitrogen (which is in the rain in small doses). If they are only yellowing and their soaked, maybe the soil should just dry a little before more water is added. IF they are yellow and not much more wet than usual, I think coffee grounds or fish fertilizer would correct it. IF they are yellow with brown tips they need iron (which I doubt is the case here), and lastly if they are yellow with brown spots in the middle, they need magnesium. In short, I think coffee grounds or a general slow release fertilizer would be fine and usually the safe bet is to fertilize again in 3 months.

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