How To Care For Hibiscus Plants

By: Heather Rhoades

Growing hibiscus is an easy way to add a tropical flair to your garden. Let’s look at some tips on how to care for hibiscus.

Growing Hibiscus in Containers

Many people who are growing a hibiscus plant choose to do so in a container. This allows them to move the hibiscus plant to ideal locations, depending on the time of year. Provide the plants with at least six hours of sunlight, especially if you want to see those lovely blooms. Although warm, humid conditions are ideal for tropical hibiscus, you may want to provide a little afternoon shade when it’s overly hot. Again, containers make this easy to do.

Hibiscus plants prefer a cozy fit when growing in a container. This means that they should be slightly root bound in the pot and when you do decide to repot, give the hibiscus only a little bit more room. Always make sure that your growing hibiscus plant has excellent drainage.

Temperatures for Growing Hibiscus

When you care for a hibiscus, you should remember that hibiscus flowers best in temperatures between 60-90 F. (16-32 C.) and cannot tolerate temps below 32 F. (0 C.). In the summer, your hibiscus plant can go outside, but once the weather starts to get near freezing, it’s time for you to bring your hibiscus indoors.

Watering Hibiscus

When hibiscus are in their blooming stage, they require large amounts of water. Your hibiscus will need daily watering in warm weather. But once the weather cools, your hibiscus needs far less water, and too much water can kill it. In the winter, water your hibiscus only when the soil is dry to the touch.

Fertilizing Hibiscus

A growing hibiscus plant needs lots of nutrients in order to bloom well. In the summer, use a high potassium fertilizer. You can either use a diluted liquid fertilizer one a week, a slow release fertilizer once a month, or you can add a high potassium compost to the soil. In the winter, you don’t need to fertilize at all.

These are the basics for how to care for hibiscus plants in your garden. As you can see, they are a easy maintenance, high impact flower that will make a garden in any part of the world look like a tropical paradise.

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Hibiscus is hardy to zone 5. Hardy hibiscus benefits from warm temperatures for bud growth, so if it’s a cold spring or summer, growth will be slower. To keep Hibiscus warm apply a layer of mulch to protect Hibiscus in the winter and early spring.

Hibiscus needs both moist and well drained soil. If Hibiscus dries out to much it will drop all its foliage and will look like a bunch of dead sticks. When this happens don’t stress, it will re-bud, it’s the Hibiscus protecting its roots system. It’s important to not over water or underwater. If you are growing hibiscus in a container, plant your hibiscus in a pot with adequate drainage holes. Otherwise if Hibiscus is in water to long, its root will begin to rot.

How to Propagate Hibiscus

Last Updated: December 8, 2020 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Tyler Radford. Tyler Radford is a Plant Specialist at Hollie’s Farm & Garden in Tampa, Florida. With over nine years of experience, Tyler specializes in gardening, planting, mulching, and potting. Hollie’s Farm & Garden is a full-service landscape nursery offering landscape supplies including trees, shrubs, mulch, and flagstone.

There are 19 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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Propagating hibiscus allows you to clone an existing hibiscus plant by planting a single stem from the parent hibiscus. The process is the same for both tropical and hardy varieties, and it's easy to do at home. By taking cuttings, rooting them properly, and planting them, you can grow new, healthy hibiscus plants without having to purchase them!

Here are tips on how to care for your hibiscuses

Don't confuse hardy hibiscus -- Hibiscus moscheutos -- with the tropical hibiscus, commonly called Chinese hibiscus -- Hibiscus rosa-sinensis.

Hardy hibiscuses are sturdy and don't wilt or collapse in summer heat, especially the newer ones, Doug Gilberg says. He owns Gilberg Perennial Farms in Missouri, growers of many new varieties of hardy hibiscus.

The new hibiscuses grow 3 to 6 feet tall and will thrive in a wide variety of environmental conditions and endure poor soils, flood and drought. They withstand temperatures from minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit to more than 100 degrees, and they also resist many pests and diseases.

These tough perennials make excellent flowering hedges or massed plantings for a tropical-looking touch to your gardens. They mix well with other perennials.

Hardy hibiscus are good design partners with ornamental grasses -- including Karl Foerster Calamagrostis, an ornamental grass named the Perennial Plant Association's Plant of the Year 2001 -- along with daylilies, Russian sage and other tall-type plants.

Place hardy hibiscus in a site that gets at least five to six hours of sun or more each day. The soil's pH should be 6.5 to 7.0. Although soil fertility doesn't need to be high, the plants reach peak performance if they're grown in rich organic soil with ample moisture. You can mulch or not. Hardy hibiscus also do very well in damp to wet soil.

For bushier plants, place them on 3- to 5-foot centers and pinch back the growing tips when the plants are 8 inches tall and again when they're 12 inches tall. After hard frost in the fall, cut the plants back to 4 to 5 inches. New spring growth rises from the roots.

Soil & Feeding

  • Being that hibiscus originate in tropical climates for many millennia they are genetically programmed for the unique conditions of such regions.
  • These are volcanic areas where the soil is rocky and extremely porous. Such soils are very rich with minerals and abundant with air. Your soil needs to be the same – we recommend a light potting mix and add ample amounts of perlite and/or pumice stone
  • Do not add composted materials and very little worm castings as these will lose all air when wet and deplete the soil of the needed air to sustain hibiscus root systems.
Tahitian Pretty Boy by Richard Johnson – photo courtesy of Thomas Narolewski
  • Before you water or feed your hibiscus plant always first look at the top leaves of your plant’s branches. If they look veiny and/or chlorotic you need to first investigate your plant further to see if it is having issues at the root level. Those type of leaves indicate that there is not enough air in the soil which usually comes from too much water. Use a water meter to probe the soil, many times the top is bone dry but as you get deep down it is saturated. Any additional water can lead to root rot which you will see the effects when your plant has branch tip die back and leaves start to yellow and drop. For more info check out our webpage: Root Rot & Branch Tip Die Back
  • Hibiscus roots are tender and need constant air so native soils like clay are a recipe for root rot and a quick demise of your plant. Make sure to dig as large of a hole as possible. We recommend at least 2-3 ft around and about 1 ft deep in ground.
  • For potted plants make sure you use pots that have many drainage holes and do not layer the bottom of your pots with any type of rocks as they will actually form a seal. Also hibiscus roots can quickly plug up those drainage holes so you will need to root prune. We have a great video on how to do that: SCHS Root Pruning Video
  • Volcanic soils are high in minerals so hibiscus are used to high amounts of nutrients all the time that are easy to get. They have unique requirements that differ from other flowering plants. Lots of potassium, very low phosphorus and low nitrogen. We recommend the fertilizer from Hidden Valley Hibiscus which is formulated just for hibiscus Hidden Valley Hibiscus Fertilizer
Delicate by Hidden Valley Hibiscus – photo courtesy of Alex J Franco

Temperatures, Metabolism and Sunlight

  • Tropical climates do not have seasons so temperatures are normally 60-95F. Hibiscus thrive in these conditions and get stressed when living in extremes on either side of this spectrum
  • Temps below this range will start to slow your plant’s metabolism. Here in So Cal we have observed when under 50F you will start to see a significant slowdown which show through monotone blooms that are smaller, reduced or no growth and the pads on your blooms might disappear.
  • Reduce watering proportionately with the drop in temps. Your plant is not up taking as much water and if it rains that will start to remove the air from your soil which is worst case scenario for hibiscus.
  • Also reduce fertilizer since less water is being absorbed it will build up in the soil and when your plant returns to normal metabolism this will lead to severe fertilizer burn which can even kill a plant.

Desert Moth by Sonny Stollings photo courtesy of Bill Schmidt

  • Hibiscus leaves are not genetically developed to be in direct sunlight over 95F so that will start to stress your plant. You will notice yellow leaves appearing, buds dropping and smaller sized blooms.
  • Your plant’s metabolism will continue to accelerate as the temps rise which means not only is it up taking more water but also more fertilizers. So it is important to also reduce the amount of fertilizer your plant is getting. We recommend for every 5 degrees you reduce the amount of ferts by 1/4. This is a good rule of thumb for both when it is hot or cold.
  • If temps exceed 105F we recommend just water only
Climate & Growing Regions of Southern California

Care Essentials

  • Always prune off (dead head) any spent blooms as your plant will waste valuable energy growing pods with non-viable seeds instead of producing new blooms
  • Always keep the soil under and around your plant cleaned up and clear of fallen leaves and debris. This is important as your soil can become overly saturated when covered in debris and cannot evaporate water. Also pests like spider mites love dirty messy locations.
  • Never spray your hibiscus with any products containing soap. Soap or detergent eats away the protective waxy coating of hibiscus leaves leaving them exposed and vulnerable to infections and pests.
  • When spraying your hibiscus for any pests always add horticultural or neem oil as an effective sticking and drowning agent to the product you are using. This will increase your spraying effectiveness 30-40%
  • Do not treat your hibiscus like your other landscaping plants. They have unique needs and require constant attention and will decline without it.
  • Growing Exotic Hibiscus requires a time commitment so make sure you are ready to dedicate a portion of your time going forward.
  • Hibiscus get stressed in direct sunlight over 95F so take action to give them shade in those temperatures.
  • Do not plant more than one hibiscus in the same pot. They will compete for root space and one will eventually kill the others or all won’t survive at some point.
  • Use a water meter and slowly probe down below the surface to see how wet the soil really is. During hot weather the top layer can dry out while the bottom of a pot is still completely saturated. Perfect recipe for root rot.
  • Always disinfect all pots and tools used treating a diseased plant. Throw out all contaminated soil, never reuse or you will infect a new healthy plant.

Proper Growing Locations & Conditions

  • Hibiscus need proper space and do not do well when competing with other plants including hibiscus for space and sunlight
  • Hibiscus roots need space too – not only away from other plants but from tree roots that can come from far away, tangling up your hibiscus roots and crowding them out
  • Never plant and grow hibiscus under pine trees
  • Avoid from growing hibiscus under trees that heavily shade beneath them and/or drop leaves and other debris on a daily basis
  • Walls and fences that soak up heat from the day are a good thing in cooler locations but can be much too intense in hot, sunny locations
  • Most native soils are too clay like here in Southern California so dig holes at least 2-3 feet across and around 1 foot deep
  • Hibiscus do not do well in Santa Ana winds so if you live in a wind prone area best to grow them where there is a wind break
  • Be on the lookout for your gardeners interacting with your hibiscus. They do not understand they are special needs plants and will usually prune them and try to fertilize them in ways that are harmful for them

Southern California Hibiscus Growing by Region

  • The Southern California Coastal Plain is the most ideal area for hibiscus to grow due to the strong marine air influence of the Pacific Ocean which acts as a moderator for temps.
  • Coastal areas that see less sunlight and cooler temperatures should have hibiscus growing in maximum sunlight year round. Hibiscus thrive on heat to grow and create colorful blooms so shady areas are not going to work well for them near the coast.
  • Inland Valleys are a challenge during the winter and summer as the temperature extremes can be significant. Also these areas are prone to Santa Ana wind events which are enemy #1 for hibiscus – cold and dry is the exact opposite of what they need. Winter hibiscus need full sun especially in the morning after a cold night. Summer they need dappled shade to protect them from direct sunlight over 95F
  • Inland Empire and Desert areas are a challenging region to grow hibiscus. They cannot tolerate freezing temperatures plus the strong Santa Ana wind events during winter. The summer extreme heat is also too much for them to tolerate in direct sun. Growers of exotic hibiscus in these areas grow their plants in pots and move them indoors during winter and under shade in summer. Garden variety hibiscus are more hardy and if planted in less vulnerable areas might be able to make it year round but is a risky decision by the grower.
Yeroicy Snow Berries by Yeimy Guerra

Watch the video: How to grow a hibiscus indoors over the winter

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