Tropical Hibiscus Care

Cultivating Hibiscus rosa sinensis Plants

Tropical Hibiscus care and cultivation tips. Caring for Hibiscus rosa sinensis plants indoors and in the open ground. Growing Hibiscus trees. Hibiscus flower picture.

Hibiscus Flower Picture

Hibiscus plants are not very demanding as long as you are growing the right plant in the right environment.

There are many cultivars of Hibiscus rosa sinensis available. They are not just different in color and flower form, but in size and speed of growth as well. A Hibiscus that grows to the size of a tree in its natural habitat will not make an easy-care houseplant.

I speak from experience here. I have two Hibiscus plants in my yard. Neither has ever caused me a day's trouble.

They are 7 or 8 feet tall.

I cut them back to about 4 feet each spring.

I didn't even know how big they could get until a neighbor invited me over to have an iced tea poolside. While we were sipping and chatting, I noticed that she had the same hibiscus planted behind her pool as a privacy screen. It had to be 15 feet tall!

Try growing that in a pot on your windowsill.

Tropical Hibiscus Picture

Another neighbor gave me cuttings of what has turned out to be my favorite Hibiscus: a double-flowered red with white streaks.

This one prefers shade and is not as vigorous or large a plant as its pink-flowered, tree-like cousin.

I rooted the cuttings and put two in the ground and one in a pot. The two in the ground require almost zero attention from me. I prune them just to remove frost damaged or crossing wood and throw a handful of Milorganite at them once in a while.

Their potted sister is another story. I am training it as a tree, mind you, so that creates hibiscus care problems of its own. But, aside from the training, I am constantly watering it.

If I keep it on the porch, the top gets too leggy from lack of light. Next, the aphids attack. If I leave the pot outside where it can get enough light to bloom, the wind knocks it over or it dries out from sitting in the sun.

Caring For Hibiscus Plants Indoors

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  1. Choose a plant that will fit your space. Grafted plants are almost always less vigorous. This is bad if you intend to plant it in the ground but good if you want to keep it in a pot. A rank growing shrub type can outgrow a 12 inch pot in just a few months. A grafted plant, especially one treated with something to keep it small, may live in the same pot for several years.
  2. An indoor Hibiscus rosa sinensis will need very bright light in order to grow compactly and set flower buds. You may have to set up a grow light to obtain the results you want.
  3. If your plants become buggy (spider mites or aphids) the likely cause is lack of air circulation or dry air. Run a humidifier, a fan and crack a window for a short while each day during the heating season.
  4. Keep the soil in the pot barely moist throughout the year. Feed the plants with a slow-release granular every three months or apply a liquid houseplant food monthly.

Care of Outdoor Hibiscus

Red tropical Hibiscus rosa sinensis shrub.

Hibiscus care for outdoor plants is dead easy.

Unless you plant grafted plants.

They are weaker in every way and tend to struggle out doors.

Some of my neighbors have planted these in areas where the larger, more vigorous hibiscus varieties would be out of scale. They look wonderful in the summer as long as they are kept watered. (The more vigorous, cutting-grown plants are drought tolerant once established.)

The real problem comes in the winter. The grafted weaklings have to be covered. In this instance, hibiscus care means dragging every blanket in the house out into the yard to give these plants some frost protection. The cutting-grown plants can fend for themselves.

Picture of the frost burned leaves of my tropical Hibiscus.

The frost burned leaves of my Hibiscus tree which spends all winter outside on the screenporch.

Any H. rosa sinensis will suffer in the cold. At temperatures below 40 degrees F., their leaves turn yellow. Below 30, the leaves "burn".

The burnt leaves won't recover. They will fall but the plant will make a full recovery in the spring.

Stem damage does not usually occur until temperatures fall into the middle 20s. The vigorous types will only suffer tip damage and lose a major branch or two. The grafted types will often die.

If you plant a grafted hibiscus in the open ground you need to be prepared to lose it unless you live in a frost-free area.

Hibiscus Care For Cutting-Grown Plants

Picture of a rare weeping Hibiscus.

This unusual weeping Hibiscus is planted outside the Ramada Inn of Naples, one of the nicest motels we've ever vacationed at.

Beside it are orange Canna lilies.

The bright blossoms of Crossandra adorn the ground at its feet.

Plant them in full sun or part shade as the particular variety requires. Keep them moist their first year in the ground. After that you can just water them during dry spells.

Feed them by the whatever/whenever method. Whatever you are feeding the rest of the garden, whenever you are doing it. They will bloom from summer to frost regardless.

Prune them any time except late fall. You want them to go into winter a little big and bushy. The overgrowth protects the lower potions of the plant from frost damage.

I've found that the really big ones don't like to be pruned to less than 3 or 4 feet tall. If I cut them back harder than this, they sulk and won't bloom until late the next season. I prune them after the last frost and again in late summer.

Tropical Hibiscus are unfussy, ever blooming beauties that will greatly reward very little effort on your part.

Hibiscus care is easy as long as you put the right plant in the right place.

My Other Hibiscus Pages:

Go from Hibiscus Care to Hibiscus Tea Health Benefits

Hibiscus mutabilis, the Confederate Rose

Growing Hibiscus: Winter Care of the Tropical Types

The Rose Of Sharon Bush: a Cold Hardy Hibiscus

Go from Hibiscus Care to Plant Guides' Home Page

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