Hibiscus plants are beloved for their large, showy flowers and fragrance and deep green leaves. They’re often used in teas and potpourri and are a garden staple.
They make excellent plants to add a pop of tropical color to your patio, balcony, deck, and landscape and attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.
But, you might not have known that the Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (hi-BIS-kus RO-sa-sy-NEN-sis) has a much more ornamental and satisfying use.
Known as Chinese hibiscus or Chinese rose, this plant has been used traditionally in a wide range of products and applications.
One of these is an art form like shumu penjing. This Chinese predecessor to Japanese bonsai is not restricted to shallow pots.
This practice involves creating and growing a braided hibiscus plant to dwarf proportions.
Braided Hibiscus Care: How To Grow A Braided Hibiscus Tree
Growing a braided hibiscus tree is similar to its full-sized counterpart in many ways.
However, the tree has a lower cold tolerance and needs regular pruning to keep its shape.
Creating A Braided Hibiscus
Creating a braided hibiscus requires at least three Chinese hibiscus plants.
- Each must be 24” inches tall, pencil-thin at the trunk, and have an established root system.
- Plant the trees close together in a 10” inch pot.
- Next, gently braid the trunks together until you reach the foliage, and loosely tie the stems together.
- You don’t want to tie it too tight, as the trunks need room to grow and expand.
- Finish off by trimming away any scraggly limbs until you have a rounded canopy.
Potting The Tree
As mentioned, you will need a container that’s approximately 10” inches across for the initial planting.
Fill this with a well-draining tropical potting mix with a slightly acidic pH level between 6.5 and 6.8.
These plants tend to be very hungry. You’ll want to amend the soil with worm castings or a dose of hibiscus fertilizer before planting.
Also, add a layer of coarse gravel to the bottom of the pot to aid in drainage. These plants don’t like to sit in water.
You will need to repot your braided hibiscus every 3 years, graduating to one container size larger.
Be sure to replace the soil during this time so the plant has more nutrients and isn’t sitting in a buildup of toxins.
The winters are too cold in most of the US for this plant. But it’s possible to grow them in a garden in USDA hardiness zone 12 and parts of zone 11b.
Your braided hibiscus will need a lot of light to thrive. Find a nice south-facing window where the plant can get 6-8 hours of direct sunlight during the day.
During the warmer months, you may also choose to take the plant outdoors, where it can receive more prolonged periods of full sun. They also grow well in partial shade.
Braided hibiscus trees are cold-intolerant and will die if exposed to freezing temperatures for too long.
When growing one outdoors, you must bring it inside if the temperature dips below 50° degrees Fahrenheit.
Some growers have reported the plant will survive as low as 45° degrees Fahrenheit. But only risk this with a full-grown specimen.
Indoors, the potted plant will thrive in average household temperatures. But you don’t want to let the room temperature dip below 55° degrees Fahrenheit.
Water the plant using the soak-and-dry method when the soil feels dry, approximately 2” inches down.
The Hibiscus plant is somewhat drought tolerant and will grow better when not watered too often. The plant doesn’t need much water during the fall and winter months.
However, braided hibiscus requires lots of water during summer/hot months or while in bloom.
Note that it’s usually a good idea to fertilize your braided hibiscus between waterings to reduce the risk of chemical burns.
As mentioned, braided hibiscus trees tend to be very hungry.
Give them a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer, preferably 16-16-16. Although 20-20-20 and 10-10-10 are also okay, these can be a little trickier to work with.
You can also use slow-release fertilizer, especially for container plants.
A good ratio is 1 teaspoon per gallon of water, given weekly during the spring.
Worm castings are also a great source of nutrients and create fuller blooms.
Part of the pleasure of owning a braided hibiscus is enjoying its shape.
You will need to trim away any scraggly branches in the early spring and fall to keep the canopy in a uniform, rounded shape.
Related: More on when and how to prune hibiscus.
The canopy will take a few years to fill in but will leave you with a dense, round canopy from which the blooms will practically fall out.
It’s also important to trim container-grown plants frequently to encourage more side shoots and limit the need for a larger root system.
When pruning, cuts should be made at a slight angle just above a leaf bud using a sharp pair of pruning shears.
Pests and Disease
Finally, your braided hibiscus is prone to a few pest and disease issues, especially if you keep it outdoors.
Potential problems leading to bud drop and similar issues:
- Spider mites
- Hibiscus whiteflies
Side effects of an infestation or overwatering of braided hibiscus include:
- Downy mildew
- Gray mold
- Powdery mildew
- Root rot
Neem soil can help end and prevent these problems when applied every 2 to 3 weeks in place of watering. You may also choose to use fungicides or pesticides to treat the plant as needed.