Hibiscus Mutabilis Care: How To Grow Confederate Rose

Hibiscus mutabilis (hi-BIS-kus mew-tah-BIL-iss) aka Confederate Rose is a popular plant in the southern United States where it is also called:

  • Confederate Rose Mallow
  • Dixie Rosemallow
  • Rose Dixie Rosemallow
  • Cotton Rose
  • Cotton Rosemallow

As the name suggests, this plant is not a rose but a member of the large Mallow hibiscus (Malvaceae – mal-VAY-see-eye) hibiscus tree family.

Blooming Hibiscus Mutabilis aka Confederate Rose

This recipient of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit hails from China and was first introduced in the US during the 1600s.

It can grow as a perennial in many parts of the southern United States. In colder climates, it is grown as an annual or kept from one year to the next as a houseplant during the colder months.

Hibiscus Mutabilis Care

Size & Growth

Cotton Rose grows quickly to become a small tree with many stems and large flowers or a largish, spreading shrub. This plant may grow to be between 6’ and 15’ feet high and may spread 6’ feet to 10’ feet. 

It will typically grow taller and wider in a warmer climate (USDA hardiness zone 9 through 11). In cooler areas, it typically grows to be 6 to 8 feet high. 

In USDA hardiness zones 7 through 8, it may die back all the way to the ground as a result of a hard freeze; however, it will return vigorously in the springtime.

The foliage is a rich and lustrous shade of green. Individual leaves are large and impressive and may measure 7” inches across.

Flowering & Fragrance

This member of the hibiscus family produces great numbers of large (4″ to 6″ inches across) gorgeous flowers late in the summer and throughout the autumn months. 

Flowers are variable and may be single or double and present in multiple colors on the same bush. The flowers open white and transition to pale pink to hot pink to deep red all within a day.

Light & Temperature

Hibiscus mutabilis does well in USDA hardiness zones 7 through 11. It is best placed in partial shade to full sun. Keep in mind that the more sun the plant receives, the more water it will need.

Watering & Feeding

Water the plant freely throughout the growing season. In the wintertime water very sparingly. Generally speaking, you should water the plant deeply once a week and keep the soil slightly moist during the growing season. 

It’s best to use a drip hose or a regular garden hose set to a trickle for a slow, deep watering. Avoid overhead watering as this can lead to mold and mildew problems.

As with most plants, Confederate Rose Mallow does not like to stand in water.

These plants don’t need much hibiscus plant food and can do well with no fertilizer at all when planted in the ground, but without fertilizer, they will grow very slowly.

Your best choice in fertilizer is a liquid or a time-released formula. Look for an NPK ratio of 10–10–10. Fertilize once or twice a month, being careful to follow packaging directions. 

Soil & Transplanting

This plant likes well-draining, loamy soil, enriched with compost and of average to medium moisture. Top dress the soil with a thick layer of organic mulch to help retain moisture.

Be careful not to allow the mulch to come in direct contact with the plant’s stem as this may cause mold and mildew problems. 

Grooming & Maintenance

This plant needs very little pruning, and should not be pruned except to control shape and size and as a preparation for winter.

In colder climates, Confederate Rose Mallow will shed its leaves after the first frost. At this time, you should cut the plant back to a few inches above the ground. 

In the springtime, new shoots will appear at the plant’s base. Before you know it, you’ll have a flourishing bush.

How To Propagate Confederate Roses 

You can propagate the plant by seed sown in early spring. Alternately, you can take cuttings during the summertime.

As the flowers fade, they transition into brittle seed capsules. It is easy to collect the seeds, save them and plant them in the springtime.

To grow Dixie Rose Mallow from cuttings, you should select a few semi-woody limb tips and take cuttings about a foot long. Do this at the end of the growing season, just before your first expected frost. 

Place the cuttings in a tall vase or bucket of water and set them in a warm, sunny spot inside. Change the water every couple of days to prevent stagnation. 

Roots should form within a month or so. The cuttings will do fine kept in water through the deep winter months. Plant them in their own one-gallon pots in January. 

Keep them indoors as houseplants or in a greenhouse setting until springtime; transition them to the outdoors and then plant them in the ground or in larger containers as the weather warms up. 

Confederate Hibiscus Pests and Diseases

As with most Hibiscus plants, Cotton Rose can be plagued by spider mites, aphids and whiteflies. Be sure to check the undersides of the foliage frequently for these pests. 

As soon as you see them, spray the plant thoroughly with insecticidal soap. Make sure that the entire plant is soaked. 

It’s best to apply this product early in the morning to ensure that the plant is dry before nighttime. Being damp overnight could cause problems with powdery mildew.

TIP: You can prevent spider mites, whiteflies and hibiscus aphid attacks from taking hold by spraying the plant thoroughly with plain water once a week early in the morning.

Confederate Rose is also prone to Southern Stem Blight and leaf spot. Examine the leaves frequently for brown circles. Also look for brown lesions on the stems and at the plant’s base adjacent to the soil line.

You can prevent Southern Stem Blight from taking hold by making sure that mulch applied around the plants does not touch the stems. 

For both of these maladies, application of a fungicide is appropriate; however, it’s best to avoid fungal growth by allowing plenty of room between plants for good air circulation and avoid overhead watering. 

Is The Hibiscus Plant Considered Toxic or Poisonous?

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) members of the Malvaceae family are non-toxic to cats, dogs and horses. 

In fact, many types of Hibiscus are considered edible and are used to make tea, as a flavoring and as foodstuffs in China. Even so, you should not toss Hibiscus leaves and flowers into your salads willy-nilly. 

Different types of Hibiscus have different effects. If you want to experiment with adding Hibiscus of any sort to your diet, be sure to perform a thorough course of research before doing so.

Is The Hibiscus Rose Invasive?

According to invasive.org, Confederate Rose is not considered invasive in any part of North America.

Suggested Uses For The Confederate Rose

Confederate Rose is both drought tolerant and deer resistant. This attractive, versatile plant does well as a bedding plant, a back border plant, a low hedge, a specimen plant or as a patio plant or container plant.

It is a good addition to your butterfly or pollinator garden and is also welcome in your medicinal garden.