Hibiscus Tree Care: A Complete Guide To Growing Hibiscus Plants

The potted tropical hibiscus tree is a popular plant across the US in the springtime. They find a home on front porches, out on back patios and decks.

Personally, I like growing Hibiscus plants as a tree. For tips on how to care for these colorful flowered beauties. Read on…

beautiful flower of the hibiscus plant

The flowers of several hibiscus species represent nations. Haiti lists the hibiscus as their national flower.

Hibiscus syriacus what we call the “Rose Of Sharon tree” is South Korea’s national flower, and Malaysia calls Hibiscus rosa-sinensis its national flower.

Hibiscus plants come from the Mallow Family – Malvaceae – of which several hundred species make up this diverse group of plants found throughout the world.

What a difference a week can make. As a commercial nurseryman, I saw close up in the spring, the flower production starting to pop on acres of growing Hibiscus bushes. It is truly a beautiful sight to see thousands of tropical plants with red, pinks, oranges, and yellows all starting to bust out to show off their colorful flowers.

We’ll discuss – Florist Grade Hibiscus – briefly below and then look how to grow Hibiscus plants, the ones grown as small potted trees for patio or terrace color as well as potted specimens in front yard landscapes.

Read on for more Hibiscus plant information.

Growing Hibiscus Indoors In The Nursery

You’ll find “Florist Grade” hibiscus plants grown as flowering plant bushes in greenhouses. They display a deeper foliage color providing a dark background for the colorful flowers. The bloom size is also larger.

The outdoor/patio types are grown outside in full sun as bushes also, but we find a lot of trees grown as what are called “tree standards” produced outdoors.

Bush type hibiscus plants start life from cuttings. Most standard Hibiscus are started from air-layers. Air-layers are a commonly used propagation method for plant material (that is a whole story in itself).

Stock plants grow in the ground, in full sun, and reach a height of 6′-8′ feet tall. The branches are trimmed, removing the side branches making one long straight stem (which stays on the tree) about 36″ inches long. The base is then wrapped with sphagnum moss and foil to retain moisture.

Roots form and begin growing into the moss. These air-layers are removed from the stock plants and planted into containers. Each stock plant can produce 50 to 100 plants per year.

After planting the plants are trimmed, and shaped into forming a small growing Hibiscus tree. This process takes 12 months for a 10” plant. Some growers take 3 or 4 air-layers and braid them together.

How To Make A Braided Hibiscus Tree: Video

Over the past few years, I’ve seen many plants grown as a braided tree: Ficus, dwarf arboricola, even dracaena.

Why should braided Hibiscus plant be any different?

The video below shows “How to braid” your own tropical hibiscus tree. Beautiful flowers along with an interesting trunk.

Characteristics of the Outdoor/Patio Hibiscus Bush

The outdoor/patio tropical hibiscus tree is taller, more open, and has lighter colored leaves than those grown as ‘Florist Grade’.

The facilities producing the outdoor/patio type are:

  • Outside growing areas (acres and acres)
  • Overhead irrigation
  • Some method to keep the plants from blowing over in the wind.
red double hibiscus flower

Tropical Hibiscus Tree Care

How do you care for a Hibiscus Tree? Start by placing your growing Hibiscus tree in full sun for the best growth and flower production. Try to keep the plants out of windy areas.

Hibiscus plants will thrive outdoors where the night temperature doesn’t drop below 50° degrees Fahrenheit. Hibiscus are used outdoors in tropical climate landscapes. Avoid excessive cold and hot areas.

One important part of Hibiscus tree care is to keep the soil of the patio hibiscus plant moist at all times. Saturate the soil at each watering.

To test and see if you need to water, place your fingers on the top of the soil; if it feels dry to the touch, it is time to water your Hibiscus.

When growing Hibiscus outside water plant at least 3 to 4 times a week.

Hibiscus plants require plenty of water. However, they do not like to sit in water.

The Hibiscus plant likes the root ball to be well watered. When you water your Hibiscus avoid overwatering and allowing your plant to sit with “wet feet.” To prevent root rot plants should drain completely drain after waterings.

Avoid using cold water, especially during winter months, when you water your hibiscus.

This tropical plant prefers water around 95° degrees Fahrenheit. Always check the water temperature with your hand to ensure it is not too hot and never too cold.

Patio hibiscus plants respond well to balanced slow release fertilizer.

If you want lots of flowers, you’re going to need to fertilize your potted hibiscus.

Select a balanced slow-release fertilizer such as a 20-20-20 or a specially formulated Hibiscus fertilizer.

Trace elements such as iron for plants and magnesium also help a growing hibiscus thrive. A water-soluble fertilizer at 1/2 strength can also be applied.

Easy Hibiscus Deliver Colorful Results

Given sunlight, soil moisture, good drainage and temperature which stays above 32° degrees Fahrenheit year-round, hibiscus will reward the grower with blossoms almost continuously but most prolifically during the summer and fall months.

Even in the north the gardener need not be without them. They make wonderful large pot plants for a sunny window and may be placed outdoors on the patio in full sun from spring to late summer.

Plants may set too many buds for the root development to support and some or all of the buds will fall for a time. Fertilizing and additional humus will usually take care of this.

Pruning Hibiscus Plants And Roots

Prune the branches of your hibiscus to maintain the desired shape. The only reason for trimming hibiscus or pruning Hibiscus is to encourage more flowers and keep the plant in balance. Pruning will also help to stimulate more growth and more shoots.

Learn more on –> Pruning Hibiscus

To keep your Hibiscus plant looking healthy, establish three to four main branches of the plant. Select the most sturdy and upright branches when pruning and allow those to become the main stems of the plant. Remove any weak or sideways growing branches.

When repotting, you may want to root prune the root ball. Remove any weak, sick looking or ailing roots gently but firmly. When pruning use the rule of thirds. Never prune more than one-third of the root or the plant. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and don’t remove it.

Hibiscus flowers open daily and last for only one day, after which they die. Your plants will probably have flowers which opened during transit, fallen off and started to rot.

This is normal! Simply remove all wilted or unsightly flowers and keep grooming daily.

While visiting your garden center keep this in mind. Growing hibiscus plants are heavy drinkers and aggressive feeders. Look for full plants with good color. I’ve never seen plants get the care they need during their brief visit to a big box garden department. They will probably need a good drink when they get to their home.

Yellowing leaves and hibiscus plants losing their bottom leaves can be a sign of the root ball not getting enough water and drying out, or plants being in transit too long.

The Hibiscus Plant Loves Lots of Sunshine

When do Hibiscus bloom? When they get plenty of sunshine necessary to make hibiscus plants grow sturdy and to produce blooms. To insure good branching, pinch growing tips when small.

If the pinching is done just above an outside bud, the new growth will branch out into a desirable bush.

Hibiscus flowers are borne on the young wood, and a heavy pruning is in order every year so that plenty of new growth can develop without the bush becoming too large for indoor growing.

Hibiscus thrive under fluorescent grow light culture. Grow Hibiscus by placing plants under the tubes, so the top of the foliage does do not quite touch the tubes.

Hibiscus matensis, a species with variegated pink, silver and green leaves, has been known to thrive and flower all winter under fluorescent lights.

A fluorescent unit can be made of two 48″-watt tubes. Given much humidity and 12 to 15 hours daily illumination, Hibiscus does well under the lights.

Growing temperatures should range from 60° to 65° at night to 75° degrees Fahrenheit during the daytime.

How To Care For Patio Hibiscus Trees

beautiful orange hibiscus blooms in Hawaiian garden


A tall, bushy plant, three feet tall, will thrive in an eight-inch pot.

Hibiscus plants are not particular about soil or potting mix. It will combat root rot and nematodes best with plenty of humus added, and maintaining a neutral pH.

Soil with perfect drainage with a rich and humusy growing medium will yield excellent results. An African Violet potting soil is usually satisfactory for growing hibiscus.

Here is a recipe for hibiscus potting soil:

  • 1 part garden loam
  • 1 part Canadian peatmoss
  • 1 part  fine bark and sand

When growing Hibiscus you’ll learn quickly find they use significant amounts of water, and outdoors during the hot summer plants may require watering every day. This free use of water quickly leaches out plant food in the soil. When fertilizing with liquid plant food, feeding is necessary every week.

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A plant fertilizer with too much nitrogen will produce lots of foliage, and not enough flowers. A well-balanced food or special Hibiscus fertilizer will help plants produce large, well-colored blossoms, and in the usual quantity.

If you purchase a plant that comes in a small pot and the leaves are rather banged and bruised, cut the top back partially to give the roots a momentary rest and then a chance to grow.

A plant without a good root system cannot be expected to continue to produce a floriferous plant.

Hibiscus Plant Propagation – Making Cuttings

Although the shrub first came from eastern Asia, it has proved its adaptability in subtropical areas where gardeners are enthusiastically searching for new types to add to known varieties.

The Hibiscus plant propagates easily from softwood cuttings or leaf bud cuttings from March to September. Use hardwood cuttings almost any time of the year. Many commercial growers propagate Hibiscus from air-layers.

Use a rooting medium of sand or peat and perlite, then treat the cuttings with rooting hormones. Or, if the grower is a green thumber, 6″ to 8″ inch lengths of stem with two or three leaves or half leaves at the top may be put into a bed which will be kept moist and, presto, they’ll grow and bloom.

The rooted cuttings then may be potted until they are transferred to larger containers or to permanent beds.

They will root in water, or they may be started in a moist mixture of peat moss and sand, or in vermiculite. When roots form, they should be potted into regular soil.

Cuttings rooted under fluorescent lights can be potted in six weeks’ time, and flowered in less than a year.

Grafting is done to secure blooms from rare varieties on older rootstock more vigorous than its own. If grafting fascinates you, graft five or six Hibiscus varieties onto one root stock.

Growing The Hibiscus Plant From Seed

Hibiscus seeds are large enough to handle easily and come into blossom in about 18 months. Plants seeds in vermiculite, peat/coir, or sand – best of all, a mixture of the three.

To spare the plant from future transplant shock treatment, plant each seed in a small individual pot or peat pot.

To set seeds on a plant, simply place loose pollen from one bloom into the little pads of stigma at the top of the pistular column of another bloom.

All varieties are not fertile, but a little experimenting will teach which ones will set seed.

What To Do With Hibiscus in the Winter?

When temperatures dip to the 30’s tropical hibiscus may freeze to the ground. In such cases it may recover slowly or not at all.

Plants may be covered and protected. Sudden changes in temperature are not easy to meet since warm days are interrupted by chilling, blustery north winds called “northers.”

The Hibiscus plant thrives outdoors in the summer. When moving them outdoors in May or June, thin out weak wood and prune to make the plant as shapely as possible. Keep the plant in partial shade to acclimate.

How To Overwinter Hibiscus Plants Indoors

Move your hibiscus indoors before the first fall frost.

Before moving your hibiscus plant indoors check it over for any potential insects like whitefly, spider mites and mealybugs.

Learn more on controlling Hibiscus Whiteflies

Personally, I would give the hibiscus plant a thorough spraying with Neem insecticide oil making sure to get the underside of the leaves.

Once you move your hibiscus indoors DO NOT get upset if your plant begins showing yellowing leaves and then starts losing all of its leaves. Leaf loss is normal with reduced light levels. New growth will soon.

While overwintering your hibiscus indoors provide as much bright light as possible, along with warm temperatures.

When growing Hibiscus in your home keep the root ball soil moist, but DO NOT allow the plant to stand in water.

In late winter, prune back all the leggy growth and start fertilizing with a well-balanced liquid fertilizer every two weeks.

It is recommended in the spring to:

  • Repot your hibiscus in a container with drainage holes
  • Using in a good quality, well-drained soil
  • Applying a balanced slow-release fertilizer.

Once all danger of frost passes in the spring, begin to slowly acclimate your hibiscus plant to the outdoors.

Growing Hibiscus Bush & Trees As Landscape, Hedge and Foundation Plantings

When used as a hedge the Hibiscus plant may be kept trimmed for a semi-formal look but will produce few blooms. Planting and growing Hibiscus in clumps look most attractive.

Hibiscus plants make fine specimens but are not well suited for foundation planting, especially if the landscaping plan calls for formal or semi-formal design. Plant them along the sides or the back of a house where a tall plant is needed.

When used in this way near the house, most homeowners cut them to two feet or less in height late each fall or cut back the older wood to the ground.

If not pruned many Hibiscus varieties grow too large for the average house. Take your pruners (we love our Felco #2 for pruning) and cut back the older wood. This does not decrease bloom since hibiscus flowers on new wood.

With no standardized names for hibiscus varieties, especially in the newer hybrids, a name may prevail in one section of the country for a red and to a yellow in another area.

If you’re looking for a particular variety the safest method, unless you see the blooming plants in a nursery, is to beg a cutting from a friend, who has the variety.

Hibiscus Flowers Alone Deliver Garden Color Interest Indoors

These brilliant plants add color interest to the garden and are equally useful as cut flowers.

Gather blooms without foliage to use in a cluster on a mirror or tray, or to string along some willowy bamboo straws or palm ribs to add tropical charm to daytime decorations.

Cut flowers early, on the morning they are to open, and placed in the refrigerator until a few hours before they are to being used. Brought into the light they will open and hold their beauty for almost the twelve hours nature intended for them.

This method “tricks” them into evening use. They give a wide choice in color from white through delicate pinks, yellows, peach hibiscus, and lavender tints, to the most brilliant red and orange shades.

In Mexico, these and other hibiscus or mallows are called Tulipan. Down in southern Texas, Hibiscus syriacus is known as althea, Hibiscus palustris (moscheutos) is mallow, rose mallow or Mexican Hibiscus and Hibiscus mutabilis is Confederate rose or flower-for-a-day. The hibiscus is the only one called by its genus name.

The hibiscus is known as shoe-black plant in China because of the use made of a dye from the petals. It is said that the flowers can be rubbed on shoes in place of shoe polish when one needs a shine.

Vibrant and Colorful Hibiscus Tree

I do not think I have ever seen a hibiscus with a flower that was not colorful and vibrant. You can select from reds, maroon to rosy red, pinks, lavender and white shades along with orange tones such as the orange Hibiscus.

Each grower who specializes in hibiscus can add names to the list, and each collector will continue to admire new hues and search for new types. “Hibiscus-mania” is developing rapidly and growers are not always able to supply the demand for newer types.

Other hibiscus grow in the south, but die to the ground in the winter or loose their leaves.

Northern gardeners who grow these shrubs in pots move them inside during the winter. Pot and tub grown plants cannot develop to outdoor size and beauty except under special conditions.

Hibiscus plants will continue to be a shrub for the extreme south and an increasingly popular one.

The hibiscus is of the shoe-flower family, and closely related to hollyhock plants, the Rose of Sharon, okra, and cotton.

Control Hibiscus Pests – The Usual Suspects

The pests on Hibiscus plants are the usual suspects – aphids, thrips, red spider and pink hibiscus mealybugs are about the worst that attack. Learn more about Thrips on Hibiscus.

There was a big outbreak of whiteflies a few years ago which commercial growers experienced.

For all these hibiscus insect pests – mealybugs, aphids, thrips, scale insects and whiteflies, treat first with a Neem all-natural pesticide oil or one of the insecticide soap recipes.

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Use Neem to control aphids on hibiscus which normally attack new growth.

Red spider hate high humidity levels which the hibiscus plant needs to thrive. Organic neem spray will help control spider mite infestations on hibiscus.

Details on how to get rid of spider mites on hibiscus and many other plants.

Expect multiple spray applications at 5-7 day intervals for control.

Get rid of mealybugs on a hibiscus plant with a neem spray, or for small infestations dab them with alcohol.

Weekly spraying with tepid water keeps the foliage clean and attractive.

You may also like:

Hibiscus Plant Care – Trivia, Questions & Answers

TRIVIA: Did you know that rosa-sinensis Hibiscus is the national flower of Malaysia?

At one time the famous “Hawaiian lei” was made only of green material until the brilliance of hibiscus bloom impelled the bronze-skinned maids to add color to these tokens of friendship.

Rosa-sinensis have numerous medical uses. It is also grown as an ornamental plant. Women in some countries use it for hair care purposes. Children in the Philippines use it for their bubble-making game.

The sepals of Hibiscus sabdariffa are used to make hibiscus tea.

In fact, George Washington ordered hibiscus from Philadelphia nurseryman John Bartram in 1792. These plants had single, red flowers, similar to the present day variety.

Both the flowers and leaves of the Hibiscus bush can be used to produce a lovely reddish Hibiscus dye. [source]

The seed oil of Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is a rich source of gamma-tocopherol. [source]

Question: A hibiscus plant along with the Cordyline (aka Hawaiian ti plant) are a couple of the plants we brought back from our Hawaiian vacation. Can Hibiscus be grown indoors? We also saw a small tree that was interesting but like the bush type much better. We want to try growing hibiscus outdoors in a pot on a patio or deck. Can We? Courtney, Nashville, Tennessee

Answer: YES! Hawaii and growing Hibiscus are picturesque words bringing to mind a vision of sunny skies and hula dancers adorning their dark tresses, exotic blossoms and tropical climate.

Hibiscus Tree Care – Dropping Buds or Blooms?

Question: Why do the flower buds and Chinese hibiscus leaves turn yellow and drop off before blooming time? RR, CA

Answer: Perhaps there is something wrong with the location of your hibiscus. It should have good light, planted in a well-drained soil with a pot having drainage holes.

The hibiscus (hy-BIS-kus) lends itself beautifully to pot culture, and because there is no dormant season for the potted plant, it may be kept in bloom the year around.

It ranks high in popularity along the Gulf Coast in Florida and Texas and in Southern California as well as a colorful springtime plant for the northern patio.

Hibiscus Plant Not Blooming?

Question: I’ve been growing Hibiscus for 3 years and it didn’t bloom this year. Early in the spring I root-pruned it and used a systemic fertilizer spike for fertilizer and aphid control. The plant is healthy and growing well on the northeast side of the house. It is moved inside for the winter, during which time it usually sets buds for spring.  Pulaski, Tenn.

Answer: Because your plant sets buds during the winter, it is doubtful that spring root-pruning or the spike was involved.

However, many potted container plants refuse to flower after root-pruning until they have refilled the pots with new roots. It is a good idea to keep a hibiscus pot bound to help control its overall size. Hibiscus is a “long day” plant, that is, it needs at least 14 hours of light daily in order to set flowers.

If it spends the winter in a room where the lights are turned off early in the evening, consider getting a plant light and timer for it.

Check the label on the spike’s container for nitrogen content. If the percentage is high, the plant is being forced into vegetative growth at the expense of flowering.

During its growth period, feed it monthly with a mild liquid fertilizer, something like 5-10-5 at one-half strength. It should do well in a standard potting soil with good drainage. Make sure the pot has drainage holes and give generous watering except during dormancy, warm temperatures (55° to 60° degrees Fahrenheit at night in the winter), and lots of good, bright light.

A Round Up On Caring For Hibiscus Plants

  • Hibiscus thrive in the warm weather and lots of full sun.
  • Avoid setting potted plants outside if the temperatures dip below 50° degrees Fahrenheit or if they exceed 90° degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Keep the soil moist but make sure the pot has drainage holes and your plant does not sit in water.
  • Use a balanced timed-release fertilizer like 10-10-10 and/or apply liquid food weekly.
  • Prune plants to maintain shape and produce new buds.
  • Check regularly for pests, use Neem oil for control

If you follow these tips, you should enjoy plenty of gorgeous flowers and a happy healthy plant.

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