Hibiscus (hi-BIS-kus) is a wonderful flowering plant shrub that is often better known for the tea made from its petals than for the plant itself.
However, this genus of more than 300 species is also an excellent plant for growing both indoors and outdoors.
Found in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world, certain species are even used in the production of paper or rope.
One of the benefits of owning one hibiscus plant is that you can easily create more through propagation.
Hardy hibiscus tends to be easier to propagate than tropical hibiscus plants, but the methods used are identical.
How to Propagate Hibiscus
There are a few common methods for propagating hibiscus: through stem cuttings, air layering, and seed.
Tropical hibiscus and cultivars rarely produce the same plant through seeds, so stem cuttings tend to be the more common method used for all hibiscus.
Propagating Through Stem Cuttings
The best time to gather your cuttings is in the summer.
Most growers prefer early to mid-summer because that’s when the plant’s most active.
However, late summer Hibiscus cuttings will be woodier and a little hardier at the cost of growing speed.
Look for stems that are smooth and dark green with plenty of foliage.
Stems that have just started to turn brown may also be used but will be a little more difficult to root.
Using sterile pruning shears, cut each stem at a 45° degree angle so the cutting is between 4″ and 6” inches long.
You’ll want to clip no more than 6 cuttings at a time, as too many can shock the parent plant and cause it to stop growing or look bald.
Be sure to sterilize your shears after each cut to prevent the risk of spreading any unnoticed pests or diseases.
Once you have your cuttings, gently snip off all the leaves except for the top 2 to 3.
Especially large leaves may be cut in half horizontally to reduce the risk of wilting.
Finally, dip the cut ends in the rooting hormone.
Fill a small pot with either a balanced mix of perlite and potting mix (hardy hibiscus) or a mix of 1 part peat to 3 parts coarse sand (tropical hibiscus).
Evenly moisten this mix, then poke a small hole in the middle with a pencil or similar tool.
Lower the cuttings 1 ½” to 2” inches deep in the holes, making sure not to thrust them in so they won’t be damaged.
Gently pack the soil around the cuttings and add a little more water.
Place the pots in a spot that has partial shade or bright, indirect light, 40% to 60% percent humidity, and temperatures of 72° to 80° degrees Fahrenheit.
You may wish to cover the plant in a clear plastic bag to hold in humidity, but make sure the bag isn’t hindering the leaves if you do.
Keep the soil lightly moist until the plant has rooted, usually in about 8 weeks.
You’ll know when the roots are ready for transplanting to a bigger pot when you see new growth and there’s resistance when you give a gentle tug on the stem.
More mature stems will have to be planted directly into the soil, although younger ones may also root in water.
Rooting in water also has the benefit of letting you watch the roots form.
Choose a short glass or other transparent container and fill the bottom 1″ to 2” inches with room temperature distilled water or natural rainwater.
Sit the stem in the cup. Make sure the leaves remain clear of the water.
Once per week, lift the plantlet out of the cup and replace the water.
It will generally be ready to transplant to the soil in about 8 weeks.
Propagating Through Seeds
This method is best left for hardy hibiscus unless you don’t mind getting a mystery plant in return.
The seeds will do much better if they’re roughed up a little first.
You may choose to use some fine grain sandpaper or gently knick each seed with a sharp, sterile knife.
This action helps the seed absorb water better to make the germination process go smoother.
Place the seeds on a damp paper towel or in a shallow dish and soak them overnight.
Fill some planting flats ⅔ full with a seed starting mix and use a toothpick to poke small holes in for the seeds.
You’ll want to plant the seeds at a depth that’s twice their size and sprinkle a little more soil on top to cover.
Gently moisten the soil and keep it slightly moist until the seedlings have germinated, which usually takes 2 to 4 weeks.
A Note on Tropical Hibiscus
When planting its seeds, the resulting plant will often be one of the parent plants instead of the tropical plant you started from.
Also, stem cuttings tend to have a lower success rate.
As a result, you should always propagate more cuttings than needed to ensure success.
After all, if you somehow end up with extra plants, they make for great gifts.