Hibiscus brings an abundance of flowers and a tropical feel to any setting. There are many varieties of Hibiscus; some are tropical (USDA hardiness zones 9 and above), and some are hardy or native to the United States (USDA hardiness zones 4 and above).
Pruning benefits all varieties, but depending upon the variety you have and the way you plan to keep it, pruning timing and technique may vary.
In this article, we discuss how and when to prune your hibiscus plant. Read on to learn more.
Why Prune A Hibiscus Shrub?
When you prune the branch tips of hibiscus lightly, you encourage your plant to grow more branches and develop a fuller more bushy silhouette.
More branches also bring more Hibiscus flower buds, and beautiful flowers are the point of Hibiscus.
Aside from aesthetics, pruning also removes damaged and potentially ailing leaves and branches.
Judicious pruning is a good way to help any plant stay healthy.
When Is The Best Time To Prune Hibiscus?
Hardy and Tropical Hibiscus are pruned in pretty much the same manner throughout the growing season. However, there are differences in how you prune at the beginning and end of the growing season.
What’s the Difference Between Tropical and Hardy Hibiscus?
Hardy Hibiscus are typically native to the United States and are naturally perennials. In USDA hardiness zones four and above, they can usually be left outdoors year-round.
Perennial or Hardy Hibiscus naturally die back to the ground every winter and start again with new growth in the springtime.
These types of plants may take quite a while to reemerge in the springtime.
You may not see the new growth of your Hardy Hibiscus until the middle of the summer.
In a very cold setting, the best time to cut back the dead stalks of Hardy Hibiscus is in late winter or early in the springtime.
Be sure to leave about 6” inches of each stalk intact so you will remember where the Hibiscus tree is and won’t accidentally run over it with the mower.
Once the plant begins to grow, prune lightly to control the size and shape of the plant.
With a Perennial Hibiscus, keep the flowers deadheaded and trim out damaged leaves and branches and old-growth lightly throughout their active growing season.
Cut back one-third or less of the plants’ new growth overall to encourage more branching and more blooming.
Keep an eye on your Perennial Hibiscus throughout the growing season and trim as needed.
As the name implies, Tropical Hibiscus does not like cold weather, but if you live in a very cold climate, keep your Tropical Hibiscus indoors in the wintertime.
When you do this, your Tropical Hibiscus acts as a perennial.
Alternately, treat it as an annual and buy new Tropical Hibiscus to adorn your landscape each spring.
Tropical Hibiscus varieties left outdoors year-round in a tropical setting should be pruned vigorously throughout the spring, summer, and autumn seasons.
These plants also appreciate a hard pruning at the end of the growing season.
Tropical Hibiscus will remain dormant outdoors in cool weather during the winter.
Only hard prune Tropical Hibiscus annually.
They do bloom on new growth, but if you prune them severely, you will delay their growth and blooming for months.
Types of Hibiscus You May Like:
- Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)
- Blue Hibiscus (Alyogyne Huegelii)
- Texas Star Hibiscus – Hibiscus coccineus
- Confederate Rose – Hibiscus mutabilis
- Swamp Mallow – Hibiscus Moscheutos
What About Potted Tropical Hibiscus?
If you live in a cold setting and plan to keep your pots of Tropical Hibiscus indoors in the wintertime, pruning will depend upon the location where you keep your plant.
If you’re keeping the plant in the basement to go dormant through the winter, give it a light trim before storing it away. Give plants a hard full prune when you bring them out to resume growth late in the winter or early spring.
On the other hand, if you’re keeping it as a houseplant or in a greenhouse, give it a hard pruning late in the fall before you bring it indoors to grow for the winter.
Check out our article: Hibiscus Care in Winter
How To Prune Hibiscus?
In addition to taking care of the health of the plant, you should also keep an eye on it just for good looks.
If left to their own devices, Hibiscus will get tall and leggy and become very top-heavy.
This causes the stalks to lean every which way, causing your plant to look unbalanced and strange. To fix the unbalanced look will require corrective pruning.
Examine your plant every week or two and trim back branches (selective pruning) leaning to the left or right.
Doing so will encourage a bushier growth habit and eliminate problems with sparse areas in the center of the plant.
Here’s how to prune hibiscus:
- When you trim back individual branches, look for leaf nodes.
- This is the point at which leaves emerge.
- Sometimes they just look like bumps, and sometimes they have little leaves growing from them.
- Trim just above a leaf node so you will get good, bushy growth at the point where you cut.
- Encourage stalks to grow one way or the other by slanting your cut in the direction in which you want the plant to grow.
- Cut about a quarter-inch above a leaf node with the slant facing the way you want to direct the new growth.
- While actively growing remember to never remove more than a third of the plant at once.
- Always use sharp scissors, pruning shears, or bypass hand pruners (Felco) to make clean, efficient cuts.
What is Deadheading?
Deadheading is an important component of pruning.
It is the practice of promptly removing faded flowers to encourage more blooms.
When flowers begin to wilt, they lose their aesthetic appeal, yet they continue to be a drain on the plant’s energy.
Removing them helps your plant focus its energy on creating more flowers.
You should keep a close eye on your hibiscus and deadhead flowers right away when you see they are beginning to fade and wilt.
Don’t allow seedpods to begin to form as this is a big drain on energy.
- To deadhead, you should snip or snap off the plant’s stem below the faded blossom at the point where it joins with the main stem of the plant.
- If you are using scissors or bypass pruners to snip off faded flowers, be sure the blades are clean and sharp.
- Dirty blades spread germs, and dull blades damage plants.
- Use a paper towel soaked with rubbing alcohol to wipe the blades clean before trimming your plant.
How Do You Prune an Established, Neglected Hibiscus?
If mature Hibiscus have been neglected, they may be filled with branches of dead wood and excessive, uncontrolled growth.
In this case, hard pruning may be in order. Begin by cutting back as much of the old growth as possible.
Hard pruning on an old, neglected Hibiscus can work wonders.
When the new growth appears, it will be far more likely to bloom and prosper than the old growth you have removed.
To perform this kind of hard hibiscus pruning, cut the branches down to between 6” inches and a foot high.
Leave a couple of leaf nodes intact on each stalk.
This is where new growth will come from.
Although it may take quite a while for a mature Hibiscus to recover from this type of extreme pruning when it does, you will be delighted by its abundant new growth and blooms.
Hibiscus Pruning What To Do After You Prune?
After pruning hibiscus in the springtime, give your Hibiscus a feeding of potassium-rich flowering plant fertilizer.
Look for an NPK ratio of 3 –1 – 4.
This is just the right formulation for healthy growth and abundant flowering.
Be careful not to provide food with too much nitrogen because this will result in lots of leaves and not too many flowers.
Likewise, too much phosphorus causes problems for Hibiscus.
Fertilizers too rich in phosphorus will cause Hibiscus plants to become yellow and fade rapidly.
Learn more about –> Hibiscus Fertilizer
With Hibiscus plants, it’s a good idea to follow the weakly/weekly program.
Provide a teaspoonful of fertilizer mix per gallon of water once a week.
If you feel you will not be able to keep up with this regimen, use a slow-release fertilizer seasonally, and provide a light feeding of potassium monthly while in active growth.