How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Perennial Hibiscus
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With huge, dinner-plate colorful flowers, perennial hibiscus plants add a bold, tropical effect to the garden. They are also highly attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds! Here’s how to plant, grow, and care for hibiscus.
There are many types of hibiscus. This growing guide covers perennial hibiscus which are grown for their strikingly beautiful, big, disc-shaped, hollyhock-like flowers that can measure up to 12 inches across.
Perennial hibiscus can grow up to eight feet tall but also there are dwarf varieties of only two to three feet tall.
When to Plant Hibiscus
Hibiscus can be purchased as young plants from nurseries and best planted in the spring. Or, they can be rooted from a cutting in the spring.
If you wish to grow hibiscus from seed, sow indoors 12 weeks before the last spring frost date. Soak seeds in very warm water for one hour before sowing. Alternatively, seeds can be sown outdoors after the last expected frost date.
Choosing and Preparing a Planting Site
Choose a site that gets full sun; they’ll grow in partial sun but not flower as well.
Hibiscus prefer well-draining soil with plenty of organic matter, and neutral to slightly acidic soil.
To avoid breakage of the long stems, plant hibiscus where they won’t be exposed to strong winds.
How to Plant Hibiscus
Plant potted hibiscus plants so that their stems are just at the soil surface.
To root a cutting in the spring, cut off a branch that is 5 to 6 inches long and strip off lower leaves. Plant cutting in a pot with a mix of three parts sand and one part peat. Roots should form with a few weeks. Transplant from pot into ground.
The hibiscus species that die back each year can be spaced 2 to 3 feet apart. Consider the potential height and width (up to 12 feet and 10 feet, respectively) of a mature plant before planting.
Water well at the time of planting.
How to Care for Hibiscus
Hibiscus needs frequent watering, especially when young and new. When watering, do so deeply and thoroughly, drenching the plant.
Mulch around the plant to retain moisture and to provide winter protection for the roots.
To encourage rebloom, either remove the spent flowers before they form seed heads or prune plants back by one third after a flush of bloom is finished.
Perennial hibiscus will freeze back to the ground each winter; cut old stems to the ground.
Hibiscus bloom on new wood (this year’s growth), so pruning is best done in the spring.
In early spring, remove dead stems from established plants and apply a balanced fertilizer.
Mature plants can be divided in the spring, not fall.
Scarlet Swamp Hibiscus (H. coccineus): This plant, also known as Texas Star, has 5-petaled, brilliant-red flowers. It grows to a height of seven feet each growing season, dies back to the ground every winter, and resprouts in spring.
Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos): This is the classic dinner-plate hibiscus due to the large size of its flowers. These large, fast-growing plants bloom from August to October and each plant may flaunt several 10 to 12 inch wide flowers at once. A few of the many popular cultivars are:
‘Anne Arundel’ has pink flowers, nine inches in diameter, on plants five feet tall.
‘Kopper King’ has light pink to white flowers with a burgundy center, 12 inches in diameter, with coppery red deeply cut leaves.
‘Lady Baltimore’ is a popular old variety with pink flowers and red centers, on plants five feet tall.
‘Lord Baltimore’ is another old variety with red flowers on five foot tall plants.
Wit and Wisdom
The plant has been used to soothe headaches, aching limbs, coughs, and inflammations.
Hibiscus tea is made from parts of a different type of hibiscus, Hibiscus sabdariffa—also known as Roselle or Florida Cranberry. It’s native to West Africa, but is now grown across Central America, the Caribbean, and even Florida.