If you are looking for a plant that boasts dramatic, vibrant flowers, you may want to consider tropical hibiscus. The trumpet-shaped blooms typically grow up to 6 inches in diameter with dramatic protruding stamens.
Native to Asia, tropical hibiscus plants produce flowers constantly, but each blossom only lasts one day. The shrub is fast-growing and can add up to 24 inches per year, eventually reaching heights of up 15 feet when growing under the ideal conditions. In colder climates, they are often planted as container specimens that are either replanted annually or brought indoors during the cold months. Start new plants in spring, whether in the ground or containers.
|Common Name||Tropical hibiscus, Chinese hibiscus, China rose|
|Botanical Name||Hibiscus rosa-sinensis|
|Mature Size||4–10 ft. tall, 3–6 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, partial shade|
|Sun Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Bloom Time||Summer, fall|
|Flower Color||White, red, pink, orange, yellow, purple|
|Hardiness Zones||9–12 (USDA)|
Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for a Hibiscus Plant
Tropical Hibiscus Care
No matter where you live, there's a way for to you enjoy a hibiscus plant, at least for part of the year. In warmer climates, tropical hibiscus plants are grown as perennial garden plants and used as shrubs for hedges and screens. Meanwhile, in colder climates, they're often planted in large containers as patio or deck specimens. With many colors of flowers to choose from, the plants will reward your garden and home with days and days of vibrant blooms reminiscent of a vacation in the tropics.
While you may assume that a tropical plant like the hibiscus loves the sun, it's more nuanced than that. In northern climates, your hibiscus plants will probably be happiest in full sun. However, if you live somewhere that's more hot and dry, you're better off putting your plant in a location that gets partial shade.
If your outdoor plant is consistently producing hibiscus flowers, it is happy, so keep doing what you're doing. If your plant is not producing buds and flowers, try moving it into an area that has more sunlight.
If you're growing your hibiscus plant in a container, use a well-drained potting mix as the soil, preferably one formulated for tropical plants. In the ground, your soil should have lots of organic matter. The soil in both grow locations should be well-draining, to help avoid the risk of root rot.
Tropical hibiscus is a thirsty plant and will thrive and produce blossoms only if it is given enough water. Depending on the heat, wind, and humidity in your environment, your plant may need to be watered daily, or even twice a day in extremely dry conditions. Typically, tropical hibiscus plants thrive best with 1 to 2 inches of water per week.
Temperature and Humidity
The tropical hibiscus plant prefers average temperatures between 55 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The plant can be killed by even a few nights below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, so plan to move it inside if cold weather is in the forecast.
When you buy a potted hibiscus, it likely has a slow-release fertilizer mixed into the soil, so it will not require additional feeding in the first few months. After that, regular feeding with a diluted fish emulsion fertilizer will keep it blooming vigorously. For the amount to use, follow product label instructions.
Types of Tropical Hibiscus
- Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Bonjour': This varietal constantly blooms with a mixture of red and pink flowers. It can grow 4 to 6 feet high.
- Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Magic Moment': This plant varietal boasts 10-inch flowers in hues of peach, orange, pink, and light purple, on plants growing up to 8 feet tall.
- Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Cajun Cocktail': This unique varietal has lovely variegated blooms that are around 6 inches wide, with no two blooms exactly alike.
The best time for pruning tropical hibiscus depends on the conditions of your location. If there's no chance of a freeze, prune in the fall. In areas that get cold and where freezing is an issue, prune in spring. Pruning will help keep your tropical hibiscus flowering as buds form on the new growth that has been stimulated by pruning, and removing some branches can let in much-needed light. Give any hibiscus plants that are potted in containers a hard pruning before bringing them indoors for the winter season.
Propagating Tropical Hibiscus
Propagating tropical hibiscus using cuttings gives you the exact same plant as the parent. Propagate your tropical hibiscus from soft-stem cuttings taken in late spring or early summer after the plant has begun active growth for the season. Here's how to propagate this plant using cuttings:
- Choose a stem with a greenish cast that's 4 to 6 inches long. Use a sterile, sharp cutting tool to cut the stem. Remove all but the top set of leaves from the stem.
- Trim the bottom of the stem just below the bottom leaf node and dip the end in a rooting hormone.
- Put the cutting in a pot of well-draining soil that's half potting soil and half perlite.
- Moisten the soil and push a hole into the dirt in which you place the cutting.
- Put a clear plastic bag over the plant, but make sure it does not touch the leaves. Bagging the cutting preserves moisture and retains heat while it establishes roots.
- Keep the cuttings out of direct sunlight and in partial shade until they are actively growing, at which time you can repot them in a larger container.
Potting and Repotting Tropical Hibiscus
You will likely need to repot your plant every one to two years. Regular repotting helps ensure that the soil provides sufficient nutrition for the plant.
For consistent flower production in container plantings, avoid very deep containers, which can cause the plant to spend its energy on root development at the expense of producing flowers. The ideal pot shape is quite wide but relatively shallow. The best pot will be an unglazed clay material and have several draining holes (not just one). Unglazed clay pots are porous and let water and air easily flow through the plant.
If you live in a northern climate, it is possible to overwinter hibiscus indoors, as long as you can provide two to three hours of direct sunlight daily. Your plant will also need less water in the winter, but dry indoor heat can be hard on tropical plants, so you will need frequent shallow waterings, as well as daily misting (if the air is dry).
If you see any buds form on the plant, remove them—you don't want your hibiscus to waste any energy by flowering in the winter. In the spring, cut the plant back and put it outside once the nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Tropical hibiscus is generally free of pests and diseases, but you may encounter spider mites and aphids, especially if you bring the plant indoors. You should also try to remove all insects currently residing on the plant using neem oil, a liquid detergent, or by spraying the plant forcefully with water.
Hibiscus plants can also develop bacterial diseases due to transmission from insects, rain, and fog—symptoms of such can include leaf wilt, dwarfing, stem rot, and distortion of leaves.
Common Problems With Tropical Hibiscus
There will be telltale signs that your tropical hibiscus plant may not be very happy. Here are a two common issues to watch for.
If your plant has dropping leaves, appears stressed, or hasn't been growing well, there are three main reasons:
- Your plant needs to be repotted.
- It's overheated from living in prolonged heat that's over 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
- It's being underwatered.
If you're seeing yellowing leaves at the top of the plant, chances are it's not getting enough water. Likewise, if your hibiscus has yellowing leaves in the middle or toward the bottom of the plant, it's probably drowning in too much water or needs fertilizer.
Are tropical hibiscus plants easy to care for?
Tropical hibiscus plants are relatively easy to care for as long as they get enough light and water.
Why do tropical hibiscus blooms only last a day?
It takes a lot of energy for a plant to create a beautiful hibiscus bloom. However, once the bloom fades, a new one immediately takes its place. Cooler weather may yield slightly longer blooms and newer hybrids have blooms that can last three days.
How long will tropical hibiscus live?
Many traditional varieties of tropical hibiscus can live for over 50 years, but newer hybrids have a lifespan of up to 10 years.