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How to Grow Tropical Hibiscus - The Ultimate Guide

Justice is currently an engineering student and has a passion for doing DIY projects and gardening.

Growing Tropical Hibiscus

This is a tropical hibiscus flower.

This is a tropical hibiscus flower.

What Is a Tropical Hibiscus?

Tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) is a flowering shrub native to Asia. It's prized for its large, colorful flowers that bloom throughout the year. Tropical hibiscus can be grown outdoors in warm climates, or indoors as a houseplant. Regardless of where you grow it, these plants like plenty of sunlight and moist soil with good drainage. Be sure to plant it where there are no other plants that might interfere with its growth.

You'll also want to avoid planting your tropical hibiscus near any plants that might drop leaves onto it, because they don't tolerate wet foliage very well.

Place your potted tropical hibiscus in an area with plenty of sun exposure during the day and make sure to water them at least once every two weeks--more often if necessary--to keep the soil evenly moist. Fertilize your plants monthly with a liquid fertilizer such as seaweed extract, fish emulsion, or rose fertilizer.

Avoiding Confusion

When you hear the word hibiscus, you might think of the Hawaii state flower or the showy red flowers often seen in tropical drinks. But there's a whole world of hibiscus out there, and it can be confusing to know where to start. Luckily, we're here to help!

A quick guide for those just starting out: don't worry about which type of hibiscus you have! Just find one that suits your needs and get started with care instructions.

For example, if you want a small shrub, look for species like H. heterophyllus or H. simsii; if you want something taller and bushier, try H. rosa-sinensis or H. multiflora; if you want flowers year-round without any hassle, go with H. coccinea or H. 'Anna'; if you want a new twist on the old classic, plant some 'Belleza'. There are plenty of varieties to choose from and each has its own benefits.

What doesn't matter is whether your hibiscus is an old-fashioned hybrid tea rose variety or a modern reblooming dwarf tree—any hibiscus will thrive as long as it gets the right amount of water, sunlight, fertilizer, air circulation and space.

Anatomy

Tropical hibiscus plants have large, dark green leaves and stunning flowers that come in a variety of colors. They can grow anywhere from 3 to 10 feet tall, and they thrive in warm climates.

If you're thinking about growing a tropical hibiscus plant, here's what you need to know. First, you'll want to decide whether you want your plant to be indoors or outdoors. If it will be indoors, make sure the area has plenty of sunlight. Otherwise, the area should be shaded by a tree or building so it stays cool and humid.

Next up is choosing where the tropical hibiscus will live. If it's going to be indoors, place it near a window for maximum exposure to light. You may also want to invest in artificial light if there isn't enough natural light coming through the window.

For outdoor plants, find an area with at least six hours of direct sunlight per day and rich soil that drains well. Place this type of plant near a wall or fence for protection from wind as well as full sun exposure on all sides during the day. Finally, keep in mind that these plants are sensitive to frost. If temperatures fall below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, move them inside until warmer weather returns.

It’s important to water your tropical hibiscus regularly, but only when the top inch of soil feels dry. Avoid fertilizing unless specifically instructed by a professional because fertilizer may damage roots. In addition, look out for pests like aphids and scale insects which feed on sap; they cause yellowing and wilting of leaves.

A few other tips include pruning dead or diseased branches off the stem every year in late winter before new growth starts; mulching to retain moisture; controlling weeds around the base of the plant; removing spent blooms after two weeks; adding compost annually to maintain fertile soil; repotting every two years when its root system fills pot.

Orange petals on a delicate tropical Hibiscus rosa sinensis bloom

Orange petals on a delicate tropical Hibiscus rosa sinensis bloom

History and Cultivation

Tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) is a popular ornamental plant that is native to Asia. It has been cultivated for centuries and was first introduced to the West in the 18th century. Hibiscus plants are easy to grow and care for, and they make a beautiful addition to any garden.

They can be grown as perennials or annuals depending on where you live. In general, it's better to grow them as annuals because many varieties don't survive over winter outdoors where temperatures get below freezing.

Hibiscus is one of several types of flowering plants known as cotton flowers. All cotton flowers have large, showy blossoms that form part of a small tree or shrub. While there are about 100 species of cotton flower, tropical hibiscus is by far the most popular.

Propagation

Hibiscus can be propagated by seed, rooting stem cuttings, or air layering. Seed propagation is the slowest method, taking 4-6 months for seedlings to mature enough to transplant. Stem cuttings can be taken from softwood or semi-ripe wood and will root in 4-8 weeks under the right conditions. Air layering is a good option for difficult-to-root varieties.

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All hibiscus can be propagated from cuttings with some varieties growing well from either softwood or semi-ripe wood. Softwood should be taken during spring or summer when the plant is actively growing and green. Semi-ripe wood should be harvested during fall when leaves have fallen but before winter dormancy sets in.

You can also propagate your plants using an air layer technique called marcotting which involves removing the bark of a branch down about 1 inch and then covering it with moist potting soil for three weeks, then gently pushing it into soil. After this time, remove the plastic bag and use nylon string to tie around the branch tightly as close to ground level as possible.

Allow the roots (called callus) to form along this string at least two inches below ground level. Once roots are established, remove the string and seal hole at point where you tied off callusing roots with polyurethane sealant. Gently spread roots outwards and water thoroughly. Prune back any branches that may grow from the center of the air layer so that they don't get too big, to allow more light and water to reach outer branches.

Water regularly for the first 3 years until the plant becomes established. Maintain healthy growth through fertilizing once per month during the growing season with water soluble fertilizer according to instructions on packaging.

As the tropical hibiscus flowers start to fade, stop watering them and let them dry up. They will shed their petals and look dead. Remove all dried petals carefully without disturbing new ones that have formed since the last flower was removed. Continue fertilizing monthly during the next few months and wait patiently for another cycle of flowering to start again!

Cuttings

One of the easiest ways to propagate hibiscus is through cuttings. Cuttings are pieces of stem that are cut from the mother plant and then rooted in soil to grow a new plant. To take a cutting, use a sharp knife or pruning shears to remove a 6-8 inch piece of stem from the mother plant. Make sure that the cutting has at least 2-3 sets of leaves. If it does not have enough leaves, it will not be able to survive on its own.

Plant the cutting in potting soil with moist peat moss or perlite added. Water thoroughly so that water drains out of the bottom of the pot (this will help keep the soil moist). Place the pot in an area where there is plenty of indirect sunlight (a south facing window is ideal).

Keep plants consistently watered but don't let them sit in water. Fertilize monthly during the growing season with fertilizer mixed into water and feed every other month during winter months. Replant every three years when they become root bound in their pots. Cut off old growth if it begins to die back after flowering. Older stems can also be cut down and replanted elsewhere.

Air Layering

This method allows you to create a new plant from an existing one without having to take a cutting. It's a great way to propagate if you don't have the space for another pot or if you want to keep the original plant intact.

Place several layers of damp, sterile sphagnum moss in a plastic bag and place it around the stem of your hibiscus that you wish to propagate. Tie it securely with string, wire, or rubber bands at least six inches below where the new roots will form. Place this into a shaded area and make sure that water seeps into the top of the bag every day.

After two weeks, cut off the tie or band on the bag and see if there are any signs of growth such as leaves popping out. If not, replace with fresh moss and leave it again for two weeks before checking it again.

This technique is best done during fall because when spring arrives the plant will push through the earth too quickly and could be more difficult to attach once established. The key to success with air layering is to put the bag close enough to the ground so that the roots can grow down but not so close that they get smothered by mulch or soil.

You can also try to use rooting hormone but be careful not to overuse it because this can harm the roots. Once your air layer has taken root, you'll need to gradually harden off by gradually introducing it to outside conditions over a period of about 10 days so that it doesn't get shocked by rapid changes.

David Eickhoff Hibiscus brackenridgei

David Eickhoff Hibiscus brackenridgei

Transplanting

If you're moving your hibiscus indoors for the winter, or if you simply want to transplant it to a new pot, there are a few things you need to know. First, make sure you have a pot that is large enough. Tropical hibiscus need room to grow, and they won't do well if they're cramped.

Second, use a good quality potting mix. I like to use one that has organic matter in it. It will help keep the soil moist and provide nutrients. Add a couple of inches of peat moss to help absorb water. Fill your pot with soil up to about an inch from the top of the pot, then set your plant on top of this layer of soil. Gently fill around the roots until you see them poking out at the top (you don't want them covered).

Pack some more soil around them so they are secure in their new home. Give them plenty of water and place them where they'll get plenty of light. Place pots with tropical plants near a window that receives bright light during the day or use artificial lights such as grow lights or fluorescent bulbs.

Keep your plants warm by turning off any cooling devices such as air conditioners when bringing tropical plants inside for the winter. Remember, these plants cannot handle cold temperatures! When watering, allow excess water to drain out the bottom of the pot. Avoid over-watering because this can lead to root rot.

Container Planting

If you're planning on growing tropical hibiscus in a pot or container, there are a few things you'll need to keep in mind.

  • First, choose a pot that is at least 12 inches wide and has drainage holes.
  • Second, use a well-draining potting mix and water your plant regularly.
  • Third, place your pot in an area that gets plenty of bright, indirect light.
  • Fourth, fertilize your plant every month during the growing season.
  • Fifth, when the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), bring your hibiscus indoors for winter.
  • Sixth, if you have a windowless room with high humidity and good air circulation, it can be used as a winter shelter for this tropical houseplant.
  • Finally, before bringing your tropical hibiscus back outside in the spring, wait until nighttime temperatures are consistently above 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius).

When night time temperatures stay consistently above 55 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 days, it's safe to go ahead and return your hibiscus to its outdoor home. However, don't forget to move it into partial shade once the weather starts warming up.

If you want to enjoy your hibiscus throughout the year, try propagating it by cutting off a branch from which some new shoots will form. To propagate from seeds, start them indoors 8 weeks before the last frost date and then transplant them outside after all danger of frost has passed. It may take 6 months for seedlings to bloom.

Seedlings should also be grown in pots 2 times the size of their adult counterparts. For example, seedlings should be potted in pots 4 inches deep rather than 2 inch deep.

Remember to water sparingly but enough so that the soil does not dry out completely. In warmer climates such as Florida, hibiscus plants grow all year round and do not require any kind of protection during the winter season.

How to Grow Tropical Hibiscus

They can be grown outdoors in warm climates, or indoors with proper care. Hibiscus need well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade. To plant, dig a hole that is twice the width of the pot the hibiscus is currently in. Place the plant in the hole and fill in with soil, tamping down gently. Water well.

Fertilize monthly with a balanced fertilizer. If you are fertilizing monthly, a quarter strength solution should be used. Mulch around plants in winter and water when needed. Prune back new growth to one leaf per stem when it gets too leggy for your taste.

If leaves turn yellowish or fall off easily, the plant may not have enough water or enough sunlight. There are many varieties of tropical hibiscuses, including all shades of reds, pinks, oranges and purples. Enjoy them!

Hibiscus furcellatus

Hibiscus furcellatus

Fertilizing

Tropical hibiscus are heavy feeders and will benefit from being fertilized on a regular basis. The best way to fertilize your hibiscus is to use a water-soluble fertilizer that is high in phosphorus. Apply the fertilizer every two weeks during the growing season and be sure to water it in well.

If you notice that your hibiscus is starting to yellow, then it is likely that it is not getting enough nutrients and you should increase the frequency of your fertilizing. In general, fertilizing once a month with a water soluble product is sufficient for most gardens. Be sure to apply the fertilizer at full strength rather than diluting it with water because diluted products do not provide as much nutrient value.

Fertilizers such as organic mulch and composted manure can also be used but they must be applied more often because they break down more quickly. Make sure to keep these fertilizers away from the base of your plant where they may interfere with the roots.

Applying too much fertilizer may result in stunted growth or even cause leaves to become chlorotic or yellowish green. Too little fertilizer will produce weak plants which will have leaves that turn brown and crispy at their edges. Although tropical hibiscus need more frequent fertilization than other types of flowers, over-fertilizing them can lead to soft new growth which will eventually turn brown.

The trick is to know when your hibiscus needs an extra boost of nutrients so that you don't overdo it. You can tell when this is necessary by looking at the overall health of your plant: if leaves are turning yellow and falling off, chances are it's time for some extra fertilizer! To prevent over-fertilizing, make sure to only add one tablespoon of water soluble fertilizer at a time and wait a few days before adding any more.

A good rule of thumb is to fertilize your hibiscus once every six weeks if the weather is dry, or twice per month during wetter months. In extreme cases, fertilizing up to three times per week might be necessary. It's always better to err on the side of caution and give your hibiscus more nutrients than it really needs than risk under-fertilizing it.

There are many different types of fertilizer available depending on what you're looking for (e.g., slow release vs. quick release) so take some time researching different options before deciding which kind to buy! When applying the fertilizer, follow the instructions carefully to avoid harming your plant. You should never fertilize during hot weather or directly after rainfall since this can encourage bacteria to grow and may result in root rot.

Growing Tips

Tropical hibiscus are beautiful and vibrant flowers that make a great addition to any garden. Here are 10 tips on how to grow and maintain them:

  1. Make sure the soil is well-drained, otherwise the roots will rot.
  2. Plant it in full sun with protection from winds so the plant can get enough sunlight for photosynthesis.
  3. Give it plenty of water but do not overwater as this will cause root rot and may also lead to bacterial or fungal diseases in the soil or on the leaves of the plant.
  4. Fertilize your plant every two weeks during the growing season.
  5. Remove dead flowers promptly.
  6. After blooming, prune the plant to keep it healthy and blooming more.
  7. Your plant should produce more blooms if you fertilize with an organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion, manure tea, or compost tea.
  8. Be careful when handling tropical hibiscus plants because they have prickly stems and sharp thorns on their leaves which could puncture skin easily.
  9. They need a minimum temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit to thrive and grow.
  10. If you cannot provide these conditions, use a self-watering container so the plant can receive adequate moisture while saving time watering the plant.
Hibiscus schizopetalus

Hibiscus schizopetalus

Pruning and Maintenance

Pruning is an important part of keeping your hibiscus healthy and looking its best. To prune, simply cut off any dead or diseased leaves and stems. You can also trim back any long or leggy growth. Pruning encourages new growth and helps the plant maintain its shape. There are a few types of pruning:

  • Pinching out: When you pinch out a leaf, it will cause it to be shorter next time it grows
  • Deadheading: Deadheading removes faded flowers before they set seed which in turn prevents the plants from becoming overcrowded
  • Topiary (cutting): Cutting a branch will encourage new shoots from that point on
  • When done properly, pruning makes your tropical hibiscus more manageable and less likely to become unruly. While pruning may seem daunting at first, it’s really quite simple.
  • Pinching Out: Remove individual leaves by pinching them with your fingers just above a node – this causes the plant to produce smaller leaves than if you left them alone. If a node has only one leaf, pinch off both sides and leave the top of the node bare.
  • Deadheading: Deadhead fading blooms when they wilt and become brown, allowing other blooms to grow. Removing faded blooms allows room for new flowers while preventing unwanted seeding Topiary (cutting). Cut branches that exceed the desired height or size of the hibiscus ; keep cuttings under 12 inches in length.


Avoid cutting too many branches at once as it could harm the overall health of the plant; wait until after flowering has finished before doing any serious cutting. Regularly trimming old leaves can make way for new ones to grow; choose your cuts wisely as excessive pruning may kill the plant.

Cultivars Selection

If you're looking to add a touch of the tropics to your home, look no further than the hibiscus. This showy flowering plant comes in a wide range of colors and sizes, making it a versatile addition to any indoor or outdoor space. When selecting a hibiscus cultivar, consider the size of the plant, the color of the flowers, and the amount of light and water it needs.

There are also differences between day-neutral plants and photoperiodic plants. Day-neutral hibiscuses bloom regardless of season, while photoperiodic plants will only bloom when there is an extended period of 12 hours of uninterrupted darkness each night. It's best to grow photoperiodic hibiscuses indoors during winter months, because they need more light to grow.

Also note that not all tropical plants can handle colder temperatures and should be brought inside before the temperature drops below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hibiscus cannabinus

Hibiscus cannabinus

Managing Pests and Disease

One of the most important aspects of growing tropical hibiscus is managing pests and disease. Although these plants are tough, they are susceptible to a variety of problems. To keep your hibiscus healthy, it is important to be on the lookout for pests and diseases and take action immediately if you see any signs of trouble. Monitor your plant daily, especially if you live in an area with high humidity or experience heavy rainfall.

One way to identify possible infestations is by looking at the underside of leaves; this will help you detect spider mites or whiteflies that can cause damage.

To reduce the risk of developing pest-related issues with your hibiscus, use mulch around the base of the plant and periodically monitor for scale insects and ants.

Protection From Animals

If you're growing tropical hibiscus, you'll want to take steps to protect your plants from animals. One way to do this is to plant the hibiscus in an area that is not accessible to animals. You can also use cages or fencing around the plants.

Another way to protect your plants is to use repellents. There are many different types of repellents available, so be sure to choose one that is safe for plants. An example of a good type of repellent is a citrus spray. Once applied, it will last for about 2 weeks and smells nice too!

A third way to protect your plants from animals is by using motion activated sprinklers. They come with a variety of settings and can cover up to 20 feet.

And finally, don't forget about fences! Fences should always be used as the last line of defense against all kinds of pests. They should have wire mesh woven tightly enough to keep even large animals out. Be sure to give adequate room between the fence and any tree branches that might interfere with its functionality.

Protection From Insects

Here are a few tips on how to get rid of pests:

The number one way to control insects is by implementing organic pest management techniques. There are natural methods that work very well such as spraying neem oil or pyrethrum on the leaves and stems of the plant which will act as a repellent or kill any bugs that may be present.

Other good solutions include hanging yellow sticky traps around the perimeter of your property or planting marigolds next to your garden. Some people also find success with making their own insecticide by mixing 1/2 cup each of dish soap and vegetable oil in a spray bottle filled with water.

It's important to follow label instructions when using any kind of pesticide so make sure it's safe for use around vegetables! Don't forget to keep your hands clean too, because you can't see what's all over them after handling bugs.


They might need more care and resources, but tropical hibiscus plants will eventually blossom, rewarding you with fluttering hummingbirds and butterflies.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Justice Ndlovu

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