Hibiscus plants are large shrubs that bloom with enormous flowers of all colors. Their growth is so vigorous that they can be trained to develop into moderately tall trees that blossom year after year. They are relatively easy to cultivate and grow.
This versatile plant can reach the height of 15 feet. It grows equally well in containers and ground soil producing the blooms of 6-8 inches in diameter and attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. Because of its exceptional size, it may be planted alone in a strategically chosen area of the garden as a focal point.
Hibiscus plants thrive in frost-free areas where they profusely bloom throughout the entire growing season. They grow rapidly in full sun and moderately in partly shaded areas.
Petite versions, such as Luna Blush, typically develop into 2-3 feet high bushes with a width of approximately two feet. Scarlet Rose Mallow spreads vertically into a seven feet tall tree and Chinese Hibiscus can reach 12 feet in height in just 1-2 years.
Rose Mallow is a fast grower, and it will blossom during its first summer. Slow growers, such as Rose of Sharon, reach their maturity in seven years and flowers moderately until it is fully established.
Regardless of the height, the blooms are usually exceptionally large and resemble flared Japanese lanterns.
The annual varieties produce blooms every 24 hours. The blooms are short-lived and last only a day, but are immediately replaced by new blossoms. The perennial assortments grow flowers that last several days until day wilt away and then are replaced by new growth of blooms.
The ancestors of the modern time Hibiscus are native to Hawaii, Madagascar, China and India. Considered a tropical plant, the Hibiscus was initially transported to other regions around the globe. Today, because of popular hybridizing and proper caring for Hibiscus, they are available even in the hardiest areas around the world.
Because of their ability to remain evergreen for most of the year, the Hibiscus plants thrive in warm, tropical climates where there is plenty of sunshine and high levels of humidity created by tropical rains.
The hibiscus prefers warm rain water as it contains natural nutrients the city water may lack. Given the warmth and humidity, the plant does not lose its foliage and keeps producing blooms year round.
The Hibiscus plants fall into two main categories based on their hardiness, location and ease of cultivation. Although there is an array of hybridized versions of the plant, these two classifications make it simple to understand what type of plant should be chosen.
1. Hardy Hibiscus
The specimens grown in colder parts of the country have a limited blooming window. They flourish from spring to fall and produce their first flowers in the summer. Over the winter months they tend to lose their foliage and are often mistakenly discarded as dead.
Once the plant reaches the height of 3 feet, it is considered as matured, and if it loses its leaves over the winter months, it is an indication of the dormant period.
Hardy hibiscus, such as Lady Baltimore or Kooper King, is surprisingly easy to grow if enough sunlight is provided. They do extremely well as container plants on sheltered terraces and patios. These plants do not like disturbances often created by winds or excessive traffic.
2. Tropical Hibiscus
Tropical Hibiscus maintains its leaves year round in hot climates. The blooms diminish at the end of summer, but the foliage remains green and lush. In colder zones, the plant may die down to the ground and should be cut to six inches above the ground to encourage re-sprouting the following season.
The cold-weather varieties do not reach the height of their hot-climate counterparts as their growth is repeatedly reduced before each winter.
Tropical Hibiscus is suitable for in-ground planting in a “social” environment of other plants unlike the hardy varieties that enjoy growing on their own in containers.
The pot varieties of Hibiscus should be planted in large stone containers to promote the maturity of the roots. A well established root system will sustain the plant over the winter months when it has to be transferred indoors.
However, the filtered light of a home is typically too weak to stimulate any growth. The Hibiscus may retain some of its foliage, but it will not blossom until the next summer when it’s transported back to the patio.It is important to remember that during the dormant stage, the indoor fertilization is not necessary. However, regular misting is vital to reduce the chances of indoor insect invasion. The plant should be watered sparingly.
Because of their tissue-thin flowers, the Hibiscus plants should be grown in areas of the garden that are situated away from the traffic. They do well as hedges as long as they are not disturbed by frequent movements from the occupants of the home or animals.
Best places to grow Hibiscus are as follows:
- Patios with plenty of sunshine
- Sheltered balconies and terraces
- Calm and quiet areas of the garden
Caring for Hibiscus is comparatively easy if done on a regular basis. The basic suggestions are listed below.
- Water – Rain water is most beneficial. The soil should be kept consistently moist. Drip-irrigating systems are ideal for growing Hibiscus.
- Temperature – Steady warmth of 75 degrees will keep the plant flourishing. If the temperature falls down to 45 degrees, the plant will suffer damage and may not be able to recover.
- Light – Plenty of sunshine of at least 6 hours per day will keep the Hibiscus blooming continuously. If the plant is kept indoors during the winter, it should be placed near a South-facing window.
- Pruning – Moderate pruning should be done to keep the plant tall. For bushier results, prune the branches back immediately before the dormant period.
- Pests – The Hibiscus is susceptible to whiteflies, aphids and mites. Using a mixture of dish soap and water once per month will alleviate infestations.
- Hibiscus does not like clay. Although attractive, the clay pots dispense minute particles into the soil making it too alkaline over time. Using containers made of stone will bring much better results as the stone does not overheat and retains the rain water allowing the soil to absorb it slowly.
- Hibiscus will grow in any other type of soil as long as it is well-drained. Chemical-based fertilizers should be avoided.
- Place four holes on the bottom of the pot for ventilation without excessive evaporation.
- Fertilizing the Hibiscus with liquid fertilizers leads to the even dispersion of the solution preventing it from accumulation on the top layer only.
- To keep Hibiscus healthy and encourage growth, add composted bark or worm castings to the soil once a year. Commercial fertilizers often contain minced sewage debris from unknown origins and may harm the Hibiscus.
- Never pull the trunk of the plant out of the pot. Gently remove it by dislodging the soil from the sides of the container and take it out by its roots.
- When using commercial fertilizers, choose the products with high contents of potassium and minimal contents of phosphorus (preferably none). Although very effective for other plants, the phosphorus will kill the Hibiscus.
- When winterizing the plant, place it by any heat source except forced-air outlets. If combined with artificial light, the Hibiscus may be tricked into keeping its foliage even during the dormant period. The blooms will begin to appear again once the plant is transferred back outdoors.
- Before the initial planting in the ground, soak the soil thoroughly for 24 hours until the area of 3 feet in diameter is evenly moist without being soggy. Plant the bulbs 3 inches underground and top the hole with a mound of soil 2 inches high above the ground level.
- Place orange wedges around the bottom of the plant to deter soil-digging pests such as raccoons, squirrels or moles. The additional acid from the orange will also accelerate the blooming.