Everything you need to know about growing hibiscus

August 4, 2017

by April Dittmer

Are you looking for a way to brighten up your garden? Bring a taste of the tropics to your outdoor space with these tips for successfully growing and overwintering hibiscus. [Image credit: iStock.com/phototropic]

Everything you need to know about growing hibiscus

Even in Canada, you can bring the beautiful and colourful flowers of the tropics to your backyard garden. Though tropical hibiscus cannot withstand our harsh winters, they can thrive in the summertime and be moved indoors as the weather cools. There are some species of hibiscus, known as a hardy hibiscus, that are able to survive outdoors year round with no protection. Many plant retailers sell all hibiscus varieties together, making it difficult to differentiate between the two, but there is a big difference in the amount of care each needs.

Tropical or hardy hibiscus?

In order to properly care for your hibiscus, you’ll want to first determine which type you have. Start by looking at the leaves. A tropical hibiscus will have dark green and glossy leaves, while a hardy hibiscus will have medium green leaves that are heart-shaped. Hardy hibiscus often have blooms that are about the size of dinner plates and come in only three colours, either white, pink or red. The buds will be huge, ranging from 2 to 4 inches.

Tropical hibiscus are available in many more colours beyond pink and red, including salmon, peach, orange and yellow. The blooms are usually around 3 to 6 inches in diameter and often feature more than one color in a single bloom, either in bands or spots. You will not find this colouring in hardy hibiscus.

If you are looking for a more low-maintenance plant, a hardy hibiscus is your best choice as they can survive outside through the winter. Hardy species are perennials that die to the ground every year and bloom again each spring. While a tropical version can be more work, the vibrant colors and beauty are often worth the extra effort.

Caring for tropical hibiscus

If you have a tropical hibiscus, it is important to remember that it is native to sunny, warm and humid locations. The plant cannot withstand more than a night or two of light freezes. Even one especially cold night below 0°C can kill it. With proper care, tropical hibiscus can give you years of beauty and enjoyment. You’ll want to consider these care tips when first planting your hibiscus in the spring. This will ensure you are prepared when winter comes:

  • Since the hibiscus will have to be moved inside during cold months, it is best to leave it planted in a pot year round. Transplanting from the ground to a pot in the fall is very disruptive and weakens the plant so much that it may not recover.
  • Hibiscus grows best in smaller pots, usually between 10 to 14 inches in diameter. If you want to give the appearance of the hibiscus being planted in the ground, you can dig a hole and place the entire pot in it for the summer and then pull it up in the winter months.
  • Depending on where you live and the climate, you may need to start preparing your hibiscus for the transition indoors in the fall. You’ll want to bring them inside before the night temperatures drop below 5°C.
  • Pick a place in your home where the plants can get some sun, but there is no need for direct sunlight during the winter months. When indoors, it’s best to keep the plants in a cool environment, usually between 12 and 15°C.

Preparing for the transition indoors

As winter nears, you’ll have to spend a day or two getting your hibiscus ready for the transition indoors. You don’t simply want to bring the pot inside as this can drag insects into your home. The following care tips will ensure your plants are ready to come indoors:

  • Cut back each plant quite a bit, within 4 to 5 inches of the main stems. You should also remove any dead leaves, stems, old flowers or debris within the pot.
  • After cutting back the plants, hose them down thoroughly, blasting the stems and under the leaves. Let them dry completely before bringing them inside. This should prevent the need for any insecticide.
  • In order to have healthy plants next summer, you’ll need to allow your hibiscus to rest for most of the winter, usually from October to March. You should not expect them to keep blooming or to have full foliage. Leaves will most likely turn yellow and fall off and new ones will not be produced until spring. This is normal.
  • Cut back on watering the plants during this resting period. You do not need to keep the soil wet. Water only often enough to prevent the soil from completely drying out. Do not allow any water to sit under the plants in saucers.
  • As spring nears, you can move the plants to a sunnier location in your home and increase watering frequency. This will prepare them for the warmer months and new growth should begin.
  • After the first winter inside, your hibiscus will not bloom as well as it did that very first summer. Since the plants are used to tropical conditions, this is normal.

Though tropical hibiscus require a lot of work, their large and vibrant blooms are sure to brighten your day all summer long. With these tips your tropical hibiscus can last for many years to come, bringing beauty and colour to your backyard garden or patio. Check out some of our other gardening tips for more information on how to keep your garden thriving.

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