Hibiscus are so beautiful and diverse that they easily rival the most popular garden pick across the country, the rose. In fact, a type of hibiscus is called the Rose of Sharon. With flowers that are ripe for watercolor paintings and rich green foliage, these plants are natural choices for in-ground growth. But growing them in pots also has its benefits.
You can easily move them around to any spot in your garden that needs cheering up or from fully shaded areas to sunnier locations, which they prefer. When winter arrives, they will also flourish indoors. Best of all, even in pots, they are easy to grow and care for with these gardening strategies.
WHAT YOU NEED
- Hibiscus cuttings
- Glass or jar of water
- Heavy clay pot with drainage holes
- Light-colored plastic pot with drainage holes
- Clean gardening tools
- Hibiscus potting mix
- Small stones or pebbles
- Gardening trowel or hand shovel
- Isopropyl alcohol or diluted vinegar
- Boiled water
- Rooting hormone (optional)
- Watering can
STEP 1: SELECT THE RIGHT VARIETY
With more than 300 species of hibiscus in the mallow family, you won’t be short of choice. They can be shrubs, trees, perennials, or grown as annuals. Once you have found the hardiest hibiscus for your zone, the next most important consideration for growing them in pots or containers is height.
Hibiscus trees can grow as tall as 15 feet, which isn’t ideal for growing in pots, especially if you need to move them indoors in winter. The most popular options for growing hibiscus in pots are the dwarf varieties, which max out at 2 to 3 feet tall.
Some dwarf tropical hibiscus (or Chinese hibiscus) choices include Bahama Mama, Blushing Bellini, Pineapple Mule, and Tequila Sunrise. Or consider the rose of Sharon dwarf called Lil’ Kim. Hardy dwarf varieties you might like include Small Wonders, Cherub, Luna Red, and Robert Fleming.
STEP 2: CHOOSE CUTTINGS INSTEAD OF SEEDS
You can grow hibiscus from seeds, but you will be off to a running start with hardy or tropical hibiscus cuttings you can buy online or from a local garden store, or snag from a neighbor.
Late spring or early summer is the best time to take cuttings. Ideally, they should be from softwood growth and be between 4 and 6 inches in length. Remove all leaves at the top. Place the cuttings in a glass or jar of water as you prepare to plant them in pots.
PRO TIP: Several hibiscus cuttings planted together often fare better than a single cutting. Group them together in a large pot.
STEP 3: SELECT THE RIGHT POT
Ideally, you should house a hibiscus in a clay pot, which is porous and will allow the plant’s roots to breathe and not become overheated. While these plants can tolerate moisture well, they don’t want to wallow in it. Clay pots allow water to evaporate from the soil.
If you don’t have clay pots, lightly colored plastic pots with several drainage holes will do. Avoid planters made of concrete or cement because both of these contain lime, which increases soil alkalinity. Hibiscus plants do best in soil that is neutral to slightly acidic.
STEP 4: CLEAN YOUR GARDENING TOOLS
When planting cuttings or young plants, it’s best to use clean gardening tools to protect them from diseases. It’s possible to transfer diseases in the soil around other plants to the newbies, which aren’t yet strong enough to offer up a strong defense.
You can simply wash gardening tools and then put them in boiling water. Or wipe them with isopropyl alcohol, diluted vinegar, or an antibacterial spray and rinse thoroughly.
STEP 5: PREPARE YOUR POTTING MIX
You will have to put in a bit more effort to mix the proper potting soil for hibiscus. Most of the commercial potting mixes tend to be too heavy for these plants.
A nurturing soil mix for them should be 5 percent perlite, 45 percent composted hardwood bark, and 50 percent peat or coco coir. If you do choose a potting mix, add some compost, sand, or perlite to it.
Most clay pots have only one hole. To increase drainage, add a single layer of gravel or stones to the bottom of the pot before adding the soil.
STEP 6: PLANT YOUR CUTTING
Using a hand shovel or trowel, dig a shallow hole. Before planting the cutting, you could dip in some rooting hormone, but it’s not essential. Place the cutting into the hole and backfill with the soil mix. Firmly, but gently, press the soil down around the root.
However, do not press down the rest of the soil because that will squeeze out some of the air, which is essential for healthy root growth. Water the cutting thoroughly immediately after planting.
Place the pot in a location that gets at least 6 hours of sunshine daily, but where it can be protected from the harsher rays between 12 and 4.
STEP 7: NOURISH YOUR CUTTING
Keep the soil in the pot moist until you see new growth. At that time, you can reduce watering. However, at all times, the water should feel slightly moist. Do a finger check. If it is dry, water right away. Be aware that hibiscus grown in pots need more watering than those that are in the ground.
Hibiscus also appreciates occasional feedings of water-soluble fertilizer. Choose one that is low in phosphorus, with a medium amount of nitrogen and high potassium content.
Fertilize cuttings every two to three weeks if they are outdoors. If they are indoors, fertilizing once a month should be enough. It’s also best to use half the strength of fertilizer recommended on the label and monitor how the plant is doing.
STEP 8: REPOT YOUR HIBISCUS CUTTING
When the cuttings start to sprout roots, it’s time to repot them. Carefully remove them from the pot. If they have run out of space to grow, they will become root-bound. If so, you can prune about a third of the roots.
Add 2 to 3 inches of the potting mix you used before to the bottom of the pot. Gently loosen the roots on the plant but keep as much of the original soil around the roots. Place the hibiscus in the pot, and cover with the remaining potting mix around the sides and just to the top of the root ball.
Gently press the soil to make sure the plant is stable and water deeply right away. Return the plant to its sunny haven.
STEP 9: REPOT AGAIN WHEN IT’S NEEDED
Sometimes you might be doing everything right to care for your hibiscus. But you notice it is suddenly wilting or not growing anymore. It could be time to change pots.
When plants grow in pots for a prolonged period, the soil can become compacted and salt can build up. Compacted soil lacks oxygen, which roots crave. Also, salt soaks up water and deprives plants of this essential nutrient.
Signs that your potted hibiscus is not doing well include wilting, yellowing, and buds dropping quickly.
STEP 10: KEEP CARING FOR YOUR HIBISCUS
As your potted hibiscus continues to grow, you will need to water it often. You’ll also need to keep it and the area around it tidy. For instance, remove dead buds and clean up fallen blossoms. If temperatures in your area consistently begin to fall below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, bring it indoors. In spring, prune it to help encourage more blossoms.
Growing hibiscus in pots might require a bit more work than when they are planted in the ground. But the beauty of their lush, tropical flowers and bold foliage make that extra bit of effort worth it. Have a secret for growing potted hibiscus? Tell us all about it below.