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Vibrant Hibiscus Species: Why Your Garden Should Have One

Colorful and delicate, the Hibiscus flower looks as if it belongs on a tropical isle. Most people wrongly assume that this plant can only be grown by the most dedicated gardeners, and only in the most tropical of climate. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth, and the 232 different Hibiscus species can be found almost everywhere- spanning from the tropics of Asia to the temperatures of North America. No matter which species you prefer, all boast the delicate, colorfully wide petaled flowers and long stamen that attract all sorts of beneficial insects to your gardens. HIbiscus flower information isn’t particularly hard to come by, although most people are unaware of just how varied the Hibiscus plant truly is. We’ve provided an overview of this species, its care, and what it is good for all in one place.

What is a Hibiscus?

The scientific name of hibiscus is defined as part of the genus mallow, found in the Malvaceae family. Although there are several hundred species, there are only three main types of the plant: tropical, hardy perennial, and hardy shrub. Hibiscus sp. is a popular plant that gardeners enjoy due to how easy they are to shape and grow, and their large, showy flowers that can bloom all year round depending on the species.

Traditionally symbolic in certain cultures around the world, Hibiscus has become a favored flower within fabric patterns, art, and landscaping to relay a sense of innocence, beauty, and glory. Their delicate, unique shape is synonymous with paradise and sandy beaches, despite their ability to grow in most temperate zones. You will often find them patterned into bathing suits, beach coverups, and summer dresses- as well as made into lays and other decorative approaches.

The many Hibiscus plant varieties that exist have made them a well-loved flower for both in and outdoor propagation. Their easy to shape trunks and stems allows them to be grown as ornamental trees or shrubs, depending on the size of the area you want them within.

Types of Hibiscus Flowers

As mentioned, there are three types of hibiscus plant varieties: the tropical, the hardy perennial, and the hardy shrub. Each of these can be found within respective growing zones due to their specific needs, but even the most delicate of the species can be grown as an indoor plant.
Tropical Hibiscus species are unable to withstand cold temperatures or climates below what is considered tropical. Mostly native to Asia and the Pacific Islands, much of their symbolism and use is found in cultural lore. These are considered evergreen plants with darker, glossy green leaves and can make excellent indoor plants, which should be placed outdoor during the warmer seasonal months to receive the sunlight they crave. They can be planted in colder climates but will have to be treated as annuals as they will die off below 40 degrees (or even warmer in some species).
Otherwise known as a Rose Mallow, a hardy perennial Hibiscus is a flowering species that that usually grows to an average of 4 feet in height, but dies back to the ground each fall. Usually able to be grown within zones 5 through 8, this species is popular for borders as well as areas that need lower coverage and bursts of color through the season. In warmer climates it may be able to leaf out from the branches, but pruning helps keep it looking more prolific as the flowers bloom on the new growth.
A hardy perennial Hibiscus, or Rose of Sharon (also sometimes called Althea), is a larger woody shrub that loses its leaves each fall. The leaves are of a lighter green color, and will grow back upon the woody stems, although you are able to prune it back each fall if you wish. These can often grow up to 10 or 12 feet in height, although smaller, dwarf versions also exist. These species are popular in temperate climates and can often survive in zones as cold as 4 or 5, and as warm as 9. These are also very malleable due to how easily they can be pruned back, and are often used to shape into trees, or even to weave branches into trunks to grow together as they age.

How to Plant Hibiscus

Seed Planting

Transplanting

No matter your species preferences, your Hibiscus can be planted the same way. There are three ways to propagate a Hibiscus: from seed, a transplant, or from a cutting. Growing from seed can be a fun endeavor, as you can purposely cross two different kinds of Hibiscus and get a unique flower. But this is also the most difficult way to grow a Hibiscus and may take the most work and patience due to a high failure rate. Luckily there are other ways to plant a Hibiscus, namely from a transplant, or from a new growth cutting.

Transplants are, understandably, the easiest way to propagate a new plant as they have already been established within a pot. Your step is to correctly move it to a new pot or the ground, depending on the species hardiness you have chosen. Hibiscus can also root from a new growth cutting in the proper soil with a bit of root hormone. It is suggested that you attempt to root your plants in a pot before transplant to better control temperature and moisture as it gets initially established.

Hibiscus Planting Instructions

The key to successful transplants, whether in a pot or directly into the ground, is the space you provide them. If you are transplanting from pot to pot then you will simply want to go up one step. For example, from a one-gallon pot to a 2-gallon pot to a 3-gallon pot, so on and so forth.

If you are plating into the ground, you will want to work the soils for at least double of what your plant is currently within to loosen the substrate for good root growth. These rules also apply to planting from cuttings, as there will need to be enough room for your plant’s roots to grow into.

If you are using a new growth cutting, simply strip the leaves from the stem leaving only the top few. Then dip the wet root end into root hormone and create a hole in the soil with your finger to place the stem into. These simple hibiscus planting tips should get you going in your own propagation of the plant in no time!

The second step you want to consider is the soil acidity and drainage. Hibiscus enjoys a well-drained soil, but not a dry one, as well as a more acidic base. One way to check your drainage outdoors is to dig your hole and add a gallon of water. If it hasn’t drained within an hour you need to amend your soils to provide better water movement.

Sand is a good addition to mix with clay soils, as is any organic materials (like a good compost) to help with a nutrient base. If it drains too quickly you can add in good garden soils and organic composts for water retention.

Basic soils can be easily amended with an addition of peat moss, as well as low phosphorus, high potassium fertilizer mixes that support these types of soils- such as a 10-4-12 or 9-3-13. Just take care not to fertilize prior to your plants have been established. Once your Hibiscus is well-established compost teas and the addition of organics, such as coffee grounds that are more acidic in nature, can be regularly used with ease as well.

Once planted, the soils should be kept fairly moist. Be sure to water regularly, and try to keep the soils from getting dry no deeper than two inches from the top of the soils

Where is the Best Place to Plant a Hibiscus Tree?

Hibiscus love sunlight, so if you have a tropical version that you bring indoor and outdoors (depending the season), you will want to provide them full light through the day. This is the same rule for your perennial versions. West and south facing areas are good, but may provide too much direct sunlight; resulting in sunburn. Ideally an ambient, or indirect all day light is an idea situation.
Perennial Hibiscus can also grow quite large, and even though they do prune very well, you will want to consider providing them a larger space to grow into. Some species can grow up to 15 feet tall and 8 feet wide, or more, so it’s important that you stay up to date on our pruning if you don’t have such a large area for them to grow into.

Hibiscus Care and Maintenance

If you are wondering how to take care of your Hibiscus once you have it established, you need not worry yourself too much, as maintenance isn’t difficult. There is a difference concerning yearly maintenance between tropical and hardy versions, however, and you should follow the very basic guidelines provided below.

Tropical Hibiscus Care

If you are the proud owner of a tropical species, then you need to make sure your plant is in a pot that is large enough to allow it growth, but also small enough that you can move it someplace warmer for indoor care during the winter months. You can usually move it back outside once the weather stays above 50 degrees.

There are pot supports with wheels that you can purchase that can be helpful for this situation as well. Outdoor care of your Hibiscus is fairly easy as tropical species do best in temperatures between 60 and 90 degrees. They can survive short periods below freezing, and well into the triple digits as long as they are not allowed to dry out. They also should be fed a fertilizer specific to Hibiscus that use minor nutrient, such as iron, copper, and manganese. Organics, such as worm castings and compost are also good to add to your soils.

Before bringing your plant indoors for the winter, you’ll want to apply the following quick, and easy, steps:

  • 2 weeks before moving indoors move your plant to the shade to allow it acclimation.
  • If you plan of pruning your HIbiscus for shaping, this is the time to do so. Take no more than 4 or 5 stems and only the new growth of your branches (no more than ⅔ of any one branch).
  • Remove all the dried leaves and flowers, and spraying down with a gentle insecticide can’t hurt to remove any outdoor stowaways before bringing indoors.
  • Leaves may yellow and fall off through the winter, so don’t despair: this is normal.
  • Water sparingly and only when the top 2 inches of soils have dried out.

Perennial Hibiscus Care

Your outdoor species are pretty hardy, but they do need to be well watered through the summer months. You’ll also need to watch for insects and diseases, especially aphids, although they are not known to attract them any more than the other plants you most likely have planted around your property. To keep it blooming, the application of a liquid fertilizer high in potassium, as well as organics mixed into the soil is always helpful. Hibiscus bloom on new growth, so to promote hearty blooms, you should prune regularly – just always avoid cutting more than ⅔ of any one branch at a time. Also, always cut above a joint at an angle away from the center of the bush to promote outwards growth.

For hardy shrub versions you may want to avoid pruning in the fall and wait until spring so you can better determine which branches suffered winter kill. The Rose of Sharon can be sensitive to winter winds, so planting it in a protective area, or wrapping it in burlap each fall can be helpful to minimizing winter damage to the limbs. If damage does occur however, it will grow back from the roots.

Hibiscus Plant Uses

The Hibiscus is much more than just a pretty plant. It also have many uses, and has been used around the world in herb lore for centuries. Hibiscus plant benefits are long and varied and can be found in everything from fashion, to cuisine, medicine and makeup. Beautifully decorative, the large, colorful, and showy blooms that last a few days each over the course of the summer until fall, have been an influence for materials and pattern design for both men and women.

The flowers themselves are often used as decorative headpieces as well, and they also has been crushed to get dyes for cheek and lip color, as well as to make perfumes. But even more so, the Hibiscus has been popular for its flavor and medicinal uses. The flower itself is edible and has a very popular tangy flavoring (as well as brightly colored) for refreshing drinks. It also is often baked into cakes and made into candies, jams, and jellies. High in Vitamin C, it’s a fantastic addition to anything you are looking to add a slight tang to.

Hibiscus Plant Medicinal Uses

Even if you are just taking advantage of the slightly sweet, slightly tangy flavor of the Hibiscus, you are imbibing upon a popular medicinal plant traditionally used in the many areas it is propagated. Popular for differing reasons around the world, you can still find it used today as a tea in Egypt to lower a temperature, treat heart diseases, and calm nerves; in Africa to help with constipation, liver disease, cold symptoms, and to help heal wounds when a compress is made with pulp from the leaves; and in Iran to help treat high blood pressure. Although these uses are experienced elsewhere in the world, documentation from these ancient countries help illustrate the Hibiscus plant’s long and useful history.

More modern studies of these claims have found it to be effective with lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, and more recent forays into its use suggest that it may work to help with weight loss and has potential to aid in cancer treatments. Although easy to purchase for both baking and medicinal use, you should always consult with your doctor before using it in any health related manner. Safe dosages for pregnant and nursing women, children, and those with pre-existing conditions should be under the supervision of a physician’s care.

Conclusion

Hibiscus is a plant boasting a large, tropical looking flower that has over 200 species identified within its family which can live ranging from the tropics of Southeast Asia to the Northern planting zones of North America, depending on the species. Even if you prefer a tropical variety, they are easy to care for and maintain within the comfort of your own home come winter, and will brighten up your porch or patio each summer. We’d love to hear of your experiences with this beautiful flower, and if you’ve been contemplating one of your own, we hope this article has helped you make a decision which variety might be best for you. Please let us know if you have any questions or comments below, and, as always, please share!

About The Author

Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod cuts a tragic figure in the High School English classroom teaching literature by day, and moonlighting as a writer and graphic artist by night. Published in a variety of travel magazines, and now a blog, Danielle enjoys coming up with home and garden projects to complete with her two young boys. A native of Michigan, she resides in Southeastern New Mexico with her variety of horses, poultry, and variable mix of rescue dogs (there’s a cat or two in there as well). In her free time she enjoys travel, art, photography, and a good book!

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