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How to Grow Hibiscus

By: Julie Day

Tropical hibiscus makes a great summer container plant.

The large, colorful blossoms of Hibiscus (Hibiscus sp.) create an eye-catching display during summer, attracting hummingbirds and butterflies and providing the look of a tropical paradise, no matter what the variety. Hibiscus plants are members of the Mallow family, and there are many different species that are used in gardening, agriculture, and manufacturing.

To grow hibiscus in your home garden, it’s important to know the three main types of plants:

  • Tropical hibiscus
  • Hardy perennial hibiscus
  • Hardy shrub hibiscus

Here are some tips for growing and caring for all three.

Tropical Hibiscus

With its sturdy shape and colorful blossoms, tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) is a popular choice for container plants and tropical gardens. It grows as a small shrub or tree, with stiff woody stems and thick, glossy, dark green leaves.

Blossoms are usually 3”- 6” in diameter and come in many different colors and varieties including red, orange, yellow, salmon-pink, multicolored, and even double blossoms.

How to Grow Tropical Hibiscus

  • Climate: Can be grown year round in zones 9-10 but will not survive frost or heavy freeze. Cooler zones (8 and lower) usually grow it as an annual, or in containers that can be brought indoors during cold weather.
  • Light: Full sun.
  • Soil: Rich and well-draining. Container-grown plants are often grown in a soilless potting medium to prevent compaction. Keep moist, but don’t let it stand in water.
  • Fertilizer: Tropical hibiscus blooms on new growth, so it benefits from regular feeding with a balanced, organic, liquid fertilizer.
  • Flowers: Blooms spring through fall, but flowering may slow in the heat of midsummer.

To keep your tropical hibiscus over the winter, bring it indoors before night temperatures fall into the 40s F. Keep in a cool, bright spot (55°-70° F). Reduce, but don’t discontinue, watering. Your plant may lose some leaves as it adjusts to the change.

A few weeks before moving outdoors in the spring, give your hibiscus a rather heavy pruning – shortening leggy stems and removing rubbing branches. Remove the top couple of inches of soil and replace with fresh compost. Add some organic fertilizer, and your plant will be well on its way to a spring growth spurt!

Some varieties of tropical hibiscus overwinter better than others. If yours doesn’t bloom well the second year, you may want to consider replacing it.

Hardy Perennial Hibiscus

If you look at your local garden center for winter-hardy hibiscus, chances are you’ll find the enormous dinner-plate-sized blossoms of Hibiscus moscheutos. Commonly called Rose Mallow or Swamp Mallow, this plant is an herbaceous perennial, which means it will die completely back to the ground in the winter then sprout anew in the spring.

Compared to tropical hibiscus, the stems and heart-shaped leaves of hardy hibiscus are much softer, dull green, and tender. Blossoms are usually flat and large and the texture of tissue paper. They are available in colors of red, pink, and white.

How to Grow Hardy Perennial Hibiscus

  • Climate: Hardy to Zone 4. Does not transplant very well, so choose your location carefully.
  • Light: Full Sun.
  • Soil: Well-draining and rich. Loves water and should remain moist in summer. Grows naturally near ditches and swamps. During the winter, however, the roots should not be soggy. Add mulch to hold in moisture and prevent damage from late spring frosts.
  • Fertilizer: Hardy hibiscus is a heavy feeder. Organic fertilizers with plenty of phosphorus will encourage blooms.
  • Flowers: Blooms in July and August. Each flower is short-lived, but there are plenty more to come.

In the fall or late winter, cut back the dead stems of hardy hibiscus to near ground level. Compared to other perennials, this plant can be a little late to sprout in the spring, but by midsummer it will be sprawling several feet high. Stake long stems if needed.

In addition to Hibiscus moscheutos, other perennial hibiscus species include the slender petals of Scarlet Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus) and the ruffled pink blossoms of Confederate Rose (Hibiscus mutabilis). If you live near water, try growing the marsh-loving Giant Rose Mallow (Hibiscus grandiflora).

Hardy Hibiscus Shrubs: Althea or Rose of Sharon

Last, but certainly not least, we come to the larger shrubs and trees known more commonly as Althea or Rose-of-Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus). These carefree plants brighten up any landscape and are a must-have for hummingbird and butterfly gardens. The blooms are smaller than its tropical cousin, but it has a sustained, prolific bloom period in mid to late summer.

Hibiscus syriacus is a deciduous shrub or small tree, growing up to 10 feet tall and wide, with dark green foliage and flowers in shades of pink, blue, lavender, and white.

How to Grow Hardy Hibiscus Shrubs

  • Climate: Grown in zones 5-9. Used as a border or specimen shrub. Loses its leaves in winter. Upright shape, fairly dense, with a coarse texture.
  • Light: Full sun, with a little afternoon shade in hotter climates.
  • Soil: Rich and well-draining, although it’s pretty adaptable to a range of growing conditions.
  • Fertilizer: Average water and nutrient needs. Generally carefree.
  • Flowers: A rapid grower that can be pruned heavily in the early spring to encourage larger blossoms. May self-seed and sprout around the base.

White Althea

Further Information

The website has excellent specific growing instructions for many varieties of hardy hibiscus including:

More information about the many varieties of tropical hibiscus can be found at

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Please Leave a Comment

19 Comments on “How to Grow Hibiscus”

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  1. Kate Says:
    August 24th, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    Squirrels apparently love to eat Hibiscus leaves. So beware, they will strip the plant bare. Chili powder or hot sauce sprinkled on the leaves seems to be a temporary fix.

  2. Bankz Says:
    November 3rd, 2009 at 10:54 am

    thanks for sharing the good information about hibiscus.
    your hibiscus pics is very beautiful and also your website too. I like the hibiscus flowers so much.

  3. Hilda Hunt Says:
    May 20th, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    My rose of Sharon half is dead the other half green and alive. What’s going on? Is the rose of Sharon a short lived tree?

  4. Don Robinson Says:
    May 30th, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    I have just purcased a “Bahama Bay” Hibiscus Plant in a 1 gal. container and planning on planting in the ground.

    When it flowers out,and the bloom falls off leaving the empty pod do you cut pod off from the stem or does create a new flower in empty pod.

  5. Official Comment:

    Julie Day Says:
    August 3rd, 2010 at 8:15 am

    Don, you need to cut off the empty pod – it won’t form a new flower.

    Hilda, Rose of Sharon usually lives quite a while. I’d cut off the dead portion and see if the tree can regain its shape. If it’s diseased, cutting off the dead part might keep it from killing the whole tree. Can you see any bark or leaf damage that might indicate a disease or insect problem?

  6. Lisa H Says:
    May 30th, 2011 at 9:06 am

    I purchased a rose of sharon tree (dormant) and am concerned about the site that I was considering. I live in zone 4 (on the shore of Lake Superior) and it stated that it can be planted in full to partial sun. I would have the latter if I plant in front yard as a specimen. Problem is this spot is next to a driveway where snow gets piled up 3-4 feet. Will a new planting survive the first winter if I stake the trunk well and protect with chicken wire and mulch? Should I opt for a sunnier location in my back yard?

  7. carol w. Says:
    July 2nd, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Help! After it bloomed, the leaves on my beautiful potted topiary hibiscus are turning yellow and the entire tree is wilting–and there has been no change in its TLC or its location. What can I do to save this pretty plant?

  8. Chris Langston Says:
    July 11th, 2011 at 6:21 am

    My Question is the same as Carol W. I have a tropical H that I have indoors. I have watered but portion of the plant are dying! What might I do to save this?

  9. denise Says:
    July 24th, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    I was wondering why my giant hibiscus limbs are growing almost on the ground instead of upright?? Does anyone have any suggestions. Thank you

  10. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    July 27th, 2011 at 8:10 am

    Hi Carol and Chris,
    Julie Day has answered your questions in her article Problem with Tropical Hibiscus Leaves Turning Yellow. Hope that helps, and thanks for the question!

  11. LESLEY Says:
    August 18th, 2011 at 1:08 pm


  12. Herman Johnson Says:
    January 30th, 2012 at 8:57 am

    My Althea produces beautiful buds, but they will not open. they turn brown and fall off.
    what can I do to stop this ?

  13. Ziona Kopelovich Says:
    April 16th, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    I have several beautiful hibuscus plants. Earlier today I found that one major branch that starts at the root was sawed off, presumably by an animal. I found the branch with the beautiful blooms on the ground, and the flowers torm off from it. There were marks on the branch near the cut that looked like teeth marks, but the cut itself was so straight, like someone used a sharp instrument to cut it. I’m baffled. I’m worried that whatever the creature, it would attack the rest of my plants (about 13 altogether). What animal could be the culprit and how do I get rid of it?

  14. Liz Says:
    April 28th, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    I love hibiscus plants i just planted two in some pots outside on my porch and i noticed that before i planted them the flowers had bloomed and a couple of hours after i planted them the flowers shrivled up!! :(
    Did i do something wrong when i planted them?

  15. catherine vanhorn Says:
    May 19th, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    MAY 20 2012

  16. Louann W. Says:
    June 23rd, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    I transplanted a plant from my parents yard that I think is an Althea. I have had it for several years but it has not grown much. Many of the leaves turn yellow & fall off. In past summers, the blooms have formed but did not open. What can I do to have a healthier plant?

  17. Nancy Muzzy Says:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    My potted hibiscus tree is growing on front porch with dark green leaves, but doesn’t bloom. Why? I fertilize with Miracle Gro.

  18. boops Says:
    July 31st, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    Nancy-sounds like not enough sun and/or water or it is root bound in the pot.
    I came home today to find my Lord Baltimore, 7 foot tall in full bloom destroyed by something. The main stem was bent in half. It was fine this AM and it is staked up to 5 feet. The top 2 feet, where most of the flowers are was bent in half along with some lower stems.I can’t imagine a squirrel doing this, because it would have attacked my potted one first. I am so angry, I wait all spring for it to bloom, I had to cut it off and I put it in water, but the rest of the buds probably won’t open.

  19. Mary Says:
    August 13th, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    In your photo under Hardy Perennial Hibiscus the leaves are being eaten away – mine has the same exact problem – the leaves look skeletal but the flowers bloom day after day (closing and dying each day, I deadhead them and remove the debris). What is the bug eating the leaves? I’ve tried homemade soap/spice remedies but nothing seems to help.

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