For the Love of Double Tropical Hibiscus

Updated on September 27, 2019
punacoast profile image

The author lives in a quiet rural community in lower Puna on the Big Island. He's an avid gardener, traveler, and photographer.

The large blossom of double hibiscus 'High Heaven' (Hibiscus sp.) may have up to 12 petals.
The large blossom of double hibiscus 'High Heaven' (Hibiscus sp.) may have up to 12 petals. | Source

Hibiscus is an ornamental plant commonly grown in the temperate, subtropical, or tropical regions around the world.

A hibiscus flower usually has five petals. Thanks to modern cultivation techniques, some varieties can produce flowers with more than five petals – called “double hibiscus” – in a dazzling array of colors, sizes, and shapes!

Because of the unusual number of petals, a double hibiscus blossom looks more impressive and fascinating than its cousin the ordinary five-petal hibiscus!

Pink pom-pom shaped blossom of double hibiscus 'Kona' (Hibiscus sp.)
Pink pom-pom shaped blossom of double hibiscus 'Kona' (Hibiscus sp.) | Source
A golden double hibiscus unfurling its exquisite petals.
A golden double hibiscus unfurling its exquisite petals. | Source

Different types of hibiscus

Hibiscus belongs to the mallow (Malvaceae) family. Generally, there are two categories of hibiscus: tropical and hardy.

Tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) prefers a sunny, warm, humid climate and cannot tolerate cold temperatures. This popular hibiscus species has been widely cultivated and hybridized into hundreds of varieties! A majority of double hibiscus belongs to this tropical category.

Hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus syriacus) tolerates cold or even freezing temperatures. Also known as rose mallow or rose of Sharon, this hibiscus species is a tough herbaceous perennial! The plants often die back to the ground in winter then regrow when warmer spring weather returns. Very few hardy hibiscus produce double blooms.

Note: This article devotes to the double tropical hibiscus type. The photos were taken at the author’s garden located in the lower Puna district (USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 12b) and other locations on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Double hibiscus 'White Elephant' (Hibiscus sp.) with its graceful petals.
Double hibiscus 'White Elephant' (Hibiscus sp.) with its graceful petals. | Source

Did you know

Okra (yes, the humble pod vegetable used in the famous Southern stew gumbo) is in the same Malvaceae family and closely related to the hibiscus. An okra blossom looks very similar to a five-petal hibiscus flower, usually in pale yellow color.

How to grow double tropical hibiscus

You may grow double tropical hibiscus from stem cuttings or seeds. However, with these 2 methods, it will take years for the plant to mature and produce its first bloom!

The quickest way to have a double tropical hibiscus in your garden is to buy a potted plant from your local garden center or nursery. Potted plants for sale are 3-4 years old and most likely already in bloom, you can easily pick out your favorite flower color!

You may plant double tropical hibiscus in the ground or in a container, depends on where you live.

Salmon colored double hibiscus.
Salmon colored double hibiscus. | Source
Peach colored double hibiscus.
Peach colored double hibiscus. | Source
Lemon yellow colored double hibiscus.
Lemon yellow colored double hibiscus. | Source

How to care for double tropical hibiscus

In the ground: If you live in a warm climate, plant your double tropical hibiscus directly in the ground. It needs a full-sun location to thrive. It also prefers well-drain and acidic soils (pH 5.5 or less). Water the plant regularly, especially when there is no rain! If the plant doesn’t get adequate water, its leaves will turn yellow and drop off. All flower buds will also fall off.

Double tropical hibiscus is a heavy feeder, it needs fertilizer to produce beautiful blooms. You may use any commercial hibiscus fertilizer (liquid or granule) and follow the directions on how often to apply (weekly, monthly, etc.). As a rule of thumb, a younger plant will require regular feeding for vigorous growth. Well-established plant only needs fertilizer once or twice a year. Adding organic compost and mulch will also improve soil condition and promote healthy root growth.

Some double tropical hibiscus planted in the ground can grow into a large shrub 12-15 feet tall. Yearly pruning/trimming will keep the plant at desirable height and shape. Prune the plant in early spring before any new growth appears. Regular trimming will also make the plant bushy and more compact.

This lovely white double hibiscus has blushing pink petals.
This lovely white double hibiscus has blushing pink petals. | Source
Double hibiscus 'Bold Idea' (Hibiscus sp.) can sometime revert to single bloom form.
Double hibiscus 'Bold Idea' (Hibiscus sp.) can sometime revert to single bloom form. | Source

In a container: If you live in an area with cold/freezing winter weather, planting a double tropical hibiscus in a container is your best option. Enjoy the plant and its gorgeous blooms on the patio or deck during the warm season, then move it indoors for protection before the first frost arrives.

Use a well-drained potting mix (with compost and perlite) when planting your plant in a container. Make sure the container has drainage holes in the bottom to prevent root rot caused by excess water. As much as it loves humidity and regular watering, double tropical hibiscus does not like wet, soggy feet!

Water the potted plant twice a day when it is hot and dry. You can tell your plant is thirsty when its leaves and flowers are wilting. Feed the plant with a fertilizer (contains high potassium) formulated for potted flowering plants to encourage non-stop blooming.

It takes some extra care to winterize a double tropical hibiscus indoors. Be sure to place the container near a well-insulated window, the plant should receive at least 6 hours of sunlight and no chilly draft! Use a spray bottle to mist the plant once a week to help it cope with the dry, hot air indoors. (This also prevents spider mites from attacking the plant!) And finally, water it sparingly (soil is slightly moist to the touch) as the plant is taking a break from growing!

Did you know

Native Hawaiian yellow hibiscus (Hibiscus brackenridgei) is the official State Flower of Hawaii. Also known as pua aloalo or ma’o hau hele in the Hawaiian language, it is quite rare and considered to be an endangered species.

A stunning scarlet double hibiscus.
A stunning scarlet double hibiscus. | Source
This whimsical double hibiscus is often referred to as 'Red Poodle' hibiscus.
This whimsical double hibiscus is often referred to as 'Red Poodle' hibiscus. | Source

Enjoy your double tropical hibiscus

With proper care and ideal growing conditions, your double tropical hibiscus will reward you with spectacular blooms and transform your garden into a little exotic tropical paradise.

Double hibiscus 'Orange Sherbert' (Hibiscus sp.) is aptly named for its delightful blossoms.
Double hibiscus 'Orange Sherbert' (Hibiscus sp.) is aptly named for its delightful blossoms. | Source

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Viet Doan

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      • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image

        KonaGirl 

        2 months ago from New York

        I had to chuckle about the hollyhocks as I planted them for the 1st time this year. Now I have to wait and see if they come back next year as they are perennials. If not, I collected some seeds to replant. LOL. Like hibiscus, they come in a wide variety of colors and are so pretty. Looking like hibiscus is what caught my eye when I saw them at the nursery. LOL.

      • Miebakagh57 profile image

        Miebakagh Fiberesima 

        2 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

        Hi, Viet, thanks for the information. I have an organic diet and health medicine at hand now at any moment. Enjoy the day.

      • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

        Viet Doan 

        2 months ago from Big Island, Hawaii

        Hi Linda! Thanks, I'm so happy you enjoy the photos. The photo of the scarlet red double hibiscus was taken in my neighbor's garden. When the whole shrub is in bloom, it's incredibly bright! It's like staring at the sun with naked eyes!!!

      • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

        Viet Doan 

        2 months ago from Big Island, Hawaii

        Hi Miebakagh! Hibiscus flower is edible and also packed with vitamin C. It is used for making teas and other refreshing beverages. Dried hibiscus calyx (base of the flower) is a tasty, chewy, tangy treat. These are for sale at many natural health food stores in the US.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Your photos are beautiful! The article is informative and I enjoyed reading it, but I loved the photographs of the flowers.

      • Miebakagh57 profile image

        Miebakagh Fiberesima 

        2 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

        hi, Viet, did you really eat the flowers? I am curious here. I can eat the rose flowers in my salads or alone for its vitamin C. But Hibiscus?

      • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

        Viet Doan 

        2 months ago from Big Island, Hawaii

        Thanks Miebakagh for your nostalgic comment. It makes me think of my childhood home with a big red hibiscus in the front yard. My little sisters would pick the flowers and play "cooking" - making a slimy, gooey soup with the chopped up blossoms. And they made me eat it!

      • Miebakagh57 profile image

        Miebakagh Fiberesima 

        2 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

        Hi, Viet, I was introduced to the Hibiscus flower very early in my primary school days. Red and pink are the types I got for my lessons. That was some 40-years ago. Nowadays, yellow, white and others are appearing in my area. Thanks for sharing.

      • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

        Viet Doan 

        2 months ago from Big Island, Hawaii

        Aloha KonaGirl! Good to hear from you. I hope to write an article on rare native Hawaiian hibiscus in the near future. There are seven native hibiscus species scattered around the islands. The yellow one is my favorite and I even got some photos of it.

      • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

        Viet Doan 

        2 months ago from Big Island, Hawaii

        Aloha Liz! You probably can tell I'm obsessed with the hibiscus! In the UK and most of Europe, you have the gorgeous hollyhocks which I love but could not plant here in tropical Hawaii. They are also in the same mallow Malvaceae family with hibiscus, isn't that interesting?

      • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image

        KonaGirl 

        2 months ago from New York

        They have always been one of my favorite hibiscuses just because they are so frickin pretty. Great photos, BTW. You are such a talented photographer!

        I didn't know the pua aloalo is now endangered. That's so sad. I've been away from home too long. LOL. I did go back to Kona a couple of years ago and stayed for 3 months with my kids, but it's not like living full time where you pick up new facts on a daily basis. Next time I get home we will have to get together for a cocktail or coffee!

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        2 months ago from UK

        This is an incredibly well-illustrated article. The hibiscus is a beautiful plant.

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