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Hibiscus: Tropical Gems of the Garden

Hibiscus Flowers

Hibiscus flowers are probably the most recognizable and beloved of the tropical flowers, and, though exotic in appearance, they quite easy to grow. You don't have to be on a South Pacific island to enjoy these beautiful, large blooms!

Tropical Hibiscus

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. This red variety is extremely heat tolerant.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. This red variety is extremely heat tolerant.

A Member of the Malvaceae Family

Hibiscus, a member of the mallow family, is a distant cousin of the hollyhock. There are many varieties including the hardy Hibiscus moscheutos, a relative of the native swamp mallow found in the wetlands of the eastern United States whose blooms can reach 12" across. There is also the deep red Hibiscus sabdariffa which is used to make tea and Hibiscus acetosella whose leaves resemble Japanese maple and is valued in the landscape. It is its tropical cousins, however, that grab the limelight. They come to us from Asia and the islands of the Pacific Ocean. One variety, Hibiscus brackenridgei, is the state flower of Hawaii. Another, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, comes from China, and its brilliant red variety serves as the national flower of Malaysia. Hibiscus syriacus, Rose of Sharon, is the national flower of South Korea.

Grafted Hybrids

in 1997, Rob Dupont, a hybridizer of tropical hibiscus from Dupont Nursery in Louisiana, began experimenting with new cultivars and achieved spectacular results. He grafted plants with showy blooms onto a stronger mother root to ensure both vigor and beauty. This class of hybrids features an amazing array of color combinations in spectacular patterns on oversized blooms. Armstrong Growers introduced them on the west coast as "Hotbiscus" in reference to their eye-catching qualities. These plants are more compact, making them ideal for containers. They also prefer partial shade and adapt well to being tucked among other lush tropical plants.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis

For a flowering hedge or foundation plant, consider the prolific Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. This prolific bloomer grows quickly to 15 feet and is stunning with glossy green leaves and flowers in an array of colors: red, pink, peach, and yellow. It is easy to grow in well-draining soil and thrives in areas with hot summers and mild winters. If temperatures are expected to dip into the 30s, cover with a plant blanket to protect it from freezing. In spring, it can be pruned and shaped as long as no more than one-third of the old-growth is removed.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis.

 Hibiscus syriacus- Rose of Sharon.

Hibiscus syriacus- Rose of Sharon.

Rose of Sharon

Hibiscus syriacus, known as Rose of Sharon, is much like its tall, prolific cousin except that it is less cold hardy, and goes dormant during the winter. Its beautiful lavender bi-color bloom is the national flower of South Korea. Known there as Mugunghwa, it means "eternal blossom that never fades" and is said to symbolize the strong spirit of its people. This flowering shrub or small tree can be grown in sun or part shade where it will bloom continuously from mid-spring through summer.

General Care

Hibiscus prefers a temperature range of 60-90 degrees. California, Florida, and Hawaii provide the best climates for year-round growth in the United States; however, these exotic beauties can be enjoyed elsewhere with a few more considerations.

In temperate areas, hibiscus can reach 15 feet in the garden making it a good choice for a showy hedge. Fast-growing, these can gain 3 feet in just one year! Some more compact varieties such as the grafted "hotbiscus" will stay under 3 ft. where they are perfectly suited for containers.

  • Protection from the Cold: Being tropical, these plants are very cold-sensitive and need protection from drying winds. As winter approaches, it is important to heed frost warnings and cover plants with plastic sheeting or a plant blanket. In regions with winter temperatures consistently below freezing, it is preferable to grow hibiscus in pots that can easily be brought indoors. Plants will need to be pruned to within 5" of the main stem and will most likely drop all leaves until they are placed outdoors again in spring. While dormant, watering and feeding should be minimal.
  • Light: It is essential to provide 6-8 hours of bright light indoors even if it has to come from fluorescent sources. Although some growers will enjoy continuous indoor blooms in the cool season with ample light and fertilizers, it is important to give your plant a rest and not force bloom at this time. When placed outside in late March, the hibiscus will begin to leaf out and prepare for the warm season flowering by June. Treating hibiscus as an annual in the coldest climates is also a good to way to ensure a stunning display of prolific blooms. Hibiscus needs at least 6-8 hours of sun per day. The exception is the showy hybrid "Hotbiscus" which prefers moderate afternoon shade. Red varieties are usually more sun tolerant.
  • Water: All hibiscus need regular deep-watering during the blooming period and should never be allowed to get soggy nor to completely dry out. This is especially important during the first 2 years of growth. Extreme fluctuations in watering will make the plant more prone to insect damage. A layer of coir or shredded redwood will help keep plant roots evenly moist and cool.
  • Nutrients: Since these plants are heavy feeders, it is important to fertilize every 4-6 weeks during the growing season. As tempting as it may be to give them a super bloomer, they still need ample potash for root development. Choose one that has both phosphorus and significant potassium like Gro-More Hawaiian Bud & Bloom. An organic food like a 6-5-3 is also a good choice, especially on newer shrubs. Feeding with iron and micro-nutrients in the spring will help with the yellow leaves and support overall vigor.
  • Pruning: Pruning and shaping should be done in late spring. Never remove more than 1/3 of the growth on the main shoots and trim lateral branches as needed, leaving at least 3 bud terminals. Hibiscus is self-cleaning and does not need dead-heading although it can be done to clean up its appearance.

Common Pests

Hibiscus is generally not prone to disease and will thrive in well-drained soil in either containers or directly in the ground. Over-watering in the cool dormant season can cause root-rot and bring fungus gnats, but it is rare. Also, it is important to NEVER let a container plant sit in a saucer of water. A plant will drown without aeration to its roots.


Young buds and tender growth are magnets for an infestation. Aphids are very visible and can be easily washed off with a good blast of water or fed to hungry ladybugs and lacewing larva.


Unlike aphids, these are so tiny that plant damage is the first indication of their presence. Unopened buds, deformed leaves, yellowing, and bud drop are symptoms. To check for thrips, tap a flower over a clean sheet of white paper, and you should be able to see them scurrying away.

Spider mites

These tiny reddish spiders weave delicate webs over branch tips. Prevention is best. Consistent watering, good aeration, and occasional plant washing to rid the leaves of dust and air-born pollutants will help. Use an organic control like insecticidal soap or neem oil once mites show up. Be sure to check the undersides of leaves.


This is the most common pest and a difficult one to eradicate once the plant is heavily infested. The adults lay eggs on the undersides of leaves and cover them with a waxy protective coating. The Giant Whitefly, Aleurodicus dugesii-, comes from Mexico and is a real problem here in California and elsewhere. The long spiral waxy filaments look like white hair and are a shock to gardeners! There are many controls including systemic insecticides which work effectively from the inside out. These are applied as a soil drench and are taken up through the root system. Unfortunately, the plant may become harmful to honey bees and native pollinators.

I recommend an organic approach even though it requires more diligence and patience. Targeting bugs without true necessity often skews the balance in the food chain and creates an even bigger problem. The USDA also uses a parasitic wasp- Encarsia formosa- as a biological control against the whitefly.

  1. Keep the plants healthy with proper care.
  2. Apply worm castings at the time of planting.
  3. Routinely clean tops and undersides of leaves with a blast of water.
  4. Apply neem or paraffinic oil spray as needed.
  5. If the problem still continues, a systemic pesticide, which works from the inside out, may be necessary.


Ants are usually present with whiteflies and aphids because they harvest the sticky honeydew that the insects produce. The sticky deposits on the leaves blacken with mold and interfere with the plant's ability to perform photosynthesis, further weakening the plant. Use organic controls like Tanglefoot goo applied to strips of paper and wrapped around tree branches. Diatomaceous earth, the crushed skeletons of tiny sea creatures, pierces the ant bodies and dries them up. It can be applied to ant nests or sprinkled around the edges of containers, but will need reapplication if allowed to get wet.

 The hairy filaments associated with the giant whitefly are actually a waxy, water resistant protection for eggs and young insects.

The hairy filaments associated with the giant whitefly are actually a waxy, water resistant protection for eggs and young insects.

As soon as the danger of frost is gone and the sun lingers longer, it will be the perfect time to plant some of these tropical gems. Whether planting in containers or in the ground, apply a bit or micorrhizae fertilizer next to the root ball to help the plant take up nutrients. Water deeply, fertilize regularly, and keep an eye out for insects. By the first of July, you will have a spectacular show of blooms to enjoy all summer long.

Put on your aloha shirt and grab that Mai Tai. Ah! Paradise!

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

Question: How do you deadhead a tropical hibiscus in a pot?

Answer: Hibiscus is really self-cleaning and doesn't require much deadheading. It will produce more blooms if left alone. Potted plants may need a little shaping especially if they get leggy. This can be done in Spring when new growth is starting but before heavy bloom. Look for new nodes on the stems where the plant will leaf out. This is what you will want to encourage, so cut back longer branches to just above these nodes for fuller shape as needed and fertilize during the growing season.

Question: Is a spray bottle of water with a tsp. of white vinegar safe for plants and helpful in eliminating pests?

Answer: Vinegar has many uses around the house and garden; however, I would be careful spraying it directly on plants since it is acidic. It is commonly used as a natural weed killer. It can be effective against mollusks like snails & slugs, but you are better using a homemade insecticidal soap solution for insects.

© 2011 Catherine Tally


Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on August 01, 2012:

Hi oliversmum,

I'm so glad that you enjoy hibiscus and found my hub interesting and helpful! Thank you for stopping by to read and comment. I appreciate your kind compliments. :)

oliversmum from australia on August 01, 2012:

cat on a soapbox Hi. Wonderful hub.

Thank you for all this great information on these beautiful plants.

I loved all the photographs. Thumbs up and very useful. :):)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 15, 2011:


Thank you! Drop by my hubpages again :>)

gitrdun4444 from North Carolina on April 15, 2011:

Very informative hub, and I just love the hibiscus! My favorite is the orange and yellow ones. But they are beautiful. Thanks for the hub.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 14, 2011:

shwetaji, I love to hear from fellow flower lovers :>)

I am happy that you enjoyed my hub. Thanks for reading.

UlrikeGrace, Thank you for your kind comments. I appreciate your reading my hub! Blessings to you as well :>)

UlrikeGrace from Canada on April 14, 2011:

I love Hibiscus Flowers...of all varieties...thanks for the well written and informative hub!Blessings to you. Ulrike Grace

shwetaji from INDIA on April 12, 2011:


Elayne from Rocky Mountains on April 11, 2011:

Living in Hawaii, we have plenty of hibiscus flowers here. They are so beautiful. I love the big yellow ones. Great information.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 09, 2011:

Thank you, Ripplemaker! I appreciate your nice comments :>)

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on April 08, 2011:

Beautiful, graceful flower! :)

Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination! :) Follow this link and go to the Home Category. Vote, vote, vote!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 02, 2011:


Thank you for your kind comments. I can't take credit for the photographs here. They are ones chosen to fit the content of my blog. They really do justice to the beauty of the tropical "hotbiscus." I'm glad you are following me. I am anxious to see more of your lovely photography as well!

mannyrolando on April 02, 2011:

Excellent hub, it is so informative! You really seem to know what you are talking about! Your photographs of the hibiscus flowers are wonderful. I have a large pink hibiscus plant and it's currently blooming really nice.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 02, 2011:

Hi Kathi,

Thanks for your comment. You must have the hardy variety with the huge blooms that dies back in Winter and comes back in Spring. I love deer, but they do help themselves to a garden buffet :>)

Kathi Mirto from Fennville on April 02, 2011:

I have two hibiscus bushes, not tropical, and the deer really go after them...have to watch em like a hawk...hee..other than that, they are fairly easy to take care of...maybe occasional watering in the dryer months

Harlan Colt from the Rocky Mountains on April 01, 2011:


Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 01, 2011:

Thanks, Harlan. You are one of those candidates to have a gorgeous hib during the summer when it blooms, then toss it when the season ends. I can just see a lovely bloom on that Grand Piano! Thanks for the vote up :>)

Harlan Colt from the Rocky Mountains on April 01, 2011:


I love this. I wish I could have one, but I live with a good 5 months of cold/freezing temps and I really don't have an indoor place to set it. I would have to get rid of the Grand Piano and THAT is NOT going to happen. LOL!

Thank you for a great hub tho. I voted up and useful!

I am trying to get into the habit of always voting.

- Best Wishes

- Harlan

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 01, 2011:

Thanks, Will. I value your comments.

I hope the memories are GOOD ones :>)

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on April 01, 2011:

Great Hub and brings back memories! My mother was a florist and grew all sorts of flowers.