Hibiscus is a strikingly beautiful plant and is useful as a garden, terrace, or balcony plant. It is easy to grow if you give it plenty of sun and maintain constant moisture.
Recently, I received a question from a reader about growing hibiscus seeds. Her starts had sprouted and were growing well, however, she was concerned that the plants were not growing fast enough given the amount of time between sprouting and flowering. I assured her that she was doing everything right and that her hibiscus was only missing one thing the bring on the flowers – the heat of the summer.
You can learn more about growing hibiscus and get answers to other reader questions in our next Ask Me Anything, Episode #4. Where Kristi, Mindy, and I discuss growing and using medicinal herbs. Be sure to check out the video below, or watch it on my YouTube channel.
There are Several Hibiscus Varieties
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, or Chinese Hibiscus
This hibiscus is a member of the Malvaceae family and has been cultivated in gardens for a long time. Believed to have originated in China and Vietnam, this variety is recorded in their ancient art and writings. Also known as Shoeblack Plant, women in China ancient used the sap from the flowers to color their hair black and used the juice to stain shoes black. This is the variety found in most garden centers with the strikingly large flowers of many colors – from white to yellow, to varying shades of red.
Hibiscus rosa sinensis can be grown as an annual or container specimen in warmer parts of the USA. In areas where winter does not cause damage, hibiscus is a perennial and may be used as a more permanent landscape plant. The flowers are edible.
Hibiscus syriacus or Rose of Sharon
Rose of Sharon Hibiscus is a hardy shrub (to zone 5) with flowers ranging from white to yellow to purple. When I lived in Oregon I had a lovely old bush, planted in my yard in the 1940s. Each year I would prune it in the spring and it would provide dazzling purple flowers all summer long. The shrub would lose its leaves in the winter and be reborn once the mild weather approached in April.
I kept the plant a tidy 5 to 6 feet tall, but it would reach a height of 10 feet if I did not cut it back in late winter. Learn more about growing Rose of Sharon Hibiscus in this article from the University of Connecticut.
Hibiscus moscheutos or Swamp rose mallow
Native to most of the South and Eastern United States, (zones 5 to 10) Swamp Rose Mallow is a herbaceous perennial wildflower that grows from 3 to 7 feet tall in a single season. It prefers full to partial sun and wet to consistently moist soil conditions. They do not like to have their roots disturbed, so use caution when transplanting and take additional soil around the rootball. The leaves of Hibiscus moscheutos are different from other hibiscus species, looking more like maple leaves than hands.
Hibiscus sabdariffa, also known as Roselle Hibiscus and edible hibiscus
This hibiscus species has the widest use for food and medicine on the homestead. It is an annual plant with an erect, bushy habit that can reach up to 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide. It has smooth or nearly smooth, round red stems. The leaves are notable from other hibiscus varieties in that they are alternate, 3 to 5 inches long, and green with reddish veins.
The single flowers are yellow or off white with a maroon or rose eye and are up to 5 inches wide. They turn pink as they wither at the end of the day. That’s when the magic of the flower begins to happen. The red calyx around the base of the flower begins to enlarge, becomes fleshy, crisp and juicy. It produces a capsule which is green when immature and will eventually contain 3 to 4 kidney-shaped, light-brown seeds. The capsule turns brown and splits open when mature and dry.
The calyx is harvested for tea and jelly making. The stems and leaves are acidic and the taste closely resembles the cranberry in flavor.
Read this article from Schneider Peeps to learn about harvesting Hibiscus sabdariffa. Edible hibiscus is a short-day plant that grows in tropical and subtropical areas. However, it can be grown as an annual in colder areas.
This only scratches the surface of the 250 varieties of hibiscus available to modern growers. No matter the variety, one of the drawbacks to the showy hibiscus plant is that the flowers of most varieties last only one day, especially during hot weather. Hers’s a trick to keep flowers open until evening:
- Pull the blooms you intend to use as soon as they are fully open in the morning.
- Place these in the refrigerator until just before using.
- Be mindful not to pull leaves with the blossoms, this prevents picking flowers from doing damage to the plant, which can reduce the total amount of flowering.
- They do not need to be placed in water to prevent wilting.
Growing Hibiscus from Seed
- Soak Hibiscus seed for 24 hours before planting or scarify the seed by running it over sandpaper to break the surface. One of these must be done or the seed will not take in enough moisture to germinate.
- Germination of soaked or scarified seed is from 5 days to 3 weeks, depending on the temperature of the soil
- plant seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost
- planting depth is 1/4 an inch deep
- Hibiscus seeds need heat to sprout. For best results, use a heat mat and maintain the soil temperature between 70F and 80F
- once the seeds sprout, remove the bottom heat and give the starts additional light
- get the sprouts to the garden as soon as the soil warms
- give the plants monthly feedings of a complete fertilizer
Growing Characteristics of the Hibiscus Plant
This plant can be a slow grower until it gets the heat it needs outdoors. It will be tender perennial in zones 9 and above and can be grown outdoors in zone 8 with winter protection. This means that you may not see any real growth until your hot weather sets in – July and August.
Hibiscus also needs short days to produce blooms. Look for an explosion of blooms in the Fall when the days get shorter. The plants will benefit from some protection from strong wind, which can easily damage the fragile blooms and send potted plants toppling on their side.
Common insects on hibiscus are red spider, aphid, and whitefly.
Hibiscus does not like cold weather will not survive a hard frost, however, during mild winters they may freeze to the ground and then re-sprout in the spring. To give your hibiscus plants the best protection, apply a loose mulch around the base of the plant before the cold weather sets in. Use whatever mulch you have available, and consider like pine needles, oak leaves, or even straw.
Grow Hibiscus from Cutting
- Clip of an 8-inch stem of the plant and remove any sprouting flower heads.
- Wait until summer, when the plant is experiencing the biggest growth.
- Look for stems that are smooth, dark green and have plenty of leaves.
- Remove all but the top 2 or 3 leaves the leaves from the stem.
- Hibiscus leaves are large, cut them back by 2/3rd so the plant will work on setting roots and not try to keep the leaves alive.
- Make a diagonal cut along the bottom of the stem and place it in a fresh glass of water.
- Change the water every few days until a healthy set of roots emerges and the cutting can be transplanted into potting soil.
- The rooting process can be sped up by creating a mini-greenhouse with a plastic bag, placed over the cutting to retain moisture.
- Expect roots in 2 to 3 months. You’ll know it’s time to transplant when new leaves start forming.
Ask Me Anything Video Series
This is the fourth video in our AMA video series where a couple of gardening-knowledgeable friends and I get together to answer some of our readers’ most pressing questions and pain points about specific topics! We always get really great questions, and our guess is if other people are asking, you probably want to know these answers too!
Hi, I’m Shelle Wells, the founder of Rockin W Homestead and Dehydrating Made Easy .com, where I teach people how to garden in small spaces and preserve the food they grow. I’ve been learning and teaching about self-reliance for over 20 years.
We’ve put together some content that showcases this video. Be sure to visit each of us when you have time.
Mindy at Our Inspired Roots: 12 Best Healing Herbs for the Homestead
Kristi at Stone Family Farmstead: How to Make Your Own Effective Herbal Remedies
Some links in these show notes are affiliate links. If you click on them and shop, it will not cost you anything extra, and I may make a small profit from your purchase, which will go toward our efforts to continuing to provide you with free content. Thank you for your support!
Some of the books, authors, and courses that were mentioned in this video include:
Richter’s Seeds in Canada has a wide variety of seeds and plants
Starwest Botanicals sells seeds and bulk herbs
Try Amazon for books and supplies
Buy at your local Co-Ops
Try Frontier Co-op
San Francisco Herb Company sells 4-ounce and 1 pound quantities of dried herbs and spices
Pronounce Skin Care sells small quantities of dried herbs
My Favorite Herb Books
Herbs for Common Ailments by Rosemary Gladstar
Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide by Rosemary Gladstar
The Modern Herbal Dispensatory by Thomas Easley and Steven Horne
The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine by Brigitte Mars, AHG
Herbs, an Illustrated Encyclopedia by Kathi Keville
Herbs for Pets by Tilford & Wulff
Dr. Kidd’s Guide to Herbal Cat Care by Randy Kidd, DVM, PhD
Herb Courses to Extend Your Knowledge