Hibiscus is a member of the Malvaceae or mallow family, but unlike many of its relatives, the tropical Hibiscus does not do well in cold areas. For this reason, if you want to keep these pretty plants, you’ll need to be able to bring them in and out according to the weather.
If you keep your Hibiscus in pots, you can shelter them during cold weather indoors, in your greenhouse, or even in your garage or covered porch.
Keeping your Hibiscus in a container allows you to move it to the most advantageous settings throughout the growing season.
Hibiscus kept in pots tend to bloom earlier than those growing outdoors because they do not have to die back from the cold weather.
A plant kept outdoors will put a lot more energy into growing tall and producing leaves than it will into flowering. For this reason, even in settings where a Hibiscus could survive being outdoors in the wintertime, it can be better to keep it in a container outdoors and bring it indoors during cooler weather.
How to Grow and Care for Hibiscus in Pots
You may hear tropical Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) referred to as Chinese Hibiscus. The common name is a nod to its Asian and Hawaiian origins. Other common names include:
- Hawaiian Hibiscus
- Rose Mallow
- China Rose
By any name, this is a flowering, perennial shrub that produces large, showy, colorful blossoms from early in the springtime and well into the fall.
Growing these attractive plants in containers on your deck or patio is easy. These shrubs like to have crowded roots, so they make an ideal choice as a container plant in this sort of setting.
Size & Growth
When grown in the landscape, China Rose can attain a height and spread of 12’x8′ respectively. However, when kept in containers, it is customary to keep them pruned to a height of about 5′ feet tall with a suitable spread to the container and location.
Lighting & Temperature
Hawaiian Hibiscus is winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 9-11. Chinese Hibiscus likes to live in a humid, warm setting. The plant needs between 6 and 8 hours of direct sunlight daily; however, if you cannot provide full sunlight, the full morning sun will do. This is true in hot climates where afternoon or partial shade is appreciated.
In the wintertime, you must bring your Hibiscus indoors or at least move it to a sheltered setting where it will not freeze. These plants cannot tolerate temperatures lower than 45° degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperatures in your area drop below 50° degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods during the winter, it is best to bring your Hibiscus indoors.
At the end of the growing season, before the temperatures become too low for the plant to be outdoors, you should move your container Hibiscus into a shady location for several weeks so the plant can acclimate to the upcoming winter environment.
Likewise, in the springtime, when moving your plant outdoors, do so gradually so that it can adjust. Then, begin giving it some time outdoors when the temperature is reliably at 50° degrees Fahrenheit.
Tropical Hibiscus Take Lots of Watering
Hibiscus need lots of water, but they need it to run through the soil mixture and out the bottom of the container. Lack of water will cause the leaves to turn yellow and flower buds to drop.
If you live in a very hot, dry climate, you may need to water your Hibiscus a couple of times daily. Water thoroughly, allowing the water to run through the soil and out the drainage holes.
Your Hibiscus should never be left standing in water. As with most plants, Hibiscus are subject to root rot if they are left to stand in water. You must avoid this at all costs.
Provide soak and dry watering as needed throughout the growing season during hot weather.
During the cooler winter months, only water your Hibiscus when the soil has become dry.
Water in the morning to allow your plant plenty of time to uptake the moisture it needs and dry out some before temperatures drop at night.
Watering at night can cause problems with fungal disease.
There are Several Options for Feeding Hibiscus
These plants require high potassium and nitrogen levels for vibrant blooming and bright, green leaves. Use a water-soluble fertilizer that is formulated especially for Hibiscus. Follow packaging directions to establish frequency.
Details on Hibiscus Fertilizer
Generally speaking, Hibiscus likes to be fertilized often and lightly. It is a good idea to fertilize weekly-weakly. The best NPK ratings for tropical Hibiscus are:
Alternately, you may wish to use a slow-release fertilizer applied at the beginning of the growing season.
Once every 6 weeks, use fresh, clean rainwater to irrigate the plant thoroughly. This practice helps to wash away any excess salt buildup from the soil.
Light Airy Soil Helps Ensure Success
When kept in containers, Hibiscus like a potting mix that is light, airy, and well-draining. A container mix made up of a combination rich in vermiculite, perlite, and compost is best.
When keeping Hibiscus or any plants in containers, be sure to keep all of your tools and containers sanitary. Wash them promptly after use and allow plenty of air-drying and sun-drying space.
To be sure you have the right potting mix for your Hibiscus, mix up your own. Most commercial potting mixes are a bit heavy for Hibiscus. Instead, a mixture of commercial potting mix, composted bark, perlite and/or sharp sand makes an excellent, light combination for these plants.
If you prefer a soilless substrate, try this mix:
- 45% composted hardwood bark
- 5% perlite
- 50% peat
Use coco coir in the place of peat. This is a light fiber by-product of coconut production and is more sustainable to the planet.
Successful Transplanting Starts With Careful Selection
When you choose Hibiscus at the nursery, be sure to examine the roots as well as the top of the plant. Don’t be afraid to pull the plant out of its nursery pot to have a good look at the roots.
When repotting, begin by establishing a foundation of clean potting mix at the bottom of the pot. Then, give the root ball a little massage to open the roots up and allow them to spread and come into contact with the potting mix more easily.
When you set the Hibiscus on top of the potting soil, the top of the root ball should be approximately 1″ inch lower than the rim of the pot. Settle the root ball in on the new soil and fill in around the sides and over the top of the root ball with fresh potting mix. Press down gently but firmly on the fresh potting mix and fill in until the top of the soil is just slightly below the top of the pot.
When repotting your Hibiscus, take care to ease the old pot off the root ball gently. For very root-bound Hibiscus, you can prune away about a third of the root mass from the sides and the bottom. You may wish to put the plant back into its old pot with fresh soil when you do this. After repotting, give your plant a thorough watering.
Choose the Right Size and Type of Container
If you transplant your plant into a new pot, just move it up to the next size container. Over-potting causes the plant to put a lot of energy into root growth and not enough into leaf and flower growth.
On the one hand, it’s wise to put your Hibiscus in a heavy container to avoid toppling. On the other hand, pots made of clay are best. Avoid keeping your Hibiscus in a black plastic pot because these pots tend to absorb heat and may injure your plants’ roots.
On the other hand, moving a large shrub in a heavy container can be quite challenging. To make it easy to bring your plant in and out as the weather changes, you can keep it in a plastic pot and set this inside of a clay pot to prevent toppling and insulate the roots against excessive heat from the sun.
The importance of good drainage cannot be stressed enough. Make sure that you have the following:
- The right combination of light, airy, nourishing potting mix
- A pot with ample drainage holes
- A setting allows excess water to drain away.
Hibiscus Pests or Disease Problems
Hibiscus are subject to pests such as:
- Spider Mites
As with all plants, a well-cared-for hibiscus plant is less likely to become infested with these pests. However, if your plant does become infested, you should evaluate your care practices and correct any problems. Additionally, you can treat the infestation with Neem oil or an insecticidal soap spray.
Be sure to apply the spray in the cool of the morning before the sun becomes too bright and hot. Applying it during the hot time of day may cause the burning of the plants’ leaves.
Choose the Right Hibiscus for Your Location and Situation
One way to ensure success in keeping Hibiscus in containers is to make sure you choose the correct cultivar. Hibiscus can do well in pots, but some are much better than others. Some types of Hibiscus are fast growers and will outgrow their containers very rapidly.
Other types are very sensitive to excessive watering or fluctuations in pH levels. When shopping for Hibiscus for container growth, seek a professional nursery to give you the best advice for your area.