The tropical hibiscus is an absolute stunner; think an antenna surrounded by a broad, ruffled collar. Right off the bat, you should know that hibiscus rosa-sinensis is probably not appropriate for newbies. The colorful plant needs lots of water and food, presents difficulties when overwintering, and tends to attract bugs that would eat it to death.
Still, the beautiful hibiscus plant remains popular, and you should be able to find one at your local big box store without much trouble.
Many issues can be avoided if you bring home a healthy plant. Healthy hibiscus specimens have dark shiny green leaves and large, pigmented flowers. Avoid discoloration like yellow foliage or leaves that have brown edges. It's also good to leave behind wilting plants and specimens with spots.
First, remove the hibiscus plant from its nursery pot, cutting it away with sterile scissors or gently pulling off the container. Then, fill a new pot with two inches of well-aerated soil. Before placing the plant inside, gently break up the soil and loosen the roots slightly.
Once the plant is in the pot, cover the roots with potting soil and water every day for the first week.
If you want your hibiscus plant to bloom, place it near a bright, south-facing window where it can get at least four hours of direct sunlight during winter. If you've got a patio or balcony, you can move your potted hibiscus outdoors during summer, where it should thrive with slow but steady exposure to more light.
Repeat this acclimation process in reverse during fall, and the plant should keep its leaves and buds.
Hibiscus plants are thirsty, so you'll need to water them daily when they're actively growing indoors; four times a week should suffice at the start of summer. Check the top two inches of soil with your finger; the soil should be moist, not soggy, and if it's dry, it's time for a room-temperature drink.
This test will result in much less watering during winter. Your pot must have holes in the bottom so excess water can drain, to prevent root rot. If you overwater the hibiscus, the leaves will turn yellow.
Your hibiscus won't tolerate dramatic swings in humidity or temperature, and it prefers conditions to be warm and a little steamy. Your plant will thank you for a daily misting with lukewarm water and the addition of a small humidifier. Aim for humidity levels of about 40 to 80 percent for the best results.
Hibiscus plants like their potassium for strong roots and stems and big colorful flowers, but if you've got a balanced slow-release fertilizer like 20-20-20 on hand, it'll work just fine. Use the fertilizer once a month at half-strength during the warm seasons and less often, or not at all, when it's cold. You can use a liquid fertilizer more than once a month during spring and summer. A little copper, iron, and magnesium boost can further help the blooms. Over-fertilizing your indoor plants can have the reverse effect, actually leaching away nutrients.
Prune your hibiscus during the later part of winter or early spring, and you'll get a nice bushy effect. Cut back the leggy bits, dead branches, and tips on overwintered potted tropical hibiscus.
Don't hold back; this plant can handle a solid trimming, especially if you're looking to keep it petite, but reserve the chop for only a third of the plant. You can leave two or three nodes on each branch. Remember, the more branches, the more flowers.
Repot your hibiscus plant around once a year until it reaches your desired size. But remember, you don't want it to get too tree-like indoors, or maintenance will become an unwieldy schlep.
Repotting is also necessary if you think your plant lacks nutrients. Gently remove the plant from the pot to prevent transplant shock and droopiness. You can wash the roots and prune the bottom two inches with a sterile knife every two years. Once you've placed the plant in fresh soil, water it conservatively. Hibiscus likes a cozy fit, so a small pot is preferable.
You can propagate a hibiscus plant with stem or leaf cuttings. The diagonal cuttings should be three to five inches long and robust. Pop the snipped ends in rooting hormone, tap the excess away, and place in a container with potting mixture. A month later, after exposure to indirect sunlight, you'll see some cute little roots that signal it's time to transplant.
The best time for this task is late spring or summer. You can also propagate hibiscus cuttings in water—roots will appear more quickly.
Your hibiscus plant may struggle with leaf spots, wilts, or mold. For example, the fungal disease hollyhock rust causes orange pustules under the leaves and can lead to plant death. You can prevent it with better airflow and by watering the soil, not the leaves. These changes can prevent botrytis, too, as can a fungicide.
Hibiscus plants are pest magnets. Creatures that love hibiscus include spider mites, aphids, mealybugs, thrips, whiteflies, root-knot nematodes, and scale. The first two are the most common hibiscus destroyers.
You can fix the problem by hosing the plant's foliage with lukewarm water and using insecticidal soap, diluted dish detergent, or neem oil. Without treatment, these bugs can damage the leaves permanently.
This plant's colorful blooms will make your interiors look festive. Plant salmon-colored hibiscus in containers, and the hue will be right on trend, providing a vibrant accent in rooms dominated by neutral palettes. Hibiscus bonsais look fab in an atrium, and small hibiscus pots brighten kitchen windows. A hibiscus hanging basket can elevate your balcony as well.
You may like the look of a tropical plant like mandevila, aka rock trumpet, better than hibiscus. Or you might choose a colorful flowering plant such as the unfussy begonia, which is a much easier prospect for those who lack green thumbs but enjoys similarly humid conditions. Geraniums are another excellent option that's easy to propagate, and jasmine will fill your home with its sophisticated scent straight out of the jungle.
Hibiscus is generally nontoxic, but the variety called Rose of Sharon can end up being much more harmful than it sounds. Dogs that eat the flowers can get diarrhea or start throwing up, and cats react poorly to the stems. Common Chinese hibiscus should be fine for your furry friends. Hibiscus is safe for human consumption and is often used as a supplement.
You're spoilt for choice when it comes to hibiscus varieties, and the colors run the gamut from white to red. Some have double flowers too. Look for hybrid cultivars that grow to about three feet tall. The Chinese hibiscus makes a fantastic houseplant, and common varieties bloom more regularly than fancy varieties. They're also easier to propagate.