When to transplant hibiscus?

Moving Hibiscus Plants: Tips For Transplanting Hibiscus

Your landscape is an ever-evolving work of art. As your garden changes, you might find that you have to move large plants, such as hibiscus. Read on to find out how to transplant a hibiscus shrub to a new place in the garden.

Hibiscus Transplant Info

There are two tasks you want to complete before moving hibiscus plants:

  • Start digging the planting hole in the new location. Getting the shrub quickly planted in the new location reduces moisture loss and the chance of transplant shock. You will probably have to adjust the size of the hole when you are ready to plant, but getting it started gives you a head start. The planting hole should be as deep as the root mass and about twice as wide. Place the soil you remove from the hole on a tarp to make backfilling and cleanup easier.
  • Cut the shrub back to about one-third of its size. This may seem drastic, but the plant will lose some of its roots to damage and shock. A reduced root mass won’t be able to support a large plant.

When to Move Hibiscus

The best time to move a hibiscus is after the flowers fade. In most parts of the country, hibiscus shrubs finish blooming in late August or September. Allow enough time for the shrub to become established in the new location before freezing temperatures set in.

Moisten the soil and then dig a circle around the shrub. Start digging 1 foot (0.3 m.) out from the trunk for every inch of trunk diameter. For example, if the trunk is 2 inches in diameter (5 cm.), dig the circle 2 feet (0.6 m.) out from the trunk. Once you have removed the soil all the way around the roots, drive a shovel under the roots to separate the root ball from the soil.

How to Transplant a Hibiscus

Place the shrub in a wheelbarrow or cart to move it to the new location. To avoid damage, lift it from under the root ball. Place the shrub in the hole to judge the depth. The top of the soil should be even with the surrounding soil. Transplanting hibiscus into a hole that is too deep may cause the lower part of the trunk to rot. If you need to add soil back to the hole, press it down firmly with your foot to create a firm seat.

Hibiscus shrubs grow best in the long run if you use the soil you removed from the hole as backfill. If the soil is poor, mix in no more than 25 percent compost. Fill the hole one-half to two-thirds full and then fill with water. Press down firmly with your hands to remove any air pockets. After the water soaks through, fill in the hole until it is level with the surrounding soil. Don’t mound the soil around the trunk.

Water the shrub slowly and deeply. It needs lots of moisture during the first four to six weeks after transplanting, so you’ll have to water every two to three days in the absence of rain. You don’t want to encourage new growth, so wait until spring to fertilize.

How to Transplant Hardy Hibiscus

Hardy hibiscus are medium-sized perennial plants that produce dozens of large, dinner-plate-sized blossoms in late summer. The plants die down to the roots each winter but quickly grow again the following spring into a dense bush. Planted in a row, hardy hibiscus makes an excellent seasonal privacy screen because of its vigorous growth habit. They are easy to transplant, and survival rates are much higher for hardy hibiscus that are transplanted in very early spring, as soon as the ground can be worked.

Prepare the new planting site. Dig a hole about 18 inches wide and 24 inches deep. Mix the soil you removed with a 5-gallon bucket of peat moss and a 5-gallon bucket of compost.

Drive the garden spade into the ground around the hibiscus. Begin at a point about 12 inches away from the center of the plant and continue in a circle around it. Push the blade of the spade all the way into the ground using your body weight, if necessary. This will cut some of the roots off and make it easier to dig up. Make another round with the spade, driving it even deeper into the ground on the second round.

Insert the spade into the perimeter of the circle made in Step 2 and push the handle down toward the ground. This will loosen the root ball of the hibiscus so you can then remove it from the planting hole with your hands.

Set the hibiscus down next to the new planting hole prepared in Step 1. Add soil to the pre-dug hole so the hibiscus will be growing at the same level it was before transplanting. Enlarge the hole if it is smaller than the root ball. Put the roots of the hibiscus into the planting hole and back fill the hole with the improved soil. Firm the surface of the soil with your foot.

Use your hands to make a ridge of soil around the perimeter of the planting hole. This will catch rainwater and send it down to the roots of the plant.

Place a hose set to a slow trickle near the base of the hardy hibiscus and allow it to slowly water the bush for 60 to 90 minutes.

Put down a 4- to 6-inch layer of organic mulch such as hay, straw or shredded bark around the planting site of the hardy hibiscus.

Provide your hardy hibiscus with the equivalent of an inch of rainfall per week during the growing season.

Fertilize six weeks after transplanting. Pull back mulch. Spread slow-release granulated fertilizer in a circle around the base of the plant, without it touching the plant. Follow the manufacturer’s recommended rate of application. Replace mulch. Fertilize the plant this way every year in early spring.

Common Mistakes

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Hibiscus Plant Care

Watch out for these Mistakes ~ They can be Fatal for your Hibiscus!

We frequently get requests to provide care information for brand new novices in the hibiscus world, and we look at each other and scratch our heads. We already have so much information on our care pages! Do we really need to add more to them? We’ve racked our brains trying to figure out what the newbies mean. But when this request was repeated by Cindy’s own sister just this last week, we questioned her about what she meant. She started describing all the things she did to try to take care of her hibiscus plant, and we started to see the light. A quick run through the daily email illuminated us even more. Duh!!!!!! People are struggling everywhere with some very basic things that seem completely obvious to us deep into decades of growing, but they don’t seem obvious at all to newbies in the hibiscus world. And it’s our fault! We need to help more! So for Cindy’s sweet and patient sister, and for everyone else who is frustrated with our lack of help, here are some of the most common mistakes we all make as newbies.

Transplanting into Pots


This baby plant drowned in this very large
pot because the soil stayed too soggy.
Photo Credit: Trixie Johnson

You order your hibiscus. You’ve planned and planned where you want to put them on your patio. While you’re waiting for the plants to arrive, you rush to your nearby garden center to pick out the perfect pot for your new beautiful babies. You find beautiful matching pots that fit your decor and you make sure they are big enough to accommodate your hibiscus when they are full grown. The minute the UPS truck drops off your hibiscus, you transplant them into their brand new, lovely pots so they will quickly acclimate. Isn’t all of this right? Sadly, it isn’t.

Pot is too Big.
If you buy a pot that will be big enough for the full-grown hibiscus plant, it’s too big for the baby. It’s like letting a human baby swim in a large, deep swimming pool instead of sitting safely in a tiny baby wading pool – literally! Hibiscus literally drown in pots that are too big. Their tiny little roots are not nearly big enough to spread through all the soil in a big pot. So after you water the pot, the water just sits there, soggy, with no roots to suck up the water in all the giant space around the little plant. The baby roots sit in this soil that stays soggy, and they slowly drown. In the end, you have a brown stick, a large dead twig, the classic sign of a baby that drowned in too large a pot. Buy a pot that is only one size larger than the original pot. If you buy plants in 4″ pots, then you should pot up to a 6″ pot (1 gallon) – no bigger! This means the plant has no more than 1 inch of new soil all around all sides. That is an amount that its roots can quickly grow into, and it’s not enough for the plant to drown in.

Never Transplant a Stressed Plant.
No matter how healthy, crisp and green your new hibiscus looks, just the act of traveling across the country in a shipping truck, then emerging in a totally strange, new place – all of this means one thing: STRESS! The plant may not show the stress, but you have to realize that it has indeed experienced stress. So don’t transplant yet! Many other things also stress hibiscus, such as high heat, cold weather, drought, heavy rain and saturated soil, and pest attacks. Hibiscus should NEVER be transplanted under any of these circumstances. After any kind of stressful situation, give hibiscus the safety of their nice, comfortable, familiar pots until the stressful situation is completely gone and the plants have had a few weeks to recover before you consider transplanting. Remember, transplanting is stressful for a plant, so you never wanted to add a new stressor to an already-stressed plant.

Transplanting into the Ground


This green, healthy baby plant was planted
in the ground 2 days after shipping. The
multiple stresses of shipping, immediate
transplanting, full sun, and being in the
ground as a baby did this to it.

If you live in a warm, tropical climate, you plan where you will put your hibiscus into the ground to star in your garden. You dig the holes and prep the ground, eagerly waiting the arrival of the plants. You know you have to wait a bit to transplant them into the ground, so you wait a couple of days, then put them out in your garden in their special spot, water them well, make sure a sprinkler reaches them, and let them grow. Right? Sadly, these are mistakes that even we have made.

Greenhouse Plants will Sunburn Badly if Put Directly into Sun.
Greenhouses are intensely hot places in the summer, so hibiscus have to be protected from the kind of 120°F (49°C) temps that build up in them on summer days. This means, almost all greenhouses grow plants under shade to protect them from getting cooked in the high heat. So although hibiscus end up loving to be in the sun in typical summer temps in the more moderate or cooler parts of the world, they do have to gradually get used to the sun or they will burn. Sunburn is both ugly and stressful for the plant. The sun burns big white spots all over the leaves, making it hard for them to photosythesize and produce food for the plant. In order to prevent sunburn, hibiscus need to start in bright shade, then be inched slowly out into the sun, a little further each day, over the course of a couple of weeks.

Baby Plants can Struggle or Die in the Ground.
Although some very experienced hibiscus gardeners can be successful with putting baby plants straight into the ground, we strongly caution novice growers that a high percentage of baby plants can die if put straight into the ground. Hazards that barely affect a tough, older plant with a large root system can kill a tender baby plant with a tiny root system. Sudden frosts, extreme heat, pouring rain, insect pests, gophers, and even cute little animals like deer and bunnies can destroy a young plant in minutes. It is much safer to pot baby plants up to a pot that is one size larger and grow them outside in their pots for at least their first few months, and in many cases, for as long as their first year. Then if anything goes wrong, you can scoop up the pots and move them to a safe location very quickly.

Water Systems need to be Monitored & Adjusted
Sprinklers are notoriously variable in the amount of water they provide to any one spot in a yard or garden. Even drip systems, with their targeted streams of water, can vary from one emitter to another and deliver variable amounts of water to each of your hibiscus. Plus, the hibiscus themselves need variable amounts of water. A younger plant will need less water, and an older plant will need more. Hibiscus in full sun will need more water, hibiscus in shade will need less. So always monitor and adjust your sprinker or emitter daily at first, then weekly for at least a month after transplanting into the ground, to make sure the hibiscus is getting the right amount of water. The soil should always be moist, but never squishy or soggy.

Removing Soil & Giving Fresh Soil to Roots

When something goes wrong with your hibiscus plant, and you’re very worried about it, you decide that it needs fresh soil to help it recover. So you very carefully remove all the old soil from the roots of your plant, gently wash the roots, then repot the clean, naked roots into fresh, clean potting soil. Surely this supply of fresh potting soil for the roots will be a helpful tonic for your plant, right? This is one of the most tragic hibiscus mistakes you can make! First, you’re breaking the cardinal rule of never transplanting a stressed plant. But what is even more lethal . . .

Removing Soil from Roots is a Sure Way to Kill Hibiscus.
Some plants have very hard, tough roots and survive bare-rooting, although even for the toughest of plants, it is still at least somewhat stressful. But hibiscus have soft, tender roots. No matter how gently you try to remove the soil, the tiny, root hairs at the ends of the roots will be scraped off by the soil – and these are the living, functioning parts of the roots! Even soaking and swishing the roots in water very slowly and gently to remove the soil damages these tiny root hairs. Any disturbance breaks them off or makes little cuts and wounds in them. Once these root hairs are damaged in any way, the entire root system will slowly start to die. It may not happen fast. We’ve seen it take as long as 6 months or more to fully kill the plant, so people usually don’t realize that removing and replacing the soil was what actually did kill the plant. Each tiny spot where a root hair was scraped off, broken, or damaged is a microscopic sore on the roots of the plant in the same way that small cuts on a human could kill him with infection in the days before antibiotics. Imagine if there were small cuts all over every part of the skin of a human! This is what we do to hibiscus when we remove the soil! It is an extreme assault on the plant. Each of these many tiny wounds leaves the plant open to germs that enter the roots, and these germs very slowly grow inside the roots, spreading slowly through the entire root system, until they eventually kill the plant. We cannot say this strongly enough: NEVER remove soil from the roots of hibiscus! Disturb the roots as little as possible when you transplant. Transplant only when necessary and handle the root ball as gently and quickly as possible.

Pest Treatments


This poor hibiscus has multiple pests on it
despite repeated, multiple treatments by its
distraught owner. Multiple treatments cause
damage that invites MORE pests to the plant!

You see some bugs on your hibiscus and you immediately start treating with as many things as you can think of to kill the bugs. You look for everything you have in your garage, and go to work: soap, neem oil, limonene, any pesticides you have around. You wait a day or two, and the bugs are still there. So you repeat all these treatments. In a few days, the bugs are still there but you start to see yellow leaves that fall off the plant, or your hibiscus starts to look a little stressed and wilty. After a couple of weeks, you might even see new bugs that weren’t there before! What could have gone wrong?

Modern Pesticides Target Very Specific Pests Only.
Pesticides are becoming increasingly selective and targeted to very specific bugs. You can spray three different pesticides on your plant, but if the bug you have is not a targeted bug for any of those pesticides, the bug will continue to thrive. So stop, take a breath, and don’t panic. You have time to get this right. Bugs don’t kill hibiscus quickly. They look ugly, but their damage to the plant happens very slowly and gradually. Take your time to accurately identify the pest, then identify the exact pesticide you need to get rid of it. We have a lot of information on our website to help you do this. Use it to get an accurate diagnosis or you will waste a lot of time and money, as well as stressing your plant, and the bugs will just laugh at you and continue crunching away on your hibiscus.

Multiple Pest Treatments Damage Hibiscus Plants.
Hibiscus leaves and petals, like those of most tropical plants, are soft and full of sap. Leaves and stems are covered in a thin waxy layer, called the cuticle that is a protective covering for all the green parts of the plant. The cuticle keeps moisture and sap enclosed in the leaf, and is an extra layer that pests have to drill or chew through to get into the tasty part of the leaf. Flower petals have their own kind of waxy protective covering that is even more fragile. If you panic and use multiple pest treatments, you will damage all these waxy coverings! Then if you repeat these treatments a time or two, you can completely strip the wax off the plant and fully expose it to its environment. This opens the plant completely to pests. It is like uncovering all the food at a huge banquet and inviting the pests to come have a feast! If you use the wrong treatments on your hibiscus, you will often get new pests and more pests, plus your plants will ooze out moisture and sap with the covering, stressing them even further, and inviting more pests to drink their tasty sap. To prevent this, take your time to accurately identify the pest, then identify the exact pest control product you need to get rid of it. Use only that one pest control product, following the exact directions for how often and how many times to use it. When it comes to pest control products, more is not better!

Watering


Overwatering or drought & flood watering
causes sudden wilt disease that kills plants.

You water your potted hibiscus every few days when the soil on the top feels dry to the touch, then you water it deeply and make sure you have a saucer or outer pot without holes in it to catch the water and continue to water your plant from underneath. Then you wait until the soil at the top feels dry to the touch to water again, and repeat this cycle. Or you water your potted hibiscus a little bit every day. The plastic pots are inside deep ceramic saucers or pots without holes in the bottom, so they catch and retain their water. In either scenario, suddenly one day you start to see wilted leaves. It might be a single branch that is wilted, so you cut that damaged branch off. Then a week or two later, there’s a second damaged branch. Slowly, one branch at a time, your hibiscus goes downhill and dies. In the worst-case scenario, your whole plant might be crisp and healthy-looking one day, then the entire plant suddenly wilts the next day, and is dead in a week. How did this happen?

Standing Water is Very Dangerous for Hibiscus.
Standing water in saucers or outer pots is very dangerous for hibiscus. The water sits there and stagnates, which means microbes are starting to grow in it. The soil stays very soggy, and the sogginess starts to stress the roots. The microbes in the water are able to invade the stressed roots, and they slowly start to grow inside them. You won’t see this or notice it. It is all happening down in the soil, inside the roots, where nothing is visible. When the microbes inside the roots grow to the point where they completely block up all or part of the roots, water is blocked from moving up into the plant, and despite the soggy soil, the above-ground part of the plant can’t get any water. All or parts of the plant wilt, and you think the plant is thirsty, so you give it more water. This is catastrophic. The microbes completely overcome the whole root system, and the plant quickly dies. It is easy to prevent this though. Never allow your hibiscus to be in any standing water for more than an hour or two. Check your saucers or outer pots a few minutes after watering to make sure there is no standing water. If there is any, pour it out.

Drought & Flood Watering Increasingly Stresses Hibiscus.
Hibiscus do best with a small, even amount of water every day. Drying out, even briefly, stresses the plant. Frequent cycles of drying out can actually damage the roots. Then when you flood the plant with water, the soil is suddenly very soggy, and the drought-damaged roots now experience a bit of drowning damage too. When you repeat this cycle over and over, the root damage increases to the point where microbes in the environment can easily enter the roots and slowly spread through them, eventually killing the plant. Water a little bit every day or two so the soil always stays moist. For potted hibiscus, make sure any excess water trickles out the bottom of the pot and does not stand in saucers. For hibiscus in the ground, make sure the soil is moist, but not squishy or soggy. If a pool of water builds up in a well at the base of the plant, make sure it drains away in less than an hour.

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Potting & Planting Hibiscus

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You just got your first exotic hibiscus plants, and now your first decision is whether to keep the hibiscus potted or to plant them in the ground. Hibiscus are tropical plants, so if you live in a place that freezes in the winter, the answer is an easy one – keep your hibiscus in pots that can be moved to a warm spot during winter freezes. If you live in a warm place that rarely freezes, and just barely hits 32°F (0°C) one or two nights per year at the most, then you have the option of planting your hibiscus in the ground. There are good reasons to keep them potted, such as being able to move them around, but we have also found that hibiscus do very well when planted in the ground in warm climates.

Planting Hibiscus in the Ground


In Warm Areas Hibiscus Thrive in the Ground

Before you plunk your hibiscus in the ground, it is important to spend a little time selecting and preparing the planting hole. Never forget the gardening wisdom of the ages, “It’s better to place a $5 plant in a $20 hole than a $20 plant in a $5 hole.” Here are two simple tests you can do to make sure you are planting into a hibiscus-safe spot:

Test your Drainage: Test the hole to be sure it drains by pouring a gallon or so of water into it. If the water disappears within an hour that is good enough. If it is still standing there after an hour you are probably planting into clay or over some other impermeable material, and may end up drowning the hibiscus roots. Alternatives are to build up a raised planting bed or to amend the soil with “clay-busting” material available at most nurseries. If the hole drains well, plant the hibiscus fairly deep, covering the original root ball with a couple of inches of soil as you fill in the hole.

Test Water Permeation: Test to see how well water soaks into your soil by digging a small well into the top of the ground. Fill the well with water 2 or 3 times and let it drain away for half an hour or so. Then dig into the soil, and look at the water line to see how far down the water has soaked. If the water is moist 8-10″ down, then your soil has good permeability and it’s safe to plant hibiscus in it. If only the top inch or two of the ground is moist, your soil does not have good water permeability, and your hibiscus could die of drought, no matter how much you water, because the soil resists soaking up any water you pour onto it. Before you plant your hibiscus, you will need to dig a very large hole that you fill with a high quality planting mix, allowing plenty of extra room for the hibiscus to grow roots into.

Super Sandy Soil: If your soil is very sandy, you will probably have problems growing hibiscus in it. Very sandy soil does not absorb much water or hold fertilizer. Most of the water applied to sand flows down past plant roots, and the water that is absorbed evaporates quickly. If you have very sandy soil either grow your hibiscus in pots, or be prepared to water often and use timed-release fertilizers on the surface of the soil. You can also try amending the sandy soil with good compost and other organic ingredients so that it will hold more water and fertilizer. Check with your local Department of Agriculture and the Master Gardeners group in your area for more advice.

Digging the Hole: The hole you dig for your hibiscus needs to be a few inches wider than the plant pot, on all sides, if your soil is good. If you are amending your soil, make the hole much wider than the size of the pot. If you live in a dry place where your hibiscus could get brushed with frost and where water retention is important, plant your hibiscus deeper into the ground, with the crown of the plant, where the roots meet the trunk, right at the surface. If you live in a soggy, warm place, dig a more shallow hole to keep the crown and the tops of the roots above the surface level of the ground around the hole. The more you break up and work the ground around the hole, the more easily your hibiscus will be able to grow longer, deeper roots. So take your time, and dig a $20 hole!

Ready to Plant: Once your hole is prepared, water the hole to moisten the soil all through it before putting the hibiscus in it. Gently remove your hibiscus from its pot, being careful not to rip the roots away from the base of the plant. As tempting as it may be to pull on the plant trunk to get the plant out of the pot, resist the temptation. Instead, put your hands on the soil, and gently turn the plant upside down up in the air. Then hug the pot, and let gravity drop the plant out of the pot into your hands. Use your hands to break up the roots around the rootball a little bit on all sides, then position the plant in the prepared hole.

Look at your plant before you finalize the position. Look which way branches grow, and make sure you position it in the direction that looks best from what will be the viewer’s vantage point. If the plant has listed to one side in the pot, use this replanting opportunity to make it stand up straight again in the hole in the ground. It won’t hurt the plant a bit for the roots to be put a bit sideways into the hole. Take one last look at the position of the plant, then fill it in with soil somewhat firmly, but without heavily packing or tamping it down. Water very well – deeply, 2 or 3 times to make sure it completely saturates all parts of the hole and rootball. Et voilà! You’re done! Wait a week or two before beginning your fertilizing regime, then fertilize away. Hibiscus rarely experience transplant shock. They love to have room to spread out their roots, and you will often see a recently planted hibiscus stand up taller and look happier than it did in its pot!

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Growing Hibiscus in Pots

Is it possible to keep hibiscus in small pots forever?

Many of us live in places where we can never put our hibiscus into the ground, and for us, the question is, “Can we keep hibiscus in manageable pots forever?” This is a question we are getting asked more and more, and the answer is, yes, you can keep hibiscus in small pots indefinitely. This is exactly what we do in our greenhouse with our own hibiscus collection. We have to keep our plants in pots that we can easily move around and fit close together in the always-limited space in a greenhouse. There are some tricks to making it work, but none of them are difficult.


Hibiscus ‘Chariots of Fire’ Growing in a 10″ Pot

How Small Can the Pots Be?

In our greenhouse, we have found that hibiscus will grow large and stay happy for many years in pots as small as 10″ (25 cm) in diameter. A 10″ (25 cm) pot is convenient because it is easy to pick up and move around, and can be put in almost any location. Any size larger than 10″ (25 cm) is of course fine too! In our houseplant testing, we are currently experimenting with keeping hibiscus in very small pots and keeping them pruned to a very compact size. So far we have been successful with smaller pots, but it is too early to tell for sure how long our plants will be happy in smaller pots. But 10″ (25 cm) pots have worked for us for years, and we can recommend that size with certainty.

First, Potting Medium…

If you plan to keep your hibiscus in a pot, the potting mix is very important. There are inexpensive products out there offered by mass-market sellers, but in our experience this type of mix dooms hibiscus to a short life and poor performance. These mixes are often too heavy and hold too much water for hibiscus. They can also contain ingredients that are toxic to hibiscus. Recycled sewage sludge is often used in inexpensive mixes, and although it is sterilized, the trace mineral content is unknown and can be quite detrimental to hibiscus. Instead, what is needed is a soilless potting mix (contains no real soil) like the HVH Potting Mix. A good mix is made of coco coir, peat moss, or composted bark to hold moisture and nutrients, along with sand and/or perlite to provide more drainage. Added organic ingredients that support beneficial microbial life in the pot, such as worm castings, bat quano, or other fully composted organic material, are very beneficial in the potting mix. If you are unsure, we suggest going to the best nursery or garden center in your area and asking for a high quality potting mix that drains well and contains some organic materials. You can always add the organic material yourself, such as HVH Worm Castings, and should ideally do so once a year in order to maintain the beneficial microbial life in the potting mix. Using high quality potting soil for your hibiscus is a crucial step in keeping them healthy and blooming for a long time to come!

Second, Nutrition…


Hibiscus ‘Simple Pleasures’ in a 10″ Pot

Anytime we keep hibiscus in less-than-perfect conditions, we need to maximize nutrition to help reduce the stress the plant experiences. Start with a good quality hibiscus fertilizer that has all the nutrients hibiscus need with as few contaminants as possible. Anything you put in your hibiscus pot is going to stay there for a very long time, unlike hibiscus planted in the ground. So be careful not to put anything into the pot that could possibly contaminate your hibiscus. Hibiscus prefer a light fertilizing on a frequent schedule, so if you have time to fertilize every time you water, this is the best possible way to keep hibiscus in small pots happy. Use 1/2 the dose on the fertilizer label each time you water, and watch carefully for signs of fertilizer burn – brown edges on otherwise healthy leaves. If you see signs of fertilizer burn, or “nitrogen burn,” stop fertilizing for 2-3 weeks, then use an even weaker dose of fertilizer in your regular watering. The idea is to use as much fertilizer as you can without causing fertilizer burn.


Fertilizer Burn ~
Burnt Edges on
Otherwise Healthy Leaves

If you can afford it, a Growth Enhancer is another option you can add to your nutritional program for your hibiscus. Growth enhancers provide different types of nutrition than fertilizers. They are loaded with the hormones and anti-stress proteins that plants themselves produce, but a plant that is stressed by a small pot may have difficulty making enough of these hormones and proteins. Supplementing with these nutrients helps keep hibiscus at optimum health levels, and gives them a break from having to produce all these proteins themselves.


Hibiscus ‘Belle du Jour’ in a 10″ Pot

One other nutritional product you may want to add to your arsenal is extra potassium, such as is found in our Hibiscus Booster. Hibiscus are voracious users of potassium, and if they become deficient in this element, their flowers will slowly diminish is size, number, and color intensity until they eventually stop blooming all together. The more stressful the conditions a hibiscus lives in, the more potassium it needs. Tiny amounts of this inexpensive nutrient will keep your hibiscus blooming with lots of big, colorful flowers year after year.

Third, Pruning…

Pruning becomes extremely important when you keep a hibiscus in a small pot. The shape of the plant will be determined completely by how well you prune it. The more branches you encourage your plant to grow, the more it will flower, since hibiscus tend to produce one flower at a time on each branch. In a small pot, you need to think about which direction the branches are growing and what kind of overall shape each branch you leave on will give your plant. If you want a branch to grow up to fill a space near the top of the plant, look for a node that is on the top side of the branch you’re pruning, and prune just above that node. This will force a branch to grow from that node up into the space you need filled. Try to look at each node, and imagine where a branch growing from that node will shoot out, then pick the node that looks like it will create a branch in the shape you want. It’s more of an art than a science, since we constantly turn our plants in their pots and cause sunlight to shift each time we turn them, but learning to think about these things when you prune will help you shape your potted hibiscus in ways that make it more beautiful while still keeping it more compact.

Fourth, Root Pruning…


Hibiscus ‘Fat Actress’ in a 10″ Pot

The final step in keeping potted hibiscus happy is to prune their roots every couple of years. To check your plant’s roots, gently ease the pot off the rootball. If the roots are circling the bottom of the pot and form a solid mass at the bottom, it is time to prune them. Root pruning is easy: Using a very sharp knife that you have sterilized with alcohol or hand sanitizer, slice off the bottom 2 inches of the rootball. Then add 2 inches of fresh, good quality potting mix into the bottom of the pot, pop the plant back into the pot, water, and voilà! You’re done! As the plant grows new roots down into the fresh soil, the new roots will stimulate growth hormones throughout the plant, and the plant will produce more top growth too.

These are the basics of keeping hibiscus happy in small pots. Our greenhouse is full of very old, very happy potted hibiscus, so we know this works! Good luck to all of you with yours!

When is the best time to transplant hibiscus

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Dividing Hardy Hibiscus

Recently, due to the circumstances of life, it became necessary to dig and divide a hardy hibiscus for a friend. We waited as long as we could—house was being sold—and although it was not the perfect time of year, it was now or never. After dividing I planted the divisions into pots for the winter; by spring—if any survive—my friend will have an area chosen to plant this beautiful hibiscus within her landscape.

The striking flowers of the hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) provide a tropical feel to gardens in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9. A hardy hibiscus can grow 3-4 feet tall and just as wide. Dividing the plant helps minimize its size and gives you another hibiscus bush for your landscape, or to pass along to a friend. Although hibiscuses can tolerate division, you must do so properly and replant the divisions promptly to ensure survival.

Hardy hibiscus doesn’t require frequent division, and dividing too often can stress the plant. Ten-year-old, healthy plants respond best to division. Although it’s possible to divide hibiscus in spring just as new growth begins, the plant may recover slowly. Waiting until early fall ensures better survival. Hibiscus is actively developing its roots during fall and the cooler weather allows the divided plants to establish without the danger of heat or drought stress.

Minimizing root damage during digging helps the hibiscus recover quickly after division and replanting. When digging around the roots, begin at least 12 inches away from the base of the plant. Dig down below the root system then lift the plant out of the ground. You can rinse away excess soil with water so the roots are easier to see for the dividing process. Small roots will most likely become damaged during digging, but avoid breaking or damaging the main root mass.

A clean cutting tool reduces the risk of disease during division. Rinse a sharp knife in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water to disinfect it before you begin. Most hardy hibiscus tolerate division into two plants. Cut through the main root mass, dividing it into two roughly equal-sized pieces. Each division must have both roots and healthy, actively growing top shoots. Trim off any section of the root balls that are badly damaged or appear rotten or diseased. As an added precaution I put the root ball in a large plastic bag, add fungicide/insecticide powder and shake to coat the roots well before replanting.

Almost any garden bed that has well-drained soil rich in organic matter can grow a healthy hibiscus plant. Working a 2-inch layer of compost into the top 8 inches of soil before replanting further improves drainage and soil quality. The site needs to receive full, all-day sunlight for best flowering. When replanting the divisions, plant them at the same depth they were growing at previously. Water the bed thoroughly after replanting so the soil is moistened to the depth of the root zone. Divided plants sometimes suffer minor shock, which results in wilting or slow growth. The hibiscus will usually recover if you continue to supply it with 1 to 2 inches of water weekly so the soil doesn’t completely dry out.

These directions can be applied to many perennial bushes.

I have my fingers crossed for the one we divided; it is extra special.

As always happy gardening.

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