How to and When to Deadhead Hibiscus Plants
Do your hibiscus flowers need to be deadheaded but you don't know where to start? This process if fairly simple if you follow the right steps. In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss outlines exactly how to deadhead your hibiscus plants this season.
One of the best ways to encourage your hibiscus plants to produce more and larger flowers is to deadhead them. If you’re new to gardening, you’re probably wondering why you would take your plant to a hippie music festival.
For seasoned gardeners, this is likely to be something you stop and do whenever you see a plant with spent blooms. I’m guilty of deadheading all the marigolds outside the front office at my children’s school. Some of the office ladies probably wonder what that crazy mom is doing in the flowerbed, but I’ll tell you what, those marigolds have never looked better!
Chopping off flowers can actually make your plant bloom like never before. Here is everything you need to know about deadheading hibiscus plants!
Hibiscus Plant Overview
Growing up in South Florida, my family had a long hibiscus hedge along one side of our house. The flowers were large and red, with a generous helping of pollen that would commonly hitch a ride on the sleeve of my t-shirts. They were always aflutter with butterflies and bees and were one of the loveliest things in the garden.
The flowers at my childhood home were a tropical variety, and if you live in zones 9-11, you’re lucky to grow these stunning hibiscus in the ground. North of zone 9, tropical varieties make striking container plants that must be brought indoors for the winter. There are also plenty of varieties of cold hardy hibiscuses that will live as deciduous shrubs in zones 4-9.
Hibiscus plants are primarily summer-blooming plants. Some bloom for 2-3 weeks, while others can flower for 2-3 months. Some tropical varieties bloom nearly year-round, only taking a break when the temperature falls below 50°. The foliage is lovely, ranging from deep, glossy green to shades of burgundy and deep purple.
The main attraction of hibiscus plants, of course, is the flowers. The gorgeous flowers come in a range of colors, including red, blue, pink, yellow, orange, white, and purple, and plenty of multicolored varieties. The flowers range from a respectable 3” in diameter to a remarkable dinner plate size (12”). They boast some of the largest of all perennial flowering plants.
About Deadheading & Why it’s Important
Deadheading is simply the removal of spent blooms from a flowering plant. Some flowers can be snapped off the stem with a quick finger pinch, while other, larger plants with woodier stems may require a pair of hand shears to carry out the task. I like to use shears because some plants have longer flower stems and can look unsightly with all the flower heads picked off.
The reason for deadheading is uncomplicated. Deadheading makes more plants produce a greater number of blooms. In most cases, this is because the plant can redirect energy and nutrients away from the dying flowers and into building new flowers and helping them bloom.
Most hibiscus plants develop multiple buds at the end of each stem. The flowers typically bloom for 1 day, with some varieties blooming for 2-3 days. Keeping these plants deadheaded does 3 positive things for the successive buds:
Promotes New Flowers
First, it redirects energy to the newer flowers, as I mentioned. For hibiscus, there is an additional benefit to deadheading. Since the buds tend to form in clusters and have large blooms, removing the spent flowers allows more sun exposure to reach the younger buds.
Another reason for deadheading is simply for aesthetic purposes. A plant covered in drooping, dead flowers just lacks appeal. Deadheading gives plants a cleaner, healthier appearance overall.
Finally, deadheading prevents flowers from going to seed. Most flowers produce seeds. For some plants, these seeds are encased in a delicious casing (all fruits are seed bearers). If a flower is pollinated, the plant will produce seeds that fall from the plant when the flower dies. This is how plants reseed themselves, which can lead to a lot of digging.
A Caveat for Fruiting Varieties
The ‘Roselle’ variety produces delicious fruits, often called Jamaican Sorrel. These fruits are excellent for making teas, jams, and other sweet treats. If you have this variety, then skip deadheading altogether. Harvest delicious fruits instead!
How and When to Deadhead Hibiscus
Since hibiscus plants bloom in the summer, naturally, this is the time to deadhead. Once the flowers begin to open, you’ll likely see some spent blooms just about every day. You could ostensibly deadhead daily, but that would make for one high-maintenance plant.
Instead of trying to deadhead every day, try to do it every 3-4 days for good results. The more you deadhead, the more flowers you will get, and the more robust those flowers will be as the plant can focus water and nutrients most efficiently
Since the buds tend to form in groups, it is important to be gentle about deadheading. You don’t want to damage the buds beside the spent flower. Using a thumb and forefinger to pluck the spent flower is an effective method of deadheading.
If you prefer to use hand shears, you will get nice, clean cuts this way. Just be careful only to cut the small portion of the stem necessary to remove that flower. Use clean, sharp shears to prevent transmitting any potential pests or diseases from other plants.
Tip For Extra Blooms
Hibiscus plants bloom on new wood, and they develop buds quickly. You can encourage a longer and more floriferous blooming season by doing a bit more than deadheading as the flowers begin to wane.
As the blooms begin to thin out, you can give the entire plant a little haircut. Trim off the ends of the branches, cutting them back by about 25%. If you do this at the right time, you might get a second round of blooms later in the season. You will also encourage branching, which leads to a fuller, happier-looking plant.
What Happens if You Skip Deadheading?
All things considered, Hibiscus plants don’t actually require deadheading to produce more flowers. These plants are of the sort that drops their spent flowers. By deadheading, you are simply speeding up the process, resulting in a more robust blooming season.
If you don’t have the time, or the desire to deadhead, there is nothing to worry about. Your plant will still continue producing beautiful flowers, perhaps, but not quite as many.
Do Hibiscus Require Additional Pruning?
Once your hibiscus finishes blooming, light pruning in late summer is perfectly fine. This is a good way to shape the plant and make it more presentable for the rest of the season. It is, however, not a necessity.
Never prune your hibiscus when there is cold weather coming. Pruning encourages new growth, which is more delicate and susceptible to cold weather. If you want to keep leaves for as long as possible into colder weather, you want to avoid that tender new growth.
The best time to prune your hibiscus is late winter to early spring. The two weeks after the last frost is the sweet spot for pruning. As I mentioned, these plants bloom on new growth. By pruning as soon as the weather begins to warm, you give your plant the maximum amount of time to produce new growth and set plenty of buds for the coming season.
Can I Hard Prune My Hibiscus?
Sometimes a plant may get leggy and sparse around the lower branches. In general, annual pruning is a good way to avoid this. However, life gets busy, and sometimes we inherit plants that need some extra TLC, and that is when the question of hard pruning comes up.
Hard pruning is the practice of cutting a plant back more than 50% to encourage foliage to grow or thicken on the lower limbs and to encourage branching. It leads to a healthier, fuller-looking plant in the long run. Some plants like good, hard pruning from time to time. Azaleas, for example, get leggy over time, and hard pruning brings them back to a fuller appearance.
Hibiscuses can tolerate the occasional hard pruning, which is great news if you have a leggy plant. However, making this your general pruning habit is not a great practice, as it can weaken the tree over time.
Deadheading is not necessary for a flowering plant’s general health and blooming ability. However, deadheading may cause your hibiscus to produce more and healthier flowers for a nice long, robust blooming season.