11 Tips for Growing Beautiful Hibiscus Plants in Containers
Hibiscus can be the focal point of a garden, or a wonderful accent plant. If you are short on space, they can be successfully planted in pots or containers. In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss shares her top tips for container planted hibiscus this season.
If you’re looking for a low-maintenance plant that packs a huge tropical punch, look no further than the hibiscus. These pretty flowering plants count themselves among the largest bloomers of all flowering perennial shrubs. With some varieties producing flowers that are a staggering 12” in diameter, you simply can’t go wrong with a hibiscus.
But what if you don’t have a perfect spot in the garden for this sun-worshipping, water-loving plant? Not to worry! Hibiscuses thrive as container plants as well. The benefit of keeping a hibiscus plant in a container is that you can move it around and find the perfect environment for it and bring it inside when the weather cools off.
Keeping a hibiscus plant in a container calls for some slightly different care routines than those planted in the ground. Once you get the basics down pat, a hibiscus will be a very low-maintenance, and easy plant to care for. Here are some tips for growing hibiscuses as container plants.
Choose the Right Variety
Choosing a variety of hibiscus is the first step to growing one of these beautiful plants in a container. There are more than 200 species of Hibiscus, and their habits can vary greatly from one species to another. There are a wide variety of colors and sizes to choose from as well.
If you are looking for a really prolific bloomer, tropical hibiscus fits the bill. These pretty varieties go by the name Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. They are native to Tropical Asia and prefer a lot of sun, water, and fertilizer.
They will reward the conscientious gardener by producing large, colorful flowers for the better part of the year. However, they are susceptible to cold, so they cannot survive being left outdoors in temperatures below 45°F.
The most popular cold hardy hibiscus varieties come from the species Hibiscus moscheutos. These plants tend to be more compact, and their roots tolerate winters as far north as zone 4, with some protection, and nearly all are hardy to zone 5.
Potted hibiscuses are a little different, but we will get to that. This is to say that a cold hardy hibiscus won’t require the same level of weather vigilance as a tropical variety.
Other hardy species to consider are Hibiscus syricaus, commonly called the Rose of Sharon, and Hibiscus mutabilis, also known as Confederate Rose. H. Syriacus is a fast grower and can get quite large in a short time.
H. mutabilis has an intriguing characteristic. Its flowers change color over the course of the day, opening as white or blush-colored blooms in the morning, and changing to bright pink or red by the end of the day.
Choose the Right Container
Choosing a pot depends upon two factors, the size of the pot and its drainage capabilities. Understandably, aesthetics are important to most gardeners.
Unfortunately, a lot of decorative pots are made without drainage holes. While this can be a desirable feature for an indoor container, it tends to lend itself to root rot. Make sure to select a container with at least one drainage hole.
When it comes to container size, bigger isn’t always better. In fact, hibiscuses are a type of plant that likes to be just a little bit root bound. Select a container that is only slightly larger than the root ball. Keeping the roots a little bit snug will encourage more blooming.
Choose the Right Potting Mix
Potting soil made specifically for hibiscuses is commonly available and not difficult to find. This will typically work with most species, but there are some factors to consider.
If you are using a clay pot, you will want a potting mix that holds water well, whereas, with a plastic pot, drainage is imperative. Mixing a bit of coarse sand or extra perlite with your soil will be helpful for those plants in plastic or ceramic pots.
Hibiscuses like acidic soil. The right pH is important in terms of making the nutrients in the soil and fertilizer available for the plant to absorb. To make your own potting mix at home mix equal parts perlite, peat moss, and vermiculite. You can add in some compost to increase the acidity and enrich the soil.
Choose the Right Location
Hibiscuses need a lot of sun to produce the maximum amount and quality of blooms. Some varieties of H. syriacus are more tolerant of partial shade, but in general, these are full-sun plants. Full sun is defined as 6 or more hours of direct sunlight daily.
Not all exposure is equal. The intensity and heat of the sun change over the course of a day. The morning sun is gentler and cooler than the afternoon sun which can be very hot and intense.
While they can typically tolerate plenty of sun, the ideal exposure is full sun early in the day, with some protection from the harsh afternoon sun.
Another factor to consider is that with the amount of sun, hibiscuses need to produce flowers, they do not make good houseplants.
If you have a very sunny window, one where the plant can get those 6 hours of direct sun, you may be able to encourage it to bloom indoors. The ideal location is outdoors, though, if you want maximum flowering.
Hibiscuses like a lot of water. This is the reason that a drainage hole in the container is so important. They do not like for their soil to dry out, but if there is no drainage, you run the risk of root rot. Soil that remains wet all of the time is a breeding ground for fungus.
A good rule for watering in a pot is to never let the soil dry out. This timing will vary based on the location, size, and species of the plant.
Tropical hibiscuses use up a lot of water and may need to be watered daily if they are in a hot spot, and in a container with ample drainage. In cooler weather, or a larger or clay container, you may not need to water quite as often. Just check the soil regularly and keep it moist.
Fertilizer is a key factor in coaxing your hibiscus to produce more flowers. During the growing season, which for most hibiscuses is spring through fall, hibiscus can be fertilized once every 2 weeks to once per month. Fertilizing can be suspended in the winter when the plant is dormant.
Hibiscuses like fertilizer that is high in potassium, low in phosphorus, and has a moderate amount of nitrogen. This means that the last number in the fertilizer should be the greatest, and the middle number should be the lowest.
Typically, fertilizers that are made for hibiscus land in the arena of 4-4-6. Supplementing with coffee grounds or with Epsom salt are also great ways to make a potted hibiscus bloom heavily.
Deadheading is a surefire way to get it to produce more flowers. Hibiscus flowers only bloom for a short time, generally between 1-3 days.
But they produce a lot of them, so there are always new flowers ready to take the place of the spent blooms. During its blooming season, deadheading can be a daily practice for hibiscus plants.
Deadheading involves removing the spent blooms on a flowering plant. The benefits of this are twofold. One, it allows sunlight to reach the younger buds that can be obscured by the blooms.
Also, removing the spent flowers tells the plant to redirect its energy and nutrients to produce new growth, including new flowers.
Keep an Eye Out for Pests
Hibiscuses are naturally resistant to pests and diseases, but this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to have a pest problem.
There are a handful of insects that are known to be fond of hibiscus sap. Aphids are the most common garden insect you’ll encounter. Whiteflies, thrips, and mealybugs are also known to feast on hibiscus sap.
The best way to deal with pests is by keeping an eye on your plant and noticing changes early. Signs of infestation are black sooty mold, curling or yellowing leaves, and stunted growth. Most of these insects can be dealt with by using neem oil or insecticidal soaps.
Pay Attention to the Temperature
Depending on the species, hibiscus plants have varying levels of cold tolerance. Tropical hibiscuses need to be brought in out of the cold when the temperature drops below 45°F. Hardy hibiscuses are a different story, and are typically root hardy to zone 5.
However, the good thing about potted hibiscuses is that they do not have to die back to the ground, as they would if left outdoors.
A major perk of keeping your hibiscus in a container is that it can continue to grow, rather than dying back and having to start from scratch every spring. By bringing your plant indoors to avoid freezing weather, you will have a larger plant over time.
Transition Indoors for Winter
Hibiscuses can be sensitive to extreme temperature shifts. To avoid this happening when you bring your plant in for the winter, take a few days to a week to ease the plant into its new environment.
You can do this by first moving the plant to a position that is close to your house or greenhouse for a few days before bringing it indoors, and likewise, when putting it back outside in the spring, move it near to a door or window to help it adjust to the cooler weather.
Hibiscus plants bloom on new wood, so pruning them is a great way to increase their blooming power. Timing is important when pruning, but this again is a bit different for potted hibiscuses.
Outdoor plants should only be pruned in the spring after any risk of freezing temperatures has passed. Pruning encourages new growth which is more susceptible to frost damage.
Since potted hibiscuses can be sheltered through the winter, there is no need to abide by this rule. Spring is still a good time to prune, but don’t hesitate provide a shaping up or trim off any dead or damaged branches whenever you choose.
If you’re looking for a big bloomer that isn’t fussy, hibiscus will put on a spectacular floral display that lasts for months. These tips will help you get started and on the road to a tropical delight in no time. A hibiscus in a container is like a vacation in a pot!