Tropical Hibiscus Pruning and Overwintering

I’ve had a personal request to write about overwintering tropical hibiscus or Hibiscus rosa-sinensis in the Midwest. Please keep your requests coming!

First, be sure you have a tropical hibiscus. These are generally sold at the big box stores and aren’t that expensive. Other plants that look like tropical hibiscus, but are actually hardy here are Rose-of Sharon’s Hibiscus syriacus and Hibiscus moscheutos, these are the one’s with large, dinner plate sized blooms. If you have one of these in a pot, dig a hole & throw it in!

Tarlei's Hibiscus, 9-2-11, 76-10

Tropical Hibiscus
Photo credit: Belmont Rooster

Start by examining the plant. New growth will begin at the end of your cut, so imagine the plant branching there.

Don’t cut too little off, cut each branch at least 1/3 or more, but leave at least 2 nodes. A node is a bump-like offshoot that will become a leaf. Be aware that the direction of the end bud will dictate the direction of the new branch.

You can make the decision to take all the leaves off now and avoid a mess in the house when it drops them all later, or leave them on and dare to dream to think they will stay on and green. =-)

Choose the longest branch first, again envision where the branch will go before cutting. A node facing out or up is generally better than inward or down. Cut any weak, damaged, or crossed stems. If the cut end isn’t white, pulpy and fresh looking, cut further down. Tree-form varieties should have any growth pruned off at the bottom of the trunk called ‘suckers’

  • Cut just above the node, leaving about 1/4″ of wood between the node and the cut.
  • Be sure your pruners are sharp, the cut should be smooth and not strip the wood or bark from the stem.

IMG_9048Hibiscus are extremely resilient and will grow better after this management, don’t hesitate to prune away! You can reduce their size by as much as 50 percent without damaging them. This helps when you don’t have much indoor space.

Although you should place the plant in the brightest window available, light levels will be much lower than the summer months, and this is why they drop their leaves.

During winter months, new leggy branches will grow, when the branches are about 8” long, prune them back half way. This maintenance will insure a full bushy plant.

Watering and care:

  • Only water when the soil is dry or when the plant is only slightly wilting.
  • Once a month, fertilize it with a light, even fertilizer 10-10-10

If you screw up and the leaves wilt to falling off point. No worries. Call it a mulligan and the plant will grow another set of leaves. The hardest part is believing the plant is still alive. If the branches are flexible and don’t easily snap, it’s still alive.


© Ilex Farrell ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

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