Tropical hibiscus plants are absolutely beautiful, but like all stunning plants, they can be a little tricky to care for even at the best of times.
There are many problems you might find with growing hibiscus, and it’s likely that you will see more than one at once, which means growing this plant can be more complicated than you bargained for!
When hibiscus is in bloom, it makes all the hard work worth it. With their instantly-recognizable, huge flowers in bright colors, these plants will brighten up any space, inside or outside.
The key to getting any plant to thrive is to understand what kind of growing conditions it has adapted to over hundreds of years, and then try to achieve that as closely as possible.
Let’s take a look at what hibiscus plants need, how to ensure your plant thrives, and what common growing problems are telling you.
How To Grow Tropical Hibiscus
Tropical hibiscus, sometimes called Chinese hibiscus, or Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, is a stunning plant that hails from China, but this lovely plant grows pretty well in tropical and subtropical parts of the world.
Don’t scratch it off your must-grow list if you live somewhere cooler, as you can grow it indoors in cold weather, summering it outside to give the plant the sunlight, airflow, and warmth it needs.
What sets tropical hibiscus apart from other types more than anything else is its inability to withstand cold temperatures.
These are tropical plants that will die in colder areas, while hardy hibiscus will withstand winter temperatures without a fuss.
As long as your home is not drafty or cold, your tropical hibiscus will grow indoors, but you will need to be vigilant when it comes to care.
Why You Should Consider Repotting Hibiscus When You Get It Home
There is a good chance that any hibiscus plant you buy is likely to have been in its current pot for just about too long.
This means that the plant will be looking for more room, and the roots will be growing around the pot, coming out of the drainage holes.
It’s always difficult to keep root-bound plants hydrated, as some roots will take up the moisture, and others will not get any water at all, weakening the plant over time.
It has the potential to kill the plant eventually, so make sure you repot a hibiscus plant sooner rather than later.
Unlike hoyas, tropical hibiscus does not like to be root-bound, and will not produce more flowers under these conditions.
So it’s always a good idea to check if the plant needs a new pot when you bring it home. If you see the roots trying to crawl out of the drainage holes, it’s time to repot.
Choose a container that’s one size bigger than the current pot. In terms of compost, use a good-quality trusted brand of all purpose compost, and add one part perlite to three parts compost.
Thoroughly give the compost a mix, and this will help sharpen up the drainage, so that water can drain away from the roots instead of pooling and rotting them.
When repotting, try to get rid of as much of the old soil as possible, gently teasing the roots out of it, before putting the plant into the new compost.
If you don’t do this, the plant will continue to grow in the original shape, and it won’t grow into the new compost at all.
Give It Enough Sunlight
Tropical hibiscus needs at least some sunlight to support both foliage and flowers. Without enough energy, the plant can’t give you any flowers, and no one exactly grows this plant for its leaves.
Aim to give this plant as much light as you can to help keep the growth supported, but you will need to make sure that your plant doesn’t suffer from sun-scorch, either.
If you’re planning on summering an indoor hibiscus plant outdoors, give it full shade outdoors for about a week, and then gradually increase the light levels so that the plant can acclimatize.
Trying to shortcut this is not a good idea, and you will end up with burned leaves and a weakened plant.
If you want to grow tropical hibiscus indoors, give them the brightest and warmest windowsill possible, and if the plant starts to show signs of stress, move it a little further back from the window.
Temperatures Are Important!
It’s always useful to remember that tropical hibiscus plants are used to balmy, lovely temperatures, and as a result, anything less than warm will damage or kill your plant.
If temperatures drop below 50°F, your plant will suffer. Keep temperatures between 65°F and 85°F to keep tropical hibiscus happy.
When To Water Tropical Hibiscus
Tropical hibiscus plants need to be watered often in unforgiving, hot conditions. In summer, it’s normal to need to water these plants every day so that they don’t completely dry out, as this will damage the plant.
It’s a good idea to aim for mostly damp soil for the majority of the time, without making the soil boggy.
Allow the top two inches of compost to dry out, and this will make sure that the roots don’t drown in too much water.
Make sure that the pots you grow your hibiscus plants in have decent drainage, otherwise this watering regime will rot your plants.
Absolutely Feed Hibiscus Plants
Not many plants are ‘hungry’, but hibiscus plants are very demanding when it comes to nutrients. It helps support the beautiful blooms, and healthy growth in general.
It’s a good idea to use liquid seaweed or a kelp-based fertilizer every week or so in summer.
You can also top this up when you repot your hibiscus, using an all-purpose, slow-release granular fertilizer.
Growing Hibiscus: General Troubleshooting
Here are quite a few signs of problems that you can run into when growing tropical hibiscus, the usual causes, and how to fix them.
Hibiscus plants tend to wilt when under some sort of stress. Usually, a hibiscus plant will wilt when the compost has been too dry for far too long.
Check the soil as soon as you can to confirm this, and if the soil is completely dry, give it a good soaking, and quickly.
Your hibiscus may also be wilting because the temperature is too much for it. This can be either extreme: hot or cold.
If you live somewhere cold, don’t forget that plants in pots are more vulnerable to colder temperatures.
A good way of safeguarding against this is to put the pot against the side of your house, and the heat that comes from your home will help protect the plant.
This won’t save your plant from freezing temperatures, however. Before it gets too cold for your hibiscus to survive, move it indoors if you want it to see next summer.
In extremely hot weather, keep an eye on the moisture levels in the soil. Keep the plant hydrated, and it’s not unusual to have to water a hibiscus every day in summer.
Yellowing Leaves On A Hibiscus Plant
If the leaves on your tropical hibiscus are turning yellow, this can be a problem. One or two yellow leaves are nothing to worry about, but any more than this and something is wrong.
Don’t wait to investigate. This is not something you can put off, unless you want your hibiscus plant to die!
Check the soil. Yellow leaves in nearly any species of plant are caused by the soil either being too wet or too dry for too long.
If the soil is dry, give the plant a thorough soaking. If it is wet, make sure it is not sitting in water, and move it somewhere warmer.
It’s worth mentioning that if the soil is too wet, this could have progressed to root rot, in which case it may be too late to save your hibiscus.
Tropical hibiscus plants may also develop yellow leaves when temperatures are too fierce, whether that’s indoors or outdoors. Aim for temperatures between 65°F and 85°F, away from drafts, winds, and sources of heat.
It’s a good idea to keep in mind that moving a tropical hibiscus indoors will result in some yellow leaves.
This is because there is significantly less light indoors, no matter how close to a window you have your hibiscus, and it won’t be able to sustain all the leaves.
Finally, yellow leaves on your hibiscus can also be caused by spider mites. If this is the cause, you will notice that the leaves look sickly, not just yellow.
They will have a patchy appearance, and you’ll also see fuzz on the leaves.
Yellow Leaves With Green Veins On A Hibiscus
If you find yellow leaves with green veins, this is usually a sign of chlorosis. If the growing conditions are wrong, chlorosis can take hold of the plant.
Usually, chlorosis can be caused by soil that is the wrong pH, a magnesium or iron deficiency, boggy soil, or pests and disease.
Hibiscus Not Flowering At All
If it’s the height of the flowering season and your hibiscus plant is doing nothing, though it looks perfectly healthy, chances are the plant doesn’t have enough energy to produce flowers.
In short: the plant isn’t getting enough light. Whether you’re growing your tropical hibiscus indoors or outdoors, it ideally needs a couple of hours when it can get direct sunlight.
This will give the plant the energy it needs to produce flowers.
Another reason why your hibiscus plant isn’t flowering is that you’re simply not feeding it enough.
With most plants, it’s better to underfeed them than cause an imbalance in the way your plant grows, but this is not true with tropical hibiscus.
This species absolutely will take up as much fertilizer as it can.
Flowers Dying After A Day Or Two
If your hibiscus flowers are dying quickly, but are still opening up properly and blooming in abundance, this is nothing to worry about.
You may be more used to growing roses or other beautiful flowers that last longer than a day, but tropical hibiscus is not one of them.
The blooms on this plant are spectacular, but you will only get to appreciate each one for the day it opens, or maybe two if you’re lucky.
This is how the plant has adapted, and it doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong in growing your hibiscus plants.
It’s a good idea to deadhead each bloom as it fades, as hibiscus flowers are quick to make a big mess in your garden.
They rot quickly, and if they are allowed to stay on the stems or leaves, this can promote disease and pests to take hold of your plant.
If you want the plant to flower for longer, make sure you deadhead the bottom of the flower, too. You want to stop the plant from going to seed, as this is less energy the hibiscus has to produce flowers.
Hibiscus Flowers Falling Off Before Opening
You might notice that something is wrong with your hibiscus plant when the flower buds, a promise of absolute gorgeousness and perfume, just drop off the plant before they open.
This is quite a common problem, and it can happen for a few different reasons, but there is a common denominator: extreme changes in the growing conditions, such as:
- Extremely hot or cold temperatures. Avoid temperatures below 50°F and temperatures above 90°F.
- Take a look at the leaves and the buds. If there are signs of damage, you may have thrips on your hibiscus, and the quicker you treat the plant, the better (see also How To Treat Houseplants For Thrips).
- If the soil is too wet for too long, the buds will drop off before they have a chance to bloom.
- On the opposite end of the scale: if the soil is completely dry and the foliage is starting to wilt, the flower buds will die, too. This is the plant trying to survive as best it can.
Japanese Beetles On Hibiscus
One of the pests you’re likely to encounter when growing hibiscus is the Japanese beetle. They tend to make an appearance in summer for around four weeks or so, becoming a complete menace during this time.
They are notorious for eating flower buds well before they have a chance to open, but open blooms are fair game, too.
While Japanese beetles aren’t difficult to spot, their damage is even more visible. You may see whole petals completely chewed up, and gaping holes in others.
Japanese beetles will hide in the tops of the flowers, but they will also lurk in the undersides, so make sure to check both.
A good way of dealing with them without harming your hibiscus plant is to pick them off with gloves and then step on them, or go round your plant with a cup of soapy water and plonk them in as you find them.
Vigilance is key to fending off any pests on your plant, so if you do see signs of pests, you’ll need to deal with them as soon as you can. This will also make the plant recover faster.
You may also find that your hibiscus starts to suffer the attention of aphids, mealybugs, and white flies, but a decent insecticidal soap will see them all off.
Tropical hibiscus is a glorious sight in summer, but this plant is not without its problems.
Make sure that you don’t let your hibiscus plant dry out, or get too wet, and this will help prevent many issues.
Another thing to keep in mind is that tropical hibiscus plants need a lot of fertilizer to support the flower production, so keep a regular feeding routine alongside your watering regime in summer.