How To Grow Hardy Hibiscus
We love that vibrant, tropical look in the garden but often feel frustrated when those colorful plants don’t make it through the winter. Plants like tropical hibiscus with their look-at-me flowers scream umbrella drinks and toes-in-sand vibe, don’t they? If you’re with us on this, then you’ll be ecstatic to know that there’s a hibiscus that will take those cold winters and come back to wow you another year. They’re hardy hibiscus, also known as perennial hibiscus, shrub hibiscus, and Rose of Sharon! Let’s talk about how to grow them.
Hold on…how do I know if my hibiscus is tropical or hardy?
Because places that sell hibiscus don’t differentiate between the different types (they might all simply be labelled “hibiscus”), here are a few ways you can be the Smarty Pants and in the know:
- Check the flower color: Hardy hibiscus comes in shades of pink, white, burgundy, lavender, and red. Tropical hibiscus flaunt orange, yellow, red, pink, multicolor, and double blooms.
- Look at the leaves: Are you seeing glossy, deep green leaves? It’s probably a tropical hibiscus. Dull, medium green, heart-shaped leaves? You’ve got a hardy one. Some hardy hibiscus also have leaves that look like maple foliage or have a burgundy hue.
- Note when it blooms: Tropical hibiscus can bloom throughout the growing season, right up until a frost, while hardy hibiscus starts blooming in mid to late summer and into the fall.
- Measure the flowers: We don’t really mean to get out your tape measure or ruler, but if you’re one who likes to do that kind of thing, we support you! Tropical hibiscus have smaller flowers that range from 4-6” across. Large, yes, but noticeably smaller than those of hardy hibiscus, which range from 6-9” and even larger!
Note: Rose of Sharon is a shrub type of hardy hibiscus, and typically has flowers that measure 2-3” across, in single or double form, and come in shades of pink, purple, blue, and white. They will often be labelled Rose of Sharon or Althea.
Growing Needs for Hardy Hibiscus
If you’ve ever grown tropical hibiscus, you likely already know that those plants grow best in hot, humid climates with full sun. Hardy hibiscus have different needs in order to thrive.
Spread: 3 ft.
Sunlight: Full Sun to Partial Shade
Bloom Season: Mid to Late Summer
Critter Resistance: Usually deer resistant. Rabbits may nibble on new growth but leaves will quickly grow too large for them to reach.
Pollinator Magnet: Get ready for hummingbirds and pollinating bees to visit!
Such little work for so much garden drama! Another reason we love them.
- Keep consistently watered through late fall. This will help keep the plant insulated and hydrated through the winter.
- Leave bare stems over the winter. Those stems will catch fallen leaves to continue insulating the plant in the colder months.
- Prune stems in early spring. Prune back to about 6” and remove any debris caught in the remaining stems or branches. The plant regrows from underground, rather than from last year’s stems.
- Be patient. Hardy hibiscus is typically later to emerge in the spring, sometimes waiting until mid-May to send up new growth. It’s not dead; it’s just waiting for the perfect time to make its entrance.
Want more tropical garden tips? Check out our other blog posts! Learn about tropical design, how to grow plants with tropical flair, and how to create container gardens with that vacation vibe with these great reads:
- Jenny Peterson