The Q&A Archives: winterizing Hibiscus

Question: I bought two hibiscus plants from a local supermarket outside display. I read recently that certain hibiscus plants can stay out all winter and others must be brought in. How do I tell which ones I have and what do I do with them. I really loved their performance in my southwest-facing front yard. What will I have to do for a repeat performance next year? Thank you for any advice. Tina in NJ

Answer: I have seen all kinds of hibiscus sold at supermarkets and harware stores, but my guess would be it is the tropical one. This is a shrub and has glossy dark green leaves. The flowers look like the stereotypical Hawaiian hibiscus and come in strong colors of yellow, red, pink, and bitones. (The hardy hibiscus shrubs are not glossy, their blooms are generally only in the pink and white range, although there are some that move into purplish and blueish casts. The hardy hibiscus perennials have huge flat papery blooms -- think of a plate -- about six inches or more across and are in the white, pink, and red shades.)

If you have planted a tropical hibiscus in the ground, it is really stressful on the plant to uproot it, plant it in a container and then stress it again by bringing it indoors but you can try. (Usually they are kept as container plants year round to make moving them easier.) I would pot it now while it is still actively growing to give it more recovery time -- but keep in mind it will probably stop blooming and may also die despite your best efforts. You would remove the garden soil from the roots (it is not suited to container growing) and use a potting mix that matches the original mix as much as possible. If you lose a lot of roots in the process you can trim the plant back a bit to compensate.

Then in the fall you will need to bring it inside well before frost. If it is exposed to temperatures below about 55 it will stop blooming once you bring it inside. To keep it as an actively growing plant, it needs as much sun as you can give it (a greenhouse, or a room with south and west windows for example), good air circulation but no hot or cold drafts, a cool room temperature (say 65) and decent humidity levels. Wash it off thoroughly with a spray of water from teh garden hose before you bring it inside to try to ensure there are no spider mites or whiteflies on it -- this plant tends to harbor these and the population explodes once it is indoors.

I hope this helps!

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