Bare-rooted Rose Time
A Garden for the Birds

Hibiscus Happiness

The actual origin of the beautiful hibiscus is not really known. The problem with botany and our love and interest in plants is that we have naturalised them throughout history as we have travelled, mixed cultures and then hybridised to suit our needs or they have naturally evolved as they have found themselves in new terrains. These days there are over 300 species of Hibiscus.


Growing Hibiscus

This easy to grow evergreen will usually flower perennially and can attain a height of up to 10 metres in the wild in favourable conditions. They can be planted and trained to become a gorgeous hedge and make a lovely standard shrub in a varying size depending on the cultivar. Colours range from singular colours of whites, reds, yellows, oranges, pinks, purples, blues, browns and stunning multi-colour combinations of all of the fore-mentioned.

Your hibiscus needs at least six hours of full sun every day and they like it warm but not too hot, so this is why they like living here on the Coast, as long as you position them well. What they don’t like is wet feet so be careful to plant in a free-draining soil and do not over water. They like a constant even watering as needed to keep soil just moist rather than drying out and then being drenched.

Hibiscus are one of the hungrier plants of the garden and will need feeding every month with a liquid fertiliser (Seasol is a good suggestion) as per instruction of the mixture you choose. They benefit from a layer of worm castings dug into the surrounding soil occasionally, a sprinkling of coffee grounds is good too at times. There are hibiscus-specific and time-release fertilisers available as well but whatever you use, never feed dry soil as it will burn the delicate roots.

When transplanting a hibiscus seedling or plant into your garden, the number one rule is to never remove the soil from the root ball and the second is - don’t stick it straight into position unless the original position was very similar. If your hibiscus came from a garden centre it has probably been in a shade house and also been a bit stressed from transportation. Introduce it slowly from semi shade into the full sun slowly by leaving it in its pot and moving it to its final destination over the course of a couple of weeks.

Hibiscus can be grown successfully in containers too, but you must make sure that they drain extremely well, and saucers are never allowed to fill with water. Place them in a full sun position just as you would a garden cousin.

Pruning your Hibiscus plant will encourage a more vigorous bushy growth, and this means, more flowers. It assists the health of the plant by removing deadwood, diseased and weakly growing branches. You can also remove growth in areas that you don’t want as you may like a certain shape, size or a tidier look. You can lightly prune your hibiscus on the Coast in February but save the hard pruning for September. (Get in quick! You can do it this week!). Never remove more than a third of the branches unless you have a very ill or struggling weedy looking plant. In this case you can prune down to around 60cm above the soil level. Usually you would prune back leaving two or three nodes on each branch and make the cut on the diagonal, slanting towards the ground and about 1cm above the first node you leave.

Your healthy cuttings can them be propagated by trimming to just below a leaf node and having a length of around 15cm. Dip in a hormone rooting solution or honey and plant in a pot with a mixture of 50% perlite and 50% quality potting mix. Keep damp and place in a warm, sunny, sheltered spot.


Hibiscus Help

Hibiscus are rather hardy but like all plants they can still succumb to pests, disease and negative environmental factors. Hibiscus are susceptible to aphids, ants, mites and thrips and these should be dealt with using an organic pesticide containing neem oil or pyrethrum.

Some diseases that are common to hibiscus are ‘Hibiscus Wilt’ and this is usually fatal. It can be recognised by leaves that wilt and then turn a dark colour. Try giving it a light watering (don’t overwater), fine misting of water each day, providing some bright shade and that’s it. Leave leaves on plant, don’t prune, transplant or feed.

Leaf Fungus with its black spots looks horrible but is completely harmless. It is usually caused by water sitting on the leaves for too long after dew, watering or rain. The leaves will fall off eventually and new ones will grow. Dieback usually occurs when a break happens in a stem or branch and bacteria or fungus enters the plant. Cut away affected areas of the plant and seal the cuts with grafting wax. Ensure that fallen flowers are quickly removed from plant bases and composted as these encourage pests and diseases.


Delicious Nutritious Flower Food

Yes, Hibiscus is edible! Hibiscus flowers can be used to flavour all sorts of foods and teas created from the dried petals are divine. In China the leaves are lightly steamed and eaten as we would cook spinach or silver beet. This is also a plant widely used in herbal medicine for lowering blood pressure and blood sugar, skin health, heart health, bronchial issues, fighting the effects of cancer and in gallbladder disease. You must seek the advice of a registered herbal practitioner and never self-medicate. Properly identified Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, can be used as a food, drink and used topically. It is not recommended for those with low blood pressure, about to undergo surgery, pregnant and lactating women and should be used with caution if diabetes is present. It should not be consumed close to taking any preparation containing paracetamol as it slows the release rate of the drug from your body.

early winter - temperate areas
You can plant the following now: Culinary herbs, artichokes, broad beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflower, cress, garlic, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, onions, peas, shallots, spring onions, silverbeet, spinach, ageratum, alyssum, bare-rooted roses, calendula, candytuft, Canterbury bells, carnation, cineraria, columbine, cornflower, delphinium, dianthus, everlasting daisy, forget-me-not, foxglove, godetia, gypsophila, hollyhock, honesty, larkspur, linari

Cheralyn is a horticulture author and along with Pete Little,
hosts ‘Home with The Gardening Gang’
8 - 10am live every Saturday on CoastFM96.3
contact via:

She also writes the weekly 'DOWN IN THE GARDEN' page for the Coast News Newspaper and this originally appeared in The Coast News.