When you hear the word hibiscus, you might think of a tropical plant that withers in cold climates. And while many types of hibiscus plants are sensitive to the cold, there is also a cold-hardy hibiscus that can survive winters as far north as zone 4. In this guide, I’ll run through everything you need to know about how to grow and care for hardy hibiscus.
- Hardy Hibiscus: The Essentials:
- About Hardy Hibiscus
- What’s the Difference Between Hardy Hibiscus and Other Types of Hibiscus?
- How Hardy is Hardy Hibiscus?
- Popular Types of Hardy Hibiscus
- Growing and Caring for Hardy Hibiscus
- Frequently Asked Questions:
- How to Grow and Care for Hardy Hibiscus: Wrapping Up
Hardy Hibiscus: The Essentials:
|Scientific Name:||Hibiscus moscheutos|
|Native Range:||Eastern United States and Central America|
|Colors:||Primarily white, pink, and red|
|Characteristics:||Large, showy flowers with prominent staminal columns|
|Mature Height:||3 to 7 feet|
|Flowering Season:||Summer and early fall|
|Growing Zones:||5 to 10|
|Sunlight:||Full sun to partial shade|
|Watering:||Whenever the top 2 or 3 inches of soil are dry to the touch|
|Soil:||Rich, well-drained soil with high organic matter content|
|Fertilizing:||Balanced, slow-release fertilizer in spring and summer|
|Pests:||Japanese beetles, spider mites, aphids|
|Pruning:||Cut back to 6 inches above the ground in late winter|
About Hardy Hibiscus
People used the term “hardy hibiscus” to refer to various cold-tolerant species in the hibiscus family. These include both naturally-occurring native plants and hybrids created by plant breeders.
Some hibiscus species that people refer to as hardy hibiscus include crimson-eyed rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), halberdleaf rosemallow (Hibiscus laevis), and scarlet rosemallow (Hibiscus coccineus).
Most types of hardy hibiscus are medium to large shrubs that produce large flowers. They are perennial plants, which means they live for multiple years.
What’s the Difference Between Hardy Hibiscus and Other Types of Hibiscus?
Hardy hibiscus plants are capable of surviving colder temperatures than their tropical counterparts. While warm-weather hibiscus cannot tolerate temperatures below 50°F, hardy hibiscus can survive below-freezing temperatures.
Another thing that separates hardy hibiscus from other types of hibiscus is its growth habit.
Shrub hibiscus, also known as Rose of Sharon, can also tolerate cold temperatures. However, shrub hibiscus blooms on the same woody growth each year, while hardy hibiscus dies back each year and regrows in the spring.
How Hardy is Hardy Hibiscus?
Most types of hardy hibiscus are hardy down to USDA zone 5 and even parts of zone 4. That means these plants can experience temperatures as low as -20°F and then reemerge the following spring.
Popular Types of Hardy Hibiscus
As mentioned above, people used the term “hardy hibiscus” to refer to a variety of hibiscus species that are native to the United States. However, the term is most commonly used to refer to Hibiscus moscheutos.
Within the various species, you can find numerous cultivars that were bred for their color, disease tolerance, and cold hardiness. Here are some of the most popular types of hardy hibiscus.
‘Lord Baltimore’: A hybrid variety with dark pink flowers with red centers. The blooms can grow up to ten inches in diameter, and the plants max out at about five feet tall.
‘Luna Pink Swirl’: Produces stunning flowers with light pink and white swirled petals and red centers. The flowers can reach up to eight inches wide and bloom from summer through early fall.
‘Fireball’: Known for its deep red flowers, this variety can tolerate both cold and heat.
Growing and Caring for Hardy Hibiscus
If you’d like to grow a hardy hibiscus plant in your garden, follow these care recommendations and tips.
Considerations for Growing From Seed or Planting a Mature Plant
While it’s possible to grow hardy hibiscus from seed or a mature plant, most gardeners opt for the transplant route.
One reason this is the case is that it can be difficult to find the seeds of modern hybrid varieties. Even if you collect and plant the seed from a mature hybrid plant, the resulting plant will be genetically different from the parent plant.
Hardy hibiscus seeds also need to be stratified or exposed to cold before they will germinate. That means they can be a bit tricky to get to germinate.
If you’d like to purchase a plant, you can opt for a live potted plant or a dormant bare root plant. Both are suitable options, but potted plants are often larger and will resume growing more quickly.
Where and How to Plant
Before you plant your hardy hibiscus, you should take note of how big your specific variety will grow. Ensure that it has room to spread without coming into contact with buildings or other plants.
The best time to plant hardy hibiscus plants is in the mid to late spring. Although these plants are cold-hardy, you should wait until the last frost has passed to avoid stressing transplants.
Hardy hibiscus isn’t too particular about their soil, but they will not thrive in sandy soil that quickly drains. The best type of soil is high in organic matter, able to hold lots of water, and well-draining.
If you’re planting your hardy hibiscus in a container, choose a potting mix containing plenty of organic matter like compost or peat moss.
These plants prefer at least six hours of direct sun each day, but more sun is just fine. The plants can tolerate partial shade, but this lack of light may lead to fewer blooms.
Hardy hibiscus cannot tolerate full shade.
Since the most common species of hardy hibiscus goes by the common name swamp mallow, it’s no surprise that these plants like moist soil! Choosing a proper location is one part of keeping the soil moist, but so is watering following a good schedule.
In general, you’ll want to water your hardy hibiscus plants about one to three times per week. Plant to water newly-planting hibiscus more often since these plants’ roots are still getting established.
Once the plants are a year old, their root systems will reach deeper into the ground. This means they can reach more moisture and therefore need to be watered less often.
Numerous factors impact precisely how often you need to water hardy hibiscus. These include temperature, light, time of year, and rainfall.
In general, you’ll want to water your plants when the top few inches of soil is dry. Ensure thoroughly soak the soil to encourage the plants to develop deep roots.
If you want a healthy plant with lots of flowers, you’ll want to apply a suitable fertilizer. It’s best to choose a fertilizer designed for flowering plants, such as Jobe’s Organics Rose & Flower or Fox Farm Big Bloom.
When you’re determining how often to fertilize, look at the product instructions. You may only need to apply slow-release fertilizers once or twice a year, while fast-release fertilizers require monthly applications.
In general, you should begin applying fertilizer in the mid-spring and continue through the summer.
Temperature and Humidity Considerations
Most types of hardy hibiscus are well-suited to the temperature ranges present in much of the Eastern United States. These plants can tolerate winter temperatures as low as -20°F and summer temperatures as high as 100°F.
Hardy hibiscus can tolerate high summer humidity, but they do not need it to thrive.
Pruning and Deadheading
One thing that sets hardy hibiscus apart from other types of hibiscus is the fact that the plant dies back each winter and regrows each spring. That means there’s no need to prune hardy hibiscus plants.
Deadheading is also unnecessary since spent flowers will naturally drop. Individual flowers bloom for only one or two days, but healthy plants will produce a continuous supply of blooms.
While you can collect hardy hibiscus seeds, hybrid varieties will not breed true to seed. That means that the offspring of hybrid varieties will have genetics that are different from the parent plant.
The best way to propagate a hardy hibiscus plant is via a stem cutting.
Use a sharp and sanitized pair of pruning shears to take a stem cutting that is about 4–6 inches long. Place a rooting hormone on the bottom end of the cutting, place in potting soil, water well, and cover with a plastic bag or container.
Set the cutting somewhere warm and check to ensure that the soil remains moist. The cutting should produce roots and then leaves within a month or two.
Over Winter Care
Since hardy hibiscus is cold tolerant, they don’t require any specialized winter care. Although the above-ground portions of the plant will die back each winter, new growth will emerge in the spring.
If you are expecting an especially cold period, you can mulch around the plant with straw or wood chips to protect the plant’s roots.
Common Pests and Diseases
Hardy hibiscus generally doesn’t experience too many pests or diseases. Some of the most common pests include aphids and Japanese beetles, while common diseases include Botrytis and Phytophthora.
Best Companion Plants for Hardy Hibiscus
Hardy hibiscus grows well with other perennial plants that enjoy moist soil. These include swamp milkweed, baptisia, and cardinal flower.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What Is the Hardiest Hibiscus?
Hybrid varieties of Hibiscus moscheutos are considered the hardiest type of hibiscus.
Can Hardy Hibiscus Survive Winter Outside?
Hardy hibiscus can survive the winter outside in areas as cold as zone 4. The vegetation will die back with the cold and then reemerge the following spring.
Is Hardy Hibiscus an Evergreen?
No, hardy hibiscus is not an evergreen. The above-ground portions of the plant will die back in the winter and then regrow the next year.
What Is the Lifespan of a Hardy Hibiscus?
Hardy hibiscus typically live for at least ten years, but they have been known to survive for up to 50 years.
How Can I Tell If My Hibiscus is Hardy or Tropical?
Tropical hibiscus and hardy hibiscus are entirely different species, so look at the plant’s label to distinguish between the two.
How to Grow and Care for Hardy Hibiscus: Wrapping Up
If you’re looking for a large flowering plant that can survive both heat and cold, hardy hibiscus could be a good option. Remember to keep the soil moist, give your plant plenty of sunlight, and your hardy hibiscus will thrive.
For more, see our in-depth guide to hibiscus flower meaning and symbolism.
Briana holds a B.S. in Plant Sciences from Penn State University. She manages a small market garden where she grows vegetables and herbs. She also enjoys growing flowers and houseplants at home.
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