Gardens

How to prune hibiscus

Easy to grow, and even easier to prune, hibiscus is a long-lasting garden showstopper. Here’s advice from the experts on how to prune hibiscus

pink hibiscus flowers growing
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you want to know how to prune hibiscus correctly, the first thing you need to establish is what kind of hibiscus you’re dealing with. We’ve asked garden experts for their advice, and you will be pleased to know that pruning hibiscus is a whole lot simpler than you might think. 

There are numerous varieties of hibiscus with a range of characteristics and blooms of different colors, but if you choose the right type for your garden and plant it in the right place, and learn how to prune hibiscus in the right way, they will produce a stunning floral show throughout the growing season.

It’s worth noting when compiling flower bed ideas that each individual flower on a hibiscus plant blooms for just one day. However, once you understand how to prune hibiscus correctly, and nurture it in the right way, you will encourage healthy growth and an impressive and long-lasting show of color. Treat your hibiscus well and you will create a flowering machine – as one day’s flowers fade, so a vigorous array of new flowers will appear to succeed them.

How to prune hibiscus, and identify it

If you planted your hibiscus yourself, chances are you’ll already know which category it falls under. If, however, you’ve inherited a ready-planted hibiscus in your garden you’ll need to identify at least the category it belongs to in order to know how to prune your hibiscus in the right way. The outline below will help with both scenarios. 

How to prune native hibiscus

pink hibiscus moscheutos swamp mallow

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Native hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) – also known as common rose mallow, swamp mallow, or marsh hibiscus – are native to the southeastern US. Choose between pink, red and white flowering varieties. As its name suggests, the swamp mallow prefers marshy wetland habitats, but can tolerate drier spots if kept well watered. The scarlet rose mallow is a beautiful variety, common in Florida, which can grow to 4 to 8 feet tall (1 to 2.5 m.).

According to Gena Lorraine, gardening expert at Fantastic Services, ‘Native hibiscus is very easy to care for but sometimes they can grow a bit leggy and too tall. To keep a healthy height, make sure to cut its stems back towards the end as they’re from the previous season and the plant will not bloom from these. You should do that in late winter or early spring before the new growth. Always use sharp blades and if the plant looks tender and leaning, you can tie it to a supporting stake.’ 

How to prune tropical hibiscus

Red flowered tropical hibiscus with glossy evergreen leaves

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), as the name suggests, can only survive permanently in zones 9-11. They have glossy dark green leaves and flowers of rich reds, yellow, orange through to peach, pink and gold. Tropical hibiscus share some characteristics with the native hibiscus. One of the most popular tropical hibiscus varieties is Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. If you live in a cooler climate, it’s still possible to grow tropical hibiscus. In this case you will treat it as an annual, or bring it indoors into a conservatory or heated greenhouse before the temperatures start to drop outside. 

Gena Lorraine offers the following advice on pruning tropical hibiscus, saying: ‘this type of hibiscus should be pruned until it achieves a tree-like shape but the timing really depends on where you live. 

‘In the US the best time to prune is in spring or when the weather starts warming up. Never prune tropical hibiscus in fall as you risk freezing the new and still tender growth. Also, it’s recommended to bring your tropical hibiscus inside in winter if it’s planted in a pot. On the other hand, if you live in a tropical area, you can prune the plant all year round. Start pruning by removing the outer growth and any suckers growing around the base. Of course, keep an eye on diseased branches to avoid spreading.’ 

How to prune hardy hibiscus

red hibiscus rosa sinensis

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus spp) have heart-shaped dull green leaves and white, pink or red flowers. They are similar in nature to tropical hibiscus, but the main difference lies in where they can grow. Hardy hibiscus are cold tolerant in cooler US zones 5 to 8, hardy hibiscus produce showy flowers in a range of colors. 

Known for her step-by-step gardening tutorials, and, describing herself as ‘a native of chilly zone 5, where we LOVE hardy hibiscus’, gardening expert Mary Jane Duford says: ‘Hardy hibiscus is a low-maintenance perennial which needs only basic pruning.’  She adds, ‘This type of hibiscus dies back to the soil surface each winter in the cooler zones in which it thrives. New sprouts appear in the springtime, after most other hardy herbaceous perennials have sprouted. At this point, any remnants of overwintered stems can be trimmed off with sharp, clean pruning shears.’

Pruning is not required during this summer foliage growth period, although stems can be pinched back when under a foot tall if a shrubby form is desired. Once the plant starts to flower, remove spent blooms as they finish flowering. This plant is known for its incredible flowers, and looks much more attractive when the wilted blooms are removed.

In the late fall, long after flowering is finished, you will need to prune hardy hibiscus stems following a hard frost. If you wish, you can leave 3-6 inches of stem visible to remind you where the plant is. Although Mary Jane Duford adds that stems ‘can also be left standing until early spring to support the local bird population during the winter months.’

And there you have it. Once you've identified your plant type according to our experts' advice, learning how to prune hibiscus and care for it couldn't be simpler.  

Karen Darlow
Karen Darlow

I'm the homes editor of Period Living magazine and an experienced writer on interiors and gardens. I've also moved house quite a few times – totting up 10 homes in 12 years during a particularly nomadic time in my life. I like to think that makes me quite the homes expert, or at least very experienced and with a clear idea of what I like and don't like in a home. 

I love visiting and writing about old houses for Homes & Gardens' sister magazine Period Living and working with photographers to capture all kinds of historic properties. It's inspiring to talk to people about their traditional homes and to hear the stories behind their furnishing and decorating choices. And by the time I've finished an interview with a homeowner I've always got a handful of new ideas to try in my own house, as well as plenty of good stories for the magazine. It's the perfect work-life balance.