How to Grow Hibiscus in a Pot

My Garden Life
July 12, 2021
Table of Contents
The exotic blooms and lush leaves of the hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) plant make for a stunning potted plant. Hibiscus come in an assortment of colors, including red, orange, yellow, pink and bicolor. They’re sun-loving plants that grow well in zones 10-12, 30° to 40°F (-1° to 4°C). If you keep a container-grown hibiscus outdoors in zones other than 10-12, you will want to bring them inside, to a bright sunny spot, when the weather turns cold.
As a tropical plant, hibiscus acts like a perennial in climates that stay relatively warm all year, but they will act like annuals and die off in colder climates. Also, keep in mind, that the roots of potted plants are more vulnerable to cold and freezing. If you keep hibiscus in a pot outdoors it’s best to assume that it’s only cold hardy to zone 11, with the lowest temperature range of 40° to 50°F (4° to 10°C).

How to Pot a Hibiscus Plant

Composite image with potted red hibiscus and close up of a yellow hibiscus flower.

When you buy your plant, it will likely be in a black nursery pot. You will want to replant it into a pot that is one to two inches larger than the nursery pot. Since hibiscus can grow large, you will want to select a sturdy pot; cement, ceramic or clay pots work well. Tall hibiscus varieties can reach 5-6 feet (1.5-1.8m) in height. Shorter varieties usually grow from 2-5 feet (0.6-1.5m).
Hibiscus’ roots need to be well-drained, so choose a pot with drainage holes, and use a tray or saucer underneath. To prevent the soil from seeping out through the drainage holes, place a coffee filter over each of the holes before filling the planter with soil. To prevent root rot, be sure to drain off excess water after each watering so the roots do not sit in the water.
If your container does not have drainage holes, you could drill holes in it. If you don’t want to drill, you could put landscape rocks in the bottom before adding your soil, so the water has a drainage area to go to. The rocks also serve to add weight and stabilize the container.
Otherwise, you could use a cachepot. A cachepot is a larger (often decorative) pot into which an already potted plant is placed. Put landscape rocks in the bottom of the cachepot. Replant the hibiscus into another nursery pot (one or two sizes larger than what it came in) and place it into the cachepot. Water will drain out of the nursery pot and into the rocks on the bottom.

What Type of Potting Soil to Use for Hibiscus Plants

Hand lifting a hibiscus plant from a nursery pot displaying the root system.

When repotting, choose quality, all-purpose potting soil. Soil with vermiculite or pumice in the mix will aerate the soil and help drainage. Place an inch or two of soil in the bottom of the pot, remove the plant from the nursery container, gently break up the soil and untangle the roots so they have space to grow and place the plant into the new pot. Continue adding soil until the roots are covered and the soil line is just to the base of the main stem.

Hibiscus Plants Need Bright Light

Potted Hibiscus plant next to a large window.

Hibiscuses love light. If you will keep your plant outside, choose a sunny spot that is protected from strong winds. To keep it indoors, choose a sunny spot that is not near any heating or cooling vents since these can harm the leaves. For more light, there are several options for providing artificial light.

How Much Water Does a Potted Hibiscus Need

Hibiscus plant with wet foliage following watering.

Hibiscus need to be well-watered. Water weekly at first and during active growth times. When outside, note the amounts of rainfall and adjust your water schedule accordingly. During hot spells, it is better to thoroughly water twice weekly rather than a little every day. If the plant is wilted or if the top 2 inches (5 cm) is dry to the touch, it is time to water. Be sure that excess water drains away from the roots.

Feed Your Hibiscus to Keep it Healthy and Flowering

Potted hibiscus plant with two big yellow flowers in full bloom.

For bright blooms and lush foliage, fertilize regularly. Find a fertilizer that is specifically for hibiscus or flowering plants. Follow the directions on the package for mixing and timing of applications. Too much fertilizer can harm the plant. Slow-release fertilizers are a good choice for container plants. In winter, use about half the recommended amount to give your plant a rest.

Pruning a Potted Hibiscus

Close up of two big pink hibiscus flowers.

Prune branches when necessary to promote growth or to maintain a certain size or shape. For best results, use a quick snip at a slight angle with sharp shears or pruners. Removing old, withered leaves and blooms keeps your hibiscus looking healthy and keeps the plant’s energy focused on new growth.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is great as a containerized plant. The large, vivid flowers will bring you joy and instantly create a relaxed, tropical atmosphere. For more information on the general care of flowering plants indoors, check out Top 10 Tips – Caring for Flowering Indoor Plants. If you will be keeping the container outdoors, read Secrets of Success for Outdoor Potted Plants.

Terraced patio with containers of ornamental plants and hydrangea blooming in the background.

16 Comments

  1. Karen

    Do I plant only one hibiscus in a large pot around a pool? Or should I place 2 in the pot?

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Karen,
      Given that most hibiscus grow at least 2 feet (.6 m) tall, it would be best to just grow one plant per pot. This is especially true if you live in a region with a long, warm growing season where plants can reach 4 feet (1.2 m) or more by the end of summer. Planting two hibiscus in one pot would likely result in root competition for space, water, and nutrients which would ultimately impact the overall health of both plants.

      Reply
  2. Audrey Allen

    Can the Hibiscus thrive in a screen porch with lots of partial sun?

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Audrey,
      Given that hibiscus prefer a sunny position (six or more hours of full sun each day) to grow and bloom at their best, your hibiscus might survive partial shade, but the lower light could result in few, if any, flowers. If you plan to give it a try, place your plant where it gets the best chance of receiving any possible direct sun. The screens may be blocking more light than you realize, so the brightest location you can offer will give your hibiscus a better chance of thriving.

      Reply
  3. Debby

    How will the potted plant fare during the colder winter months in warmer regions? If I take the pot inside it will not receive direct sunlight.

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Debbie,
      It depends on how you define “warmer regions” – are we talking about a region that rarely sees winter temperatures below 50 degrees F? In that type of situation your plant could stay outdoors, and, in the event of a significant cold snap, you could bring it indoors temporarily. Even with the diminished light a hibiscus should survive a short period indoors (ideally just a few days) just until the temperatures warm and it could be taken back outside. If we’re talking weeks to months, then “no”, your plant is unlikely to survive without a bright location near a window or the use of supplemental light. You can learn more about options for supplemental lighting in our article, Setting Up Artificial Lights for Indoor Plants.

      Reply
  4. Patty Hammes

    How can I propagate the hibiscus
    It’s getting long branches on it I need to try and save it

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Patty,
      Here are tips on how to propagate hibiscus:
      1. Take cuttings, 4-6” long, from the “soft wood” of the plant. Soft wood is found at the ends of the branches where the stems are more green and not woody. (See our article on How to Take a Cutting from a Plant for tips on where to cut.)
      2. Cut just below a node where leaves are emerging. This is an area where roots can emerge. Remove the lowest leaves on the cutting leaving 2-4 leaves remaining at the top.
      3. Dip the cutting in rooting hormone and insert into a pot of soil making sure you cover one or two of the nodes.
      4. Water the soil thoroughly. Be sure the pot has drainage so that your cuttings aren’t sitting in waterlogged soil. You want to keep the soil moist, but not wet, as your hibiscus cuttings develop.
      5. Grow your hibiscus cuttings in a partially shaded location. Full sun can stress the foliage since it doesn’t yet have a root system to uptake water.
      6. The roots should be growing in 4-6 weeks. You might want to take several cuttings. Propagation may not be one hundred percent, so by taking several cuttings you increase your odds of success.
      If your hibiscus is overgrown, you can try pruning it back. This is best done in the spring. If you are cutting into woody stem area be sure to look for a node and cut just above it. Just like with root cuttings, the nodes are areas where new growth activity occurs, and this is where new leaf buds would emerge.

      Reply
  5. Bob Johnson

    Can I plant a new hibiscus in the old container which has a lot of old roots from the previous plant

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Bob,
      Depends on what the previous plant was and why it’s no longer in that old container. If the previous plant was a hibiscus and died from pests or disease then you definitely would want to remove the soil, sanitize the pot, and replace with fresh potting soil. You say there are a lot of old roots, so that suggests the possibility that they could be tightly compacted and might impede the flow of water within the pot and the ability of the new plant to expand its root system. If you intend to use the old soil (and roots that will continue to decompose and turn to compost-like material) we would still recommend removing the soil, breaking it up, and then returning it to the pot to ensure that the new plant has good drainage and aeration for the roots.

      Reply
  6. Sheri

    I have a hibiscus in a pot in Phoenix Arizona. We have had extreme temperatures now. I water it, but the leaves are yellowing and it doesn’t look like it will survive. Is there anything I can do? Thanks.

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Sheri,
      Have a look at our article on Hibiscus Leaves Turning Yellow for a list of common reasons your hibiscus plant might have yellowing leaves. One thing that isn’t mentioned in the article is the possibility that your plant is rootbound. When grown in a pot the roots can eventually become so tightly packed that they start to cut each other off, reducing the circulation of water and potentially killing sections of the roots. The visible result is the same as a plant that is too dry, because, well, it is too dry since the roots are no longer able to provide sufficient amounts of water to support the plant.

      If you rule out all other possibilities for the yellowing leaves, you will need to remove your hibiscus from the pot to inspect the roots. If it’s rootbound, you’ll want to repot it into a pot 1-2″ larger in diameter. At this time you can also investigate whether there are other root issues, such as, if the pot has no drainage, a possibility is that the roots could rot. With the intense heat in Phoenix this season, you may want to move your hibiscus to a location where it’s not getting full sun all day; perhaps just morning or late afternoon, to reduce stress on the plant until temperatures eventually fall.

      Reply
  7. Ananth T

    What is the ideal pot size for hibiscus? I am from India and in a location that receives ample sunlight.

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Ananth,
      The size of the pot depends on the size of the plant and its root ball. The optimum size container for any potted plant would large enough to allow the root ball around two additional inches (5cm) of growing space before it needs to be moved up to a larger container.

      Reply
  8. ruthie

    I live in Texas….if it’s a hundred degrees…..or ninety degrees and the hibiscus plants are in direct sun about six hours….how many inches of water….the plants are small..some in containers…this is the first year I have gardened….the biggest one is a hardy Summerific about two and a half feet tall
    most are Rose of Sharon,,,I am disappointed that on youtube there are SO MANY videos of taking care of hibiscus and they emphasize water but not one person shows how to water

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Ruthie,
      In temperatures that high you may need to be watering your hibiscus in containers once or twice a day. Water the container pots until the water runs out the drainage hole. For plants in the ground, ideally the soil would be moist to a depth of 6”. Getting started, you’ll probably need to take a trowel or shovel and slice down into the soil to look and feel how moist the soil is. If it’s dry you’re going to want to give your plants a good soaking. Check again the same way over the next couple of days and see what’s happening. If the top 2” of soil is drying out each day then, you’ll want to be watering daily in order to try to maintain that moisture level down to 6”. One of these days, if the temperatures finally start to fall or you start to get more cloud cover and regular rain, you should be able to taper back on your watering. Feeling the soil moisture is the best way until you eventually get a sense for how much water your plants are needing.

      HOW you apply water is important. Imagine a plant in the rain with the water rolling down the foliage and dripping off the leaf tips. That water is falling down to an imaginary circle called the “dripline” and where that water falls is where you’ll find the “root zone”. The root zone is where the fine roots are found that actively take up water and nutrients. These “feeder” roots aren’t up by the trunk, they’re out at the dripline. So, when you are watering keep that in mind. Watering at the base of the trunk isn’t very helpful. Watering all over the foliage isn’t helpful since some of that is going to evaporate away. Try to image where the root zone is and thoroughly water that area. For potted plants, apply water just inside the rim of the pot all the way around, thoroughly saturating the soil until water runs out the bottom of the pot. Water those when the top 2” of soil is dry to the touch also. Hope this helps and we also hope you all get some relief from the heat soon!

      Reply

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