Deadheading is the task of removing old, faded flowers from a plant. Rather than cutting back the whole plant, with deadheading you only remove the individual flowers. It’s a common gardening practice that is helpful in a number of ways, but it is not always a requirement for the health of the plant. Hibiscus are raised for their big, colorful blooms, and gardeners want to give them every opportunity to shine. So, should you deadhead hibiscus? Maybe.
The genus Hibiscus includes more than 200 species of woody shrubs and perennials, including such favorites as Rose of Sharon, native Rose Mallows and Swamp Hibiscus, and colorful Tropical Hibiscus. They are native to tropical and temperate regions around the world. With so many different species in the mix, it is best to take a nuanced approach to plant care recommendations, including something as seemingly simple as deadheading.
Before you get to deadheading, you need healthy flowers in the first place. While care can differ between various types of hibiscus, you want to nail down the basics. Hibiscus can be quite easy to grow, but they do require some attention in order to thrive. Hibiscus plants ultimately need two things: full sun and moist but well-draining soil.
You want 6 to 8 hours of light a day for your plant, and you'll need to water whenever the top half inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Your temperatures should also be warm — the best range is between 60 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Fertilizer isn't strictly necessary for hibiscus, but you can add compost or a slow-release balanced fertilizer to your soil to encourage robust growth.
When a spent flower is removed, the seed-making parts are also removed. This reduces the spread of plants with a reputation for taking over the neighborhood, like Rose of Sharon. Removing old flowers may also give nearby buds more space to bloom, which is good for many members of the hibiscus family because of their oversized flowers and generous bud set.
Another benefit of deadheading is that doing so makes the plant look more neat and tidy, rather than letting the old blooms wither, turn brown, and get moldy in place. In a container planter setting, removing old flowers before they fall off also prevents possible buildup and staining by this debris on the surrounding patio or deck. If one of these issues is a concern for you, then deadheading will help.
Hibiscus flowers are attached to the plant by short stems. Here's how to remove them:
Step 1: Remove wilting flowers by gently snapping them from the plant at the stem with your fingers.
Step 2: Avoid damaging nearby buds that have not yet opened, as they will soon give you another flush of color.
Hibiscus plants produce flowers on the current year’s growth or new wood. Pruning the growing tips of the plant to remove the old flowers and seed pods also stimulates more new growth, including new flowers. In areas where the growing season is fairly long, gardeners can shear their tropical hibiscus shrubs in mid-season after blooming slows down to stimulate another round of flowers. Here's how to do it:
Step 1: Cut back the whole plant by between 25 and 30 percent, below the level of the previous blooms.
Step 2: Shear hardy shrub hibiscus, like Rose of Sharon, in late winter or very early spring. Although these long bloomers need no help to produce lots of flowers over the course of the growing season, doing so helps to maintain the plant’s size and shape.
Step 3: Tip-prune hardy perennial hibiscus varieties early in the season, when they are 1 foot tall. This promotes lateral branching, which can increase blooming. These varieties can be severely damaged by late pruning, so stick to early season tip pruning or prune them in late fall to early winter, when the entire top has died back for the season.
Because hibiscus plants do not require deadheading for their health or ability to continue blooming, some gardeners skip the added task. Hibiscus plants, both tropical and hardy types, can survive and bloom well without deadheading. While many gardeners enjoy one-on-one time with their plants, you may find that you simply don’t have time to do it all. If time is in short supply, it’s OK to skip deadheading your hibiscus.
Different kinds of stress can cause hibiscus plants to drop their buds instead of flowering. Drought, insect infestation, sudden environmental changes, and extreme temperatures are just some of the reasons this could happen. If your hibiscus plant is not flowering properly, inspect and closely consider all aspects of its health.
Step 1: Water container-grown plants in particular when the soil is dry to the depth of an inch below the surface. In especially hot weather, it may be necessary to water container plants twice a day. Although hibiscus plants can dry out some between waterings, drought stress can cause flowers to fall.
Step 2: Watch for aphids and white flies on the stems and undersides of the leaves. Aphids are tiny, soft-bodied insects that suck the juice out of soft plant tissue near the growing tips. White flies are highly mobile insects that erupt like a cloud when you approach or disturb the plant.
Numerous hibiscus species with different growth habits complicate the issue of deadheading hibiscus. Rose of Sharon is a notorious spreader that can be partially contained by deadheading. Tropical hibiscus do not require deadheading in order to continue blooming, but doing so will help the plant maintain a tidier appearance. Unlike deadheading, shearing the plant removes growing tips and helps stimulate new growth including flower buds for an extended flowering season.
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