There are 35 native hibiscus species in the US according to Florida University.
Hibiscus are viscous bloomers and are also called rosemallows.
To grow true show stoppers though, you’ll need to know how to prune hibiscus.
These are bushes. Not just flowers. You get the most blooms when you take care of the bush.
Cut back the branches, shape them, rejuvenate them, pinch spent flowers and do the occasional corrective pruning.
That’s what’s needed for an abundance of growth.
As hibiscus (tropical and hardy varieties) can produce vibrant colored flowers as wide as 12 inches, you’ll want as many as you can get throughout the warmer weather.
Pruning is how you get more flowers.
So, if you want to learn the proper way of pruning hibiscus, better keep reading.
How to Prune Hibiscus
To prune hibiscus conduct selective pruning. It leaves some branches undisturbed to continue blooming while cutting some back to encourage new branching. When pruning hibiscus, cuts on branches should be made a quarter inch below a leaf node, removing no more than one-third of the plant. At the end of the season, a full prune can be done to cut each branch to just a few nodes on each to prepare it for next spring.
The more branches your bush develops, the more flowers it produces.
Around the fall season, a full prune can be done to cut the plant back to just a few nodes per branch to prepare it for the following spring.
Throughout the season, corrective pruning is done to remove dead, damaged, or dying branches.
Different Types of Hibiscus Pruning
Selective pruning is ideal for hibiscus, but for it to work to your advantage, you need to know which branches to select.
Downward-facing branches could be removed and upward-facing branches shortened.
When selecting which branches to cut, remember that flower buds emerge on the tips of branches.
If those are facing inward, or downward, you won’t have upward-facing flowerheads.
Corrective pruning goes hand-in-glove with selective pruning.
If the branches look like they could be better, cut them off to allow them to regrow healthier.
The first to go are branches that look rotted, wilted, sickly, or perhaps lopsided.
Any branches that don’t add to the plants’ attractiveness or health, ought to be removed. That’s the purpose of corrective pruning.
Pinching is the mildest pruning technique.
This should be used throughout the season to “pinch” off spent flowers, just as the colors begin to fade.
To pinch hibiscus flowers, cut them (or nip them with your thumb and forefinger) a quarter inch below the flower head.
Full Prune and Hard Pruning
A full prune is when you cut the plant back to just a few nodes on each branch.
A hard prune is the most draconian cutting you can give a hibiscus.
Hard pruning is only advisable on old plants where you see lots of dead wood.
How to Prune Hibiscus
Sharp pruning shears are all you need. Don’t use blunt scissors as those are likely to tear branches and strip the bark from the wood.
Use sharp pruners to cut cleanly through the wood.
If you use your pruners to cut more than one plant, sterilize them before using them.
Use rubbing alcohol to prevent spreading diseases between your plants.
Eye Up Your Cuts
Don’t prune willy-nilly. Use selective and corrective pruning to give you a reason to make the cut.
Look over the plant to get a feel for its overall shape.
- Are there are branches that are overly long?
- Thin branches that look too straggly?
- Thick and top-heavy branches growing lopsided because of the weight?
Start with corrective pruning cuts to remove the unhealthy branches.
For long branches, trim them back to a third of their size. Not all the way back to the main node.
What a Node is
A node looks and feels like a bump on a stem or branch. The nodes are where new growth emerges.
When pruning hibiscus, make your cuts a quarter inch beneath nodes.
Flowers of hibiscus plants emerge on the tips of branches. Each branch can have several nodes, but the flower buds will only emerge one at a time at the branch tip.
Control the Direction of New Growth
To shape your hibiscus, you need to know which way new growth will emerge. The direction the nodes are facing tells you that.
Inward-facing nodes will grow inward.
Downward facing nodes grow facing the ground, and upward grows upright.
The best-shaped hibiscus bushes grow out and up.
Look for nodes facing the direction you want to see branches grow and make the cut a few inches below the node you selected.
If you want to stop growth in a certain direction, cut the branch above the node.
To encourage new growth, make your cuts a quarter inch below the leaf nodes.
Pruning Differences between Hardy and Tropical Hibiscus
The only real difference to the pruning technique you use is the amount you cut the branches back by.
Branches on the hardy hibiscus type of plants can be cut back to 3 to 6 inches.
Tropical hibiscus varieties do best with at least 12 inches of mature branches.
When to Prune Hibiscus
Just as important as how to prune hibiscus is getting your timing right.
Right before the weather warms is the best time to prune tropical hibiscus.
In most areas, that’s early spring.
Hardy hibiscus is easier to maintain because they die back to ground level in the winter.
To encourage healthy growth or just for a winter tidy-up, they do benefit from being cut back to one foot above ground level.
If you do decide to prune a hardy hibiscus plant, do it after the first hard frost to prevent shock.
Frequently Asked Questions about Hibiscus Pruning
How do I know if my hibiscus is a tropical or hardy variety?
If you’ve inherited a hibiscus and don’t know the variety, you can tell by the vibrancy of color. Tropical hibiscus has shiny dark green foliage and a wider range of colors. The leaves on a hardy hibiscus are a duller green and the flowers have fewer color varieties. Mainly shades of red and white. Tropical hibiscus requires yearly pruning in early spring. Hardy varieties benefit from pruning, but it’s not a big deal if you don’t. They die back in the winter anyway.
Can Hibiscus be Hard-Pruned?
Hibiscus can be hard pruned but only on mature plants. The why for this type of tough love is to remove a lot of dead wood. Hard pruning should only be considered when the plant is more wood than foliage and it’s struggling to produce flowers. With hard pruning, the overall size of Hibiscus may be reduced by two-thirds rather than the standard one-third max removal for all other types of pruning.
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Daniel has been a plant enthusiast for over 20 years. He owns hundreds of houseplants and prepares for the chili growing seasons yearly with great anticipation. His favorite plants are plant species in the Araceae family, such as Monstera, Philodendron, and Anthurium. He also loves gardening and is growing hot peppers, tomatoes, and many more vegetables.