Popularly used as a tea and in herbal medicine, the hibiscus is a plant that has been around for hundreds of years and is grown all around the world.
Also known as the Rose mallow the hibiscus is a member of the Malvaceae family, which is made up of mostly perennial plants.
They are known for being quite low maintenance, usually not needing all too much attention to thrive.
But, what if your hibiscus plant starts to look unwell, maybe even like it might be dying?
Firstly, don’t panic. There might be a perfectly reasonable explanation that can be easily treated.
Secondly, read the rest of this article to find out more!
Why is my hibiscus plant dying?
Hibiscus plants are very sensitive, meaning there could be several reasons for yours to be dying. It could be a response to a change in environment, such as plant shock, overwatering, or dormancy. Your plant could also be diseased and suffering from insect infestation or wilt.
Plant shock, also known as plant stress, is a state that a plant goes into after it has experienced trauma.
Symptoms of plant shock are the foliage and growth suddenly turning yellow, leading to the leaves wilting and then dropping.
This process is often quite imminent and is usually caused by a change in your plant’s environment or routine.
A temperature change may also be responsible for plant shock. Hibiscus need at least 5 hours of sunlight a day, and moving them from a sunny area to a shady one will send your plant into distress.
It is sometimes the case that hibiscus plants can go into plant shock as a result of root damage during transplanting.
The roots are the only part of the hibiscus that intakes water, meaning that any damage to the roots can be quite traumatic for your plant.
If you think that your hibiscus’ roots may have been damaged during transplantation, the best course of action is to briefly increase your watering schedule.
This will help aid the roots in getting as much water as they can, as they begin to recover from their injuries.
You can also add mulch to the soil that is around the roots to try and increase how much water is taken in.
If the leaves over your entire hibiscus are wilted and discolored, it could be possible that your plant is suffering from wilt disease.
Wilt disease is caused by pathogenic fungi that enter the soil and then attack your hibiscus from the roots upwards.
This then prevents your hibiscus from getting the nutrients and water it needs to survive.
However, wilt disease is quite easy to diagnose. Unlike with other diseases that the hibiscus suffers from, the diseased leaves don’t turn yellow and instead turn a blackish color.
Wilt disease also affects the entire plant, as opposed to just the leaves, meaning the stems and branches of your hibiscus might also turn a blackish-brown color.
The downside is that this disease is one of the quickest killers of hibiscus plants, and can kill a plant completely within a week if left unattended.
The first step to recovery is to remove all dead leaves from your plant and wet any remaining leaves with a spray bottle of water.
This should hopefully provide the plant with a source of water that they aren’t currently getting from the roots.
Lightly mist your plant daily, and you should start to see signs of recovery within a week.
Over or under watering
Water stress is the most common cause of hibiscus death. It is more common for hibiscus plants to be overwatered than under-watered, and this is because many think that because the hibiscus is a warm-weather plant it must need lots of water.
Ultimately, this is false, and hibiscus plants only need a minimal amount of water when the topsoil becomes dry.
Symptoms of overwatering in hibiscus plants are the leaves wilting and feeling mushy and moist to touch.
Consistent overwatering can be fatal to a hibiscus plant, so you need to act quickly if you believe your plant is suffering from water stress.
First, you should push back some of the soil around the roots to get a good grasp of the extent of the plant’s damage.
If the roots have become moldy or they are giving off a bad smell it means that there has been a lot of damage, and your plant is probably experiencing root rot.
Root rot is where bacteria and fungus spread to the soil, and the moister the soil is the easier it will latch onto your hibiscus.
If your plant is suffering from root rot badly, then it is best to think about transplanting it into a different pot, with clean and fresh soil. Read on further for tips on transplanting a dying hibiscus.
If your hibiscus is still in the early signs of overwatering, and the roots have not begun to root or smell, then you should leave your plant alone to let the soil dry out naturally.
Moving your plant to a warmer area (but not in direct sunlight) can speed up the process of the soil drying out.
It is highly advised to trim or prune any of the leaves or flowers that have died as a result of overwatering.
Dead foliage can carry disease and bacteria and could result in your plant’s health deteriorating further.
It could be possible that your hibiscus isn’t dead at all and is just in a state of dormancy.
Dormancy is where a plant hibernates during the cold winter months, to preserve energy and prevent being damaged by less favorable weather.
When a plant is in dormancy all leaves will wilt and drop completely, and no further growth will continue during this time.
The stems will remain alive and should be bendy to touch.
This is a natural part of the growing process, and it doesn’t mean that something’s wrong with your Hibiscus. It should come out of dormancy when the weather starts to get warmer and the days start to get longer.
But, if you’re quite concerned with your Hibiscus’ health, then better read up on how plants grow during the winter season to allay your fears.
Aphids, also known as plant lice are very tiny bugs that will attack the leaves of the hibiscus. They are usually yellow or green, though some are even so dark green that they look black.
Aphids eat the sap from inside the hibiscus’ leaves, resulting in discoloration, curling, and eventually causing the leaves to drop entirely.
If you think your hibiscus is being affected by aphids then it is wise to act fast, as these small bugs have the potential of carrying other diseases that could also attack your hibiscus.
Wash the aphids with a strong stream of water, such as a garden hose, to knock them off of the leaves and from the plant. This should drown the aphids and get rid of them entirely.
It is advised that you continue to wash the leaves of your hibiscus every few weeks, to kill any possible leftover bugs and prevent them from attacking your plant again.
If you are unable to provide a strong stream of water or you think that your hibiscus might be too far infected to be treated with water, there are horticultural soap solutions on the market that specialize in killing and preventing aphids.
Many gardeners have also had luck with using essentials oils to treat aphids, like Neem oil or lavender oil. Applying the oil all over the plant’s stems and leaves can kill the aphids.
Be sure to only use soap solutions and oils on your hibiscus during the early morning, when there is no direct sunlight.
Severe damage can be done to the leaves if oil is put on the plant during sunlight hours.
Although less common than aphids, mealybugs are still a sizeable threat to hibiscus plants. They can spread fast and kill a hibiscus quickly.
They are white and can look almost like small pieces of lint dotted over your plant’s leaves.
Mealybugs feed on the veins of hibiscus leaves, taking all the nutrients away until the plant becomes limp and lifeless.
You can purchase chemical pesticides from a garden center or nursery that are made to get rid of mealybugs, usually requiring you to spray them onto the leaves.
Alternatively, you can use simple rubbing alcohol to treat mealybugs.
Use a cloth or q-tip to apply the rubbing alcohol to the infected areas of your hibiscus. This will kill each of the bugs, meaning you can then remove them by scraping them off of the leaves.
Ensure the process of removing the bugs is done away from any of your other plants, and that the mealybugs are bagged and disposed of immediately.
Top tip – Make sure to water your hibiscus before treating it, as this can prevent any plant stress during the process.
Repotting your dying hibiscus
In some cases, repotting your dying hibiscus is the best way to ensure that any diseases or issues with your plant are resolved.
If done so properly, transplanting your hibiscus into a new pot of fresh soil can help its recovery and revival process.
This is especially wise as a last resort if any of the above solutions have proven unsuccessful.
It is important to use soil mixed with succulent gravel. Hibiscus plants need soil with high draining qualities that also stays moist, but the water doesn’t sit for too long.
Once you have created a hole in the soil to plant your hibiscus in, place a handful of hibiscus plant fertilizer in the bottom of it.
If your dying hibiscus is being affected from the roots, this will hopefully help to provide the nutrients needed to get your plant on the road to recovery.
Hibiscus plants have quite sensitive root systems, something that will be even more prevalent if your plant in is a state of distress.
When removing your hibiscus from its former pot or home, be sure to leave a lot of space when cutting the root ball out of the soil.
This way, any excess soil can be removed and washed off carefully by hand. It will avoid the roots becoming damaged and prevent the risk of plant shock, which is likely to be fatal to a hibiscus that is already in distress.
Preventing your hibiscus from dying
Using a growth enhancer on your hibiscus in between fertilization can provide your plant with extra nutrients to keep it strong enough to fight off wilt and other diseases.
You should also ensure to use a fertilizer that has a high amount of potassium and phosphate to keep your hibiscus healthy and less prone to disease.
How to tell if your hibiscus is dead
If you think your hibiscus might be too far gone and that it has died, here’s a handy tip check.
Lightly scratch off the top layer of bark from the main stem with your fingernail. If the layer underneath is green and feels moist to touch then it means that your plant is alive, and you might be able to revive it.
If the second layer is brown and dry to touch, then it is likely that your hibiscus plant is dead.
This is very probable if the leaves on your plant are also crispy and brown, and they fall off easily with just a gentle pull.
Frequently Asked Questions about Dying Hibiscus Plants
Should you deadhead a hibiscus?
It is not necessary to deadhead a hibiscus, and it does not affect the plant whether this is done or not. You can choose to remove the flowers for aesthetic purposes if you wish.
How long do hibiscus plants live?
Modern varieties of hibiscus plant live between 5-10 years on average, but older species have been known to live up to and over 50 years.
When do hibiscus bloom?
Hibiscus plants bloom during the summer, usually sometime between June and August.
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Marcel runs the place around here. He has a deep passion for houseplants & gardening and is constantly on the lookout for yet another special plant to add to his arsenal of houseplants, succulents & cacti.
Marcel is also the founder of Iseli International Commerce, a sole proprietorship company that publishes a variety of websites and online magazines.