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How to Grow Hibiscus

Even in the United States, you can grow tropical hibiscus and enjoy delicious, healthy tea, plus tender leaves for salads.

| August 3, 2011

  • Thai Red Hibiscus
    This hibiscus variety, ‘Thai Red,’ grows wonderfully on a farm in central Virginia.

  • Thai Red Hibiscus

Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa), also called roselle, is a short-day plant usually grown in tropical and subtropical areas. In the United States, it has been grown commercially in Florida, California, Louisiana and Kentucky. Many home gardeners have figured out how to grow Hibiscus successfully as a warm weather annual in Oklahoma, New Jersey and even farther north.

In temperate Zones, start hibiscus in pots at the same time as you would tomatoes. When seedlings are 3 to 4 inches high, transplant them to a sunny spot in the garden. Space plants 3 feet apart in rows 5 feet apart. Hibiscus grows well in soil with a high level of organic matter, but too much nitrogen will delay flowering until too late in the season. Keep plants unmulched, evenly moist and well-weeded until they are 1 1/2 to 2 feet high. At that point, mulch the plants to keep weeds at bay for the rest of the season.

The small leaves and tender branch tips are a refreshing addition to fresh salads. You can also use them to make a tea or jam similar to the ones from calyxes. You don’t need to add pectin because hibiscus leaves contain 3 percent pectin. Hibiscus tea needs to be boiled to get the deep red color and great flavor.

On our central Virginia farm, flowering of our preferred ‘Thai Red’ roselle variety begins in late July to mid-August, and continues until frost. We cover plants with Reemay or tarps during early light frosts to keep the harvest going well into October.

The hibiscus calyxes are most easily harvested when fully grown but still tender. At this stage, they can be snapped off by hand. Use clippers to harvest stems that have hardened. A second advantage of harvesting early and often is increased total production of calyxes. Although, picking a variety with less day length sensitivity may be the most important factor affecting yield in temperate areas.

Calyx production on our farm has ranged from 1 to 2 pounds per plant. (Expect less if you are waiting for the lower fruits to mature seeds before beginning the harvest, and expect more if harvesting while the calyx stems are still tender.)

Nina Goins
10/3/2019 1:10:38 AM

I live in Rhode Island. I planted six. Lost four. I. Believe it was soil related. My soil was too alkaline this year except one area. They did fruit and we are expecting a frost this weekend. So, the question is, do I need to dig them up and bring them in for the winter for a dormant time? Will they survive a winter?

4/4/2016 2:45:31 AM

Thank you - this is useful. I planted an experimental stand of roselle in our new farm in the desert borderlands of Arabia. It took off like wildfire but rapidly became infested with hibiscus beetle. Does anyone have experience with an organic control solution?

11/13/2014 9:19:01 AM

I had good success with my first attempt at growing roselle and am bracing for the first frost of the year. I'm going to cut some branches with the larger calyxes (calyxi?) and let them dry, hopefully saving some viable seeds. The tea is wonderful, the jelly is beautiful, and I am going to try and candy some of this last crop. Zone 8b (East Texas).

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