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Tropical Hibiscus

It is possible to keep a tropical hibiscus plant alive in a pot all through the winter...The plant will probably not look great, but it will survive.

Hibiscus fragilis (C T Johansson, Wikimedia).

It is possible to keep a tropical hibiscus plant alive in a pot all through the winter if it is cut back hard before being dragged indoors.

These are full-sun loving plants; low light, short days, and dry air indoors during our winter do not appeal to them, so they sulk.

You may have bought one as a small plant last spring. Some are actually treated with growth retardants to keep them small. After the effect of the growth retardant wears off, the plant can then shoot up like an adolescent child and become unwieldy by the time the weather cools down outside. That is why they never really thrive as houseplants, and they drop a lot of leaves, which is messy indoors.

Keep them as cool as possible, around 50 ⁰F, and give them as much light as possible. Try them near French doors and away from direct heat. If you suspect any infestation of aphids, white flies, or red spider mites, treat them promptly with insecticidal soap.

If flowers appear, you can fertilize.

Hibiscus do not like temperature swings, so if they are near windows leave them there but try to avoid drafts, (e.g. place a draft stopper under the French door). Keep the soil barely but consistently moist. The plant will probably not look great, but it will survive. You can cut it back again and shape it next April before it goes outdoors in late May for the summer. It will then thrive and be very relieved to be out of the house.

[Note: One red hibiscus flower, one bloom behind each ear, means one is married but looking for a lover!]

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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