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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Pruning shrubs, Hibiscus

How do we prune a Hibiscus tree that is about 3 feet tall? The plants are located in a container outside of our senior center. They wintered inside and are now too bushy at the top. How do we prune so they are more compact? What is the correct way to care for these wonderful flowering trees?


It sounds like you have Hibiscus rosa-sinensis---the tropical evergreen shrub. Late spring is the time to prune. According to the American Horticultural Society Pruning & Training book: Prune established plants by cutting back main shoots by as much as one-third, and shorten laterals, leaving two or three buds. Dead wood attracts canker, so it should be removed promptly. To renovate completely, remove older branches entirely and cut the remainder back hard. The response is usually good, but if most stems have died back, it is best to replace the plant.
(Source: American Horticultural Society Pruning & Training, ed. by C. Brickell, 1996, p. 201).

Other pruning information is available from Hidden Valley Hibiscus.

Also, my personal experience with a 10-year-old Hibiscus is that pinching out tips of stems in spring and summer increases flower production.

Date 2017-06-08
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Hibiscus, Topiary work, Pruning

I have a small hibiscus that I would like to train into a tree with the twisted trunk and I have no idea how to go about that. Please advise.


When you prune your hibiscus into a tree-like form with a single trunk, it is called a standard. There are even braided topiary forms. To achieve the twisted shape, you will probably need to create a support or frame.

The following general information on pruning comes from Tropical Hibiscus:

"While the tropical hibiscus can be pruned any time, probably the ideal is the earliest where the resulting tender new growth will be safe from cold damage*. For shaping purposes, some growers will prune the longest third of the branches and return in 4 to 6 weeks and prune the next longest third. Only sharp, clean shears should be used. A clean cut should be just above and angled down and away from an 'eye' or node. (A node is the junction of a leaf and the stem. There is a small bud in this junction that is activated after pruning.) Cutting above outward pointing "eyes" will encourage growth in that direction. The new growth resulting from pruning invigorates the plant and will provide a source for many new blooms."

The American Horticultural Society's Pruning & Training (edited by Christopher Brickell and David Joyce, DK Publishing, 2011) describes the technique for creating a braided stem:
"Form a braided stem simply by braiding together three flexible young shoots. Select the strongest three on a multistemmed young plant, and remove the remainder. Single-stemmed plants can be cut back hard to produce multiple stems."
The book also describes what is called a "barleysugar stem," which may be more like the twist or spiral you envision: in this technique, "use a sturdy wooden pole with dowel pegs inserted in a spiral along its length. Train one or two stems around the pole, holding them in place by looping them beneath the dowels. Remove the pegs and the pole in sections when stem growth has hardened."

Here is a link to Brooklyn Botanic Garden's article on espalier forms, Special Cases: Pruning for Particular Purposes.

The Miller Library has a good selection of books on pruning and training, and specifically on topiary. You can search the library's catalog by clicking this link.

Date 2018-04-04
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Hibiscus, Plant cuttings, Propagation

Can you tell me how to grow Hibiscus from cuttings?


According to the American Horticultural Society, most hibiscus root easily from cuttings. They suggest the following in Plant Propagation (1999, p. 131 and pp. 100-101):
"...cuttings should usually be 1.5 to 2 inches long, with two or three pairs of leaves retained at the top...remove the soft tip from each cutting, because it is vulnerable to both rotting and scorch...remove the lowest pair of leaves to make it easier to insert the cutting into the medium...make a hole in the medium with a pencil...[for]...minimal resistance...the cuttings will benefit from a warm, protected environment...when the cuttings root, knock them out of the container and gently pull them apart. Pot singly..."
The AHS suggests using rooting hormone and they also point out that due to timing, you may get 'greenwood' (slightly hardened) rather than 'softwood' cuttings; they are treated the same way.

North Dakota State University Extension has propagation directions including from cuttings.

I also looked at GardenWeb, a gardening forum where experienced gardeners share their knowledge. Here is another link from this site which suggests layering, a process by which you bend a branch down to soil (usually in a pot), anchor it, and wait for it to take root.

Here is additional information about layering hibiscus, from Hibiscus World.

Date 2017-08-15
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May 31 2018 13:14:08