How to Aesthetically Prune a Tropical Hibiscus in Spring

If you want a shrub with flamboyant flowers then vaboom, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is the plant for you. Frida Kahlo wore them in her hair in that sexy and colorful fashion. Some grow in a dwarf, compact form and others tall and open. My neighbor’s was growing a bit too rangy and loose so I offered to prune her tropical hibiscus; plus I get the chance to share it here with you.

Tropical Hibiscus (these are evergreen as opposed to the deciduous hibiscus Rose Of Sharon) are versatile plants that can be pruned into hedges, patio trees, espaliers against fences and walls, used for screening, can be grown in containers & even as houseplants. The flowers are single or double and you can find them in white to pink, red, orange, apricot, yellow and many combinations. That’s why we want to do this pruning – to bring on more of these vibrant blooms. Yes, please!

Here’s how I pruned this tropical hibiscus:

Why prune

Some hibiscus will never need more than a light pruning. Reasons for pruning 1 are: to train as a hedge, espalier, etc, to keep it a certain size, for aesthetics (the kind of pruning I’m doing here), to rejuvenate, & to develop good branch structure.

The main reason I like to prune them: hibiscus bloom on new growth which pruning stimulates. Pinching, aka tipping, really brings on the flowers.

When to prune a tropical hibiscus

In a nutshell, you don’t want to prune a hibiscus when it’s too hot or too cold. The timing depends on where you live, but for those of us in temperate climates, the optimum time is spring. I think it’s best to do it just as the weather is warming up.

I live in Tucson, AZ  where the temps are in the 70’s to 80’s in early March and that’s when I pruned this plant. Pruning in May wouldn’t be best because June is our hottest month, well into the 100’s.  Conversely, I wouldn’t prune in fall because quite a few December evenings dip into the low 30’s. You don’t want to force out all that lush new tender growth & then have it burn or freeze.

The earlier you prune a hibiscus, the sooner those blooms will appear.

Hibiscus are native to tropical areas so if you live in that climate, you can prune throughout the year.

a large leggy tropical hibiscus in a terra cotta pot sits on a patio with other plants

Here’s the hibiscus before the pruning – it needs shaping to please the eye. The plant has been flowering, not abundantly. A good trimming will bring on more blooms.

Things to do before pruning

I try to avoid pruning a stressed plant. When I drove by my neighbor’s house I noticed that this hibiscus, which grows in a pot, was dry. I sent her a message to give it a good watering the day before I pruned it.

Before having at it with the Felco’s (this are my long time go-to pruners), I make sure they’re clean & sharp. You don’t want to make jagged cuts or introduce any infection.

Where to prune a tropical hibiscus

You want to make the cut about 1/4″ above a leaf node.  A node facing inward will stimulate growth which is up & inwards, whereas a node facing outward will force the growth to be more up & out.

About 2/3 of the cuts I took on this hibiscus were inward because I wanted it to be less leggy. Where you prune is up to you & depends on the look you want.

close up of a hibiscus branch with an outward facing node

Here’s a node with a terminal, outward facing new growth. This will encourage upwards & outwards growth.

Steps taken:

Step back to look at the overall shape of the plant & see what I wanted to do. I do this a few times throughout a prune job to see how it’s going.

Remove any dead branches (there were only some stubs on this 1) & those branches which cross over.

This hibiscus grows on a covered patio with the limited sun so there were a lot of weak, inner branches. Out they came.

close up of the inner branch structure of a tropical hibiscus

You can see the weak inner growth here. Bye bye.

All weak growth at the base was removed too.

Branches were pruned or pinched. As I said above, most of the cuts made were to force inward growth.

Because this hibiscus grows in a corner, it was rotated the 180 degrees so I could do the other side. The plant stayed in this postion so the other side can get the light which this side did.

A generous amount of compost (3″) was applied to nourish the plant & also conserve moisture.

I pruned the 2nd hibiscus with a different form which I won’t detail here. You can see it how I prune that 1 towards the end of the video.

close up of large yellow tropical hibiscus flowers variegated with red

Enough sticky, stemmy pictures – let’s end with some floral eye candy!

Pruning a houseplant hibiscus

A hibiscus growing as a houseplant can be lightly pruned or pinched to stimulate new growth.

Next year this tropical hibiscus should only need a pinching. And why not – who doesn’t want more of those striking, colorful blooms!

Happy gardening,

Signed by Nell Foster


Flower Friday: Hibiscus 

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Repotting Plants: Basics Beginning Gardeners Need To Know 

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