Hibiscus: the tropical miracle in my homeBy Adina Dosan (adinamiti)
October 21, 2009
Years ago I knew nothing about hibiscus, I just knew that H. rosa-sinensis was commonly called Japanese rose (I later learned it was actually the Chinese rose.) After more than 20 years of growing these plants, I've learned a lot from first-hand experience and reading about them. I was lucky it's a "good" plant and it held up under my learning experiences. Of course, I lost a few along the way. I didn't know how to propagate them at first, but I found out later it must be done from cuttings. Every time I trimmed them back, I put the cuttings in water to root; some of them made roots, but very slowly. Some stayed for too long in the water and rotted. Now I just plant the cuttings in soil and they grow well and take off quicker than those rooted in water.
Another thing I discovered about Hibiscus was that it may die if I kept it too far from the window. I almost lost one when I put it on a table in my living room, only about 3 feet (1m) from the window. My hibiscus was so bushy after growing so well on the balcony during that summer! I brought it back inside and thought mostly of how it would decorate my living room, rather than where would be the best place for it to grow during the winter months. After just a few days, the leaves began to turn yellow and dry, and fall off one by one. The stalk began to dry too; when I figured out what happened, it had only one healthy leaf left, very close to the soil. The rest of the stalk was dry and I had to cut it back to just above that leaf. The pot was too big for my windowsill , but I found a good place on the heater for it. You may be wondering why a Hibiscus (or any other plant) would grow well on a heater. It was no danger because the heaters didn't get very hot--it was during the last of the Communism years, when someone else was deciding for us how much heat we needed.
My hibiscus grew well that winter, although it came up a bit too lanky because all the branches started to grow from that leaf and I didn't know how to shape it.
Now I have several tropical hibiscus, in three colors including a coral red 'First Lady', pink-orange 'Pink Delicious' and a scarlet-red H.rosa-sinensis. I keep them outside during summer and water them every day.
Also, they need showers and sometimes they need insecticide for pests that are attracted to them. When I see some sticky drops on the young leaves, then I know it's time for spraying. But before I learned about the most common pests of Hibiscus, my buds and young leaves often became covered with lots of small insects--I later learned they are aphids.
Also, sometimes the hibiscus plants unexpectedly lost their flower buds. Now I know it was because of other insects called thrips. 
It was hard at first, when I didn't have any insecticide to spray. I used laundry soap and water, sometimes tobacco and alcohol, for making a quick insecticide. It worked for a while, but it took so much time to clean a big hibiscus because I had to clean each leaf and bud with a small sponge soaked in the soap insecticide. Then I showered them every day, all summer. If needed I repeated the procedure. Now, I'm using a good insecticide we have here, called Mospilan which is very efficient to all insects on most of the plants and veggies.
When fall comes, I'm watching very closely the plants and the weather. Even when the temperature drops, they are still blooming, but as long as it's warm and sunny during the day. Still, the flowers become smaller. This is the time to bring them back inside, before the night temperature drops below 50F (10C).
Before I bring them inside, I trim them back very short, spray with insecticide and shower them the next day. At first , I was reluctant to cut back the plants - like many people are - and I said it was a pity to do this to them. But after I realized what good a hard pruning can do to plants, I became bolder and cut back the hibiscus very short to encourage their growth and blooming for the next year. The new leaves begin showing up in about a month and some of the old ones may get yellow and fall, but that is a natural occurance. In February, I might cut back the plants again, if the branches have grown too long. Then I pinch them every month, until May, to increase blooming. Since I started to do that, my hibiscuses have lots of buds, even four or five on each stem. This works better than fertilizing, which makes the plant grow too much in a short time.
When this happens and the hibiscus becomes too tall or too big for its pot, it's time to repot it and any soil I have is good. I even used soil from the garden, which seemed like clay, but the hibiscus did just fine with that soil, too.
During winter, my hibiscuses are blooming, but the flowers are different from those which bloom in the summer.
They aren't double and sometimes they have funny shapes. Last winter, one even came up with some white inserts inside the red.
That is why I like my old friend, the hibiscus, he is "good" and doesn't need anything else, just my attention and care. In return, he gives me his positive energy which the Feng Shui teachings claim the hibiscus has. That's why they say it's a good plant to keep in the bedroom.
Many thanks to our friend Luvsgrtdanes for the great picture of the aphids.