Hardy Hibiscus trouble

Indiana, PA(Zone 5b)

Hi all,
My hubby and I have spent the winter thinking we killed the 4 hardy hibiscus plants we bought in the fall and planted... 2 days after planting they were wilting and turning yellow. The nursery told us they might just be in "shock." Last month I clipped a branch and it was dead wood. But after coming across this Web site and reading about it in the Plant Files, I have hope again! Is anyone here familiar with this plant, and if so, could you tell me if there could still be hope for this plant even though it appears to have died? I have read in the forum that they "die back to the ground" but I am a total newbie gardener and want to be sure I am understanding that term. If they do die back to the ground, does that mean that the above-ground branches should just be cut off because they will not ever bloom again? The nursery guarantees their plants for only 6 months, which would be April and I am quite sure they will not be growing then since they are late bloomers (and sometimes it's still pretty cold here in April). We were originally planning to dig them up and go get our money back, but now I am not convinced they are dead! Any advice would be welcome - Thank you!

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

Do you know which type of hardy hibiscus it was? Some types of hardy hibiscus do die back in winter but others like Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) don't die back. The problem is, since you planted them in the fall and they suffered from some transplant shock and never recovered from that before winter hit, it's going to be hard to tell whether they're dead or dormant until the spring comes and you see if they come back or not. In your part of the country, I'm not sure that fall is the best time for planting things like this because it doesn't give the plants time to settle in before winter hits, and plants that aren't well established before winter are going to tend to get damaged more from the cold than they normally would. So my recommendation would be wait until you're getting close to the deadline for returning the plants for a refund, and if they haven't shown some signs of life by then I would return them and get new ones just to be on the safe side.

Garland, TX(Zone 8a)

I've been able to tell if Hibiscus moscheutos a.k.a. hardy hibiscus is still alive in the winter here by very carefully digging with my fingers to remove a small amount of soil from the base of the dead stems about an inch or so under the soil line - emphasis on being careful not to disturb the roots! :-)

If I can see a greenish tint to the stems below the soil line, I know the plant is still viable. Of course, the soil doesn't freeze here, so I don't know if you'd be able to do the same up there in PA.

(edited for spelling & grammar (don't tell on me, I split an infinitive!))

This message was edited Feb 17, 2007 1:06 PM

Dunedin, FL(Zone 10b)

I am not sure if their dead or not but I would leave them and now just wait.
We moved begin of Nov. 2006 and had gardners trans-plant a couple of our fragile fancy Hibiscus plants. We think they just lifted them up and did not take enough roots. They lots all their leaves and looked like they were dead sticks. It amazed me how now every single piece of the stems are totaly full of new foliage ! One has even been blooming again !
I know it's warmer here but I think Hardy Hibiscu will come back for you .
Now our neighbor who moved from Ohio and bought our home next door brought a beautiful Hibicus down he had grown in a pot for five years and brought in and out each Winter. He planted it in the ground here second week of Nov 2006 and it did not lose a leaf !
Hope yours comes right back for you !

Indiana, PA(Zone 5b)

Thanks, everyone for the tips. If our snow ever melts, I will start looking for signs of life! We were pretty discouraged, having bought our first home and being eager to beautify the barren lot, and we just kept wondering what was wrong with us (and our lawn!). We also wished the nursery had been more help, but oh well -- I am so glad I found this site! Much appreciated.

Weedville, PA(Zone 6a)

Hi there, I think maybe I can offer some help. I'm in the same zone as you and had this exact dilemma last year. I had gotten a hardy hibiscus from a plant swap, and I still am not sure of it's name. I wasn't sure if it would survive our winters since the hibiscus came from zone 6, but sure enough it did survive...and it thrived!

In spring it looked dead, no growth and just a dead stem. So pitiful looking. I cut back the stem and it was all dead wood. Not long after I cut it back new growth began and it grew very quickly. I did stunt mine a bit last year by moving it, but all in all it did great.

This year I cut it back to the ground in fall so that it can begin new growth immediately in spring. If you do this just make sure to mark where it's planted so that you don't accidentally dig it up while planting other things before it's growth shows in the spring. (haven't we all made that mistake? lol)

If you still worry about it over the next few years you can mulch it heavily w/ leaves, mulch, hay, newspapers or whatever you have on hand. It's a bit late to mulch it now, since you'd have to dig down through 2-3 feet of snow to get to it! But, I'm betting you'll have gorgeous blooms this year, better than you thought! Be sure to come back and share pics with us! =^)

Good luck,

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)


I have 2 different kinds of Hardy Hibiscus growing. The latest one was the new "Kopper King" Hardy Hibiscus. It has HUGE flowers tinged with deep pink. I planted one on the east side and one on the west side of my house. Both get good sun. 2006 was their second year in my garden. They both bloomed but only a few flowers. The one on the West side made one seed pod.

When I cut mine back in the Fall, I leave a part of the stem sticking up so I will know next year where the plant is. No need to cut it flush. Hibiscus start growing very late in the season--like end of July.

I bought mine at HD. Just FYI--HD guarantees all it's plants for a full year, but you need to have your receipt to get a refund. They carry almost everything you would ever want.


Here's the tag from the plant.

Thumbnail by Gitagal
SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

You guys are great! I just asked DeannaV over in another forum about my Hardy Hibiscus that looks like a potful of sticks. Today, I did garden inventory and looked closely at that pot. There, down at the very base of the sticks, is GREEN! (Yes, I'm shouting for joy!) Thank you all sooooooooooo much, cause it cost a lot $$$ and It's named after my sister. Here's pic of it from the plantfiles: Hardy hibiscus Disco Belle Rosey Red:


Alexander, AR

I recently bought "Hibiscus subzero mix" bulbs from michigan bulb co. Now that I've read the forum I'm a bit leary on these now..lol. What sold me on buying them was the add "big as dinner plate blooms". Impressed me so much..i doubled the order..lol. Well, I have so many flowers, from when my mom was lving and planted herself, I thought..what the heck, I'm going to buy them. So, we'll see..lol.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

If you're leery because you think they won't be hardy there's nothing to worry about, these are H. moscheutos cultivars which are hardy to zone 5 and I'm assuming you're probably a zone or two warmer than that. And they do have very large pretty blooms (maybe not quite the size of a dinner plate, but still pretty big!). However, I would be leery of ordering from Michigan bulb, they have a rather poor rating in Garden Watchdog.
Also, just so you're not surprised when you open the box and think they sent you the wrong thing, what you'll be getting are bare root plants, not bulbs.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

I would agree with Ecrane.
I would NEVER, NEVER buy anything from Michigan Bulb Co. I learned that the hard way a long time ago.


Lansing, KS(Zone 5b)

ME THREE!!, I would never ever flush my money down the toilet again for gnat size plants which gave up the ghost when planted, oh yes they'll send you bigger plants to replace the gnats, but they expired within the season as well. Be forewarned, Michigan Bulb has a low rating and very poor customer service as well when attempting to get a refund or replacement!

Indiana, PA(Zone 5b)

Well, our snow is finally gone and I was able to inspect the plant beneath the surface, and it's GREEN! Just above that, I clipped every branch and they were dead wood. It's almost April ... I will have to update the thread and report if they grew or not. I may call the nursery and see what they suggest (the nursery was Musser Forests, by the way -- we live just 10 minutes away). Thanks, everyone, for the replies!

Ogden, UT

Thanks for the info! I live in Utah. Love my hibiscus, I planted 2 last year. They were absolutely gorgeous. The most awesome color, deep coral and peach!
I was wondering through my pathway looking at my hibiscus thinking, "hmmm maybe they aren't so cold hardy :( Then I thought maybe they will still come out of it cuz summer bloomers.
So I should cut the dead branches down?

Cant wait to see them this year. My mom gave me a "dinnerplate" one at the end of the season cuz I loved my other hibiscus so much. Waiting anxiously, really think I will encorporate more in the yard. My fav!

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

flowerprincess--what zone are you in? I know some parts of Utah get pretty cold, so some of the hardy hibiscus may not be hardy for you if you're colder than zone 5. They are pretty late to come back in the spring, so I definitely wouldn't give up on them yet. I would leave the dead branches there until you start to see new growth--that'll remind you where the plant is until it comes back to life (that's my personal preference--otherwise I forget there's something there and end up accidentally digging things up)

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)


Ecrane's advice is good! I just wanted to let you know that I live in zone 7a, and my perennial Hibiscus does not break ground until early July. The new shoots will come from the ground all around the dead stems. Because you have to wait that long, it is a good idea to leave the stems up so you can keep an eye on that spot.


Brimfield, MA(Zone 5a)

I'm with Heather. Same zone and same exact problem last year. I have 3 different types. I don't know the name but they all came from Home Depot and had the same tags as in Gita's picture and one is dinnerplates with all white (so beautiful). One of them took absolutely forever to come to life. The other 2 came back in Spring but that 3rd one took so long I thought for sure it was dead, but it came back. I would say it might even have been the end of May, but don't recall exactly, I just remember being shocked at how long it took to come back because I'd given up hope on it thinking it was dead.

Ogden, UT

I live in zone 5. It does get pretty cold here. Was really cold this year. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Archer/Bronson, FL(Zone 8b)

I'm glad to read this thread to see how the hardy's are going for others.

I have a Texas Star that grew very nicely last summer but because of drought conditions, I moved it over by the overflow tube by my a/c compressor. I also planted my Lord Baltimore over there.

Today, there are 2 new stalks coming up from the base of Texas Star. Nothing yet on Lord Baltimore. I was afraid he was dead, so I will wait a while longer.

All the Blue Satin seedlings I grew last year have been greening up from the main stalk for the past 2 weeks. They never did die back to the ground.

Because this was the completion of my first year in zone 8b, I cut nothing back until after last frost this spring. Two weeks ago I went on a pruning rampage and within a very few days, new growth emerged.



You should cut the dead wood down and they will put out new sprouts when the weather warms up----Beth

Kwajalein, Marshall Islands(Zone 11)

Hi everyone. Just wanted to add my 2 cents: I grew Hardy's in Colorado for years. Yes - litterally dinner plate size flowers. My friends thought I was nuts leaving them in the ground, but they did wonderfully. I found that leaving a few inches of the branches was quite beneficial - not only to know where they were, but also to use as stakes for the new growth. The flowers were so large that the branches would droop to almost doubled over. By tying the new branches to the stubs of the old ones I didn't have to disturb the roots by grounding in stakes. It worked beatuifully and I had full gorgeous plants from May though October. Good luck!

Oak Lawn, IL(Zone 5a)


Good luck with your hardy hibiscus plants. I currently grow two cultivars -- Lord Baltimore and Disco Belle. I live in northern Illinois (5a), and mine usually do not show new growth until early May.

San Antonio, TX

I have a red hibiscus that looks dead right now. I planted this in July of last year. I read the entire thread here and I sure hope my plant comes back, I was expecting to see leaves on the stems not at ground level. I took very good care of my plant last year and wanted an even taller plant this year. I feel like I'm starting all over with a baby plant. I am a new homeowner and new to gardening. I scratched the surface of a few stems and its not green. In some areas it looks kinda black, almost like mildew. Has anyone seen that before? No one mentioned that. I live in South Texas, maybe ya'll can help me too....

This message was edited Mar 17, 2008 2:42 PM

This message was edited Mar 17, 2008 2:42 PM

San Antonio, TX

I am adding a picture to show you what I found. I found this in 2 places. The stem is so brittle, I was able to to this with my finger nail. I will be trimming it after I post this picture. I'm sure more of the stems are probably like this. I should have covered it, but here in San Antonio, it rarely gets under 40 degrees here in the winter. Not sure if I should dig it up or leave it for a couple more months, but I see no green growth at this time. Thanks for looking and any comments are appreciated.

Thumbnail by Punky242
Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)


As mentioned above----any stems left over from last year are DEAD! Do not worry about how they look and whatever you see in the dead stems......It is all "history"!

The new growth will come from below the ground around the dead stems. All lush and green! The root-system on a perennial Hibiscus is amazing! It grows roots that look like very long, white carrots in all directions. Digging one up--you would have to pull and pull in all directions to get it all up. Believe me! It "owns: tyhe space it is growing in!

I read here, from someone, that she leaves the old stems be, up to a height of about 2 feet or so, because they are sturdy and she can tie the new growth to them with soft ties to support it. I did that also--last fall. I did not cut the old stems back as far as I normally do with this in mind.

Bide your time! Perennial Hibiscus emerges a bit late in the season. In TX--it may be sooner than here, but--they WILL come!!!!! You could throw a hand-full of general, organic garden fertilizer around the base to help it along.....something you would feed your bulbs with.....


San Antonio, TX

Thanks Gita,
I wasn't sure if that dark color meant it was "freezer burnt" forever! haha, I know that may sound silly, but I really thought along those lines. I thought the roots may be in the same condition. I will chill out for now and will reply again once something happens. I can't wait for everything to start blooming again. Thanks for all the helpful information. I have bookmarked the site and will check it often. Thanks for writing in to me. Happy Blooms! Ericka-San Antone

This message was edited Mar 18, 2008 3:20 PM

San Antonio, TX

Still waiting on green growth but nothing in site. I am watering several times a week. I'll give it another 30 days I suppose and then I'm digging them up. Am I giving up too early?

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

I haven't grown the hardies, but I'm either in the same zone or warmer than you and I have other things that are just now starting to wake up, and since hibiscus have a reputation for being slow to get going I would definitely not give up on them yet.

Katy, TX(Zone 8b)

Don't give up on hardy or tropical hibiscus planted in the ground. They may astound you and come back w/a vengence and become enormous. Patience is not easy for a lot of gardeners but as someone who plants seeds and waits for them to start growing it is about all I have going for me.


Southeastern, NH(Zone 5b)

Punky, do not give up yet. I know you are in a warmer zone but my hardy hibiscus plants do not emerge from the ground until late June!

Troy, MI

Great info here! I'm hoping there's someone who can help me with a transplanting question. I want to move a subzero hibiscus (not sure the real name) I've had in my yard for a few years now because it's too close to a rose that I replanted from my mom's house when she passed away (I'm too chicken to move that one again!). Any idea if it's ok to move it now? No new growth yet this season and it seems we may be past the danger of frost - I hope I don't regret saying that out loud - haha!

Also, I'm not sure how far around it I should dig.

Houston, TX(Zone 9a)

I moved one of my potted hibiscus three weeks ago. It was behind a taller plant and I forgot it was there.The roots had traveled through all the bottom holes of the plastic pot into the ground. It was a tug of war, but I finally got it up by pulling and digging. During the fight, I broke off a big long chunk of root. I thought it was a goner, and threw the pot into the corner and forgot about it again. I threw the root that broke off into a bucket of water that I had other plants in.
I glanced at the pot yesterday, and it has 3" of green growth on the stump. I then went digging in the bucket of water and found the root. It has Roots growing on it!. I will be re-potting today.
I can't remember the name, but it has Huge light pink flowers. It survived my neglect and very rough treatment.

Chicago, IL(Zone 5b)

I'm thinking that what you refer to as subzero hibiscus is what is commonly called hardy hibiscus, or hibiscus moscheutos. http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/adv_search.php?searcher%5Bcommon%5D=hardy+hibiscus&searcher%5Bfamily%5D=&searcher%5Bgenus%5D=&searcher%5Bspecies%5D=&searcher%5Bcultivar%5D=&searcher%5Bhybridizer%5D=&search_prefs%5Bblank_cultivar%5D=&search_prefs%5Bsort_by%5D=rating&images_prefs=both&Search=Search
They are different from tropical hibiscus.

I moved 2 hardy hibiscus late last spring. They were a couple of years old, but in a spot too shady to bloom. By summer in their new sunny location, they bloomed quite nicely.

I pretty much guessed how far around to dig. If I remember correctly, I dug out approximately 5" from the center of the plant (total approx. 10" diameter). I ended up chopping off some pretty good sized roots, but it didn't seem to affect them at all. They don't call them hardy hibiscus for nothing.

San Antonio, TX

I didn't get rid of it, I still water it when I water my other plants so I'll wait until the end of June. I did notice a neighbor of mine has a hibiscus that is all brown sticks too, so maybe there is hope after all. I am impatient because I see the flowers blooming at the garden centers and it makes me want my plant to grow! lol. I did get a new one for my back patio, so pretty, dark pink throat with orange sunset colors around the edge of the petals. Its the coolest one I have ever seen. Had to get it.

San Antonio, TX

Thanks for all the replies and information. I appreciate the comments very much.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)


End of June/beg of July is when mine usually breaks. Then it grows like crazy! Yours might show new growth sooner--as you live in TX.
Never mind those brown dead sticks--they are dead./ Nothing will grow from them. You could cut them all the way to the ground, but mark the spot. The new growth will come from the ground near the base of those dead sticks.

Patience is a virtue--especially when it comes to gardening.....

The new Hibiscus you bought sounds like a Tropical Hibiscus--NOT a hardy one. You will need to bring it in for the winter--or leave it outside to freeze---IF you get frost....

I have a suggestion for you----
Every time you buy a new plant you have never had before, read up on it and then you will know what to expect. Knowledge is power!


This is my Kopper King perennial Hibiscus. It grew to 6' tall last Summer--and it was only it's 3rd year! Beautiful colors! This was the second wave of blooms on it. And--that is ME hiding among the greenery.....

Thumbnail by Gitagal
Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

I think Gita's right, your new one does sound like a tropical hibiscus. I'm not sure what zone San Antonio is, if you're in zone 9 then it's got a chance to make it outdoors, maybe in 8b if you have it in a sheltered location, but anywhere colder than that I doubt it'll make it (and even if you are in zone 9, personally I have much better results putting mine in the greenhouse for the winter, otherwise they lose all their leaves and take forever to get going again in the spring, but with the greenhouse some of them bloomed for me all winter)

Ebensburg, PA

Hello sara_indiana,
I am over towards Altoona in the mountains, not too far from your area, I have had hardy hibiscus for many years, the plants are now just starting to send up tiny shoots. With our cold climate it takes a while for hibiscus to start, and they do not bloom until late summer, but well worth the wait, the flowers are gorgeous. They will die to the ground every fall, cut off the branches to the ground and mulch for winter, they will come back and grow taller and wider every year, some plants need staking since the wind will blow down the tall branches and break them off at the base. I have an older red hibiscus that grows 7 feet tall every year with flowers 10 to 14 inches across. They are very hard to dig out and move once established, so make sure the tall plant is where you want it. I am sure you will love these plants.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

I have read that, in a practical way, you can leave the old canes up a couple of feet and not cut them down to the ground.
WHY? So you can support the new canes the following season by tying them to the old canes--or you can run a sting around them and create a sort of support cage.

Makes a lot of sense to me----I left mine up last year just for that reason.


Houston, TX(Zone 9a)

I am trying that out this year. I left the old canes that I read about too, and the new growth is just about tall enough to cage this weekend. It looks like it will work out nicely!
I have it in a large pot, not in the ground.

Beverly Jo

This message was edited May 20, 2008 11:48 PM

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