How and When to Transplant Hibiscus Plants This Season
Transplanting your hibiscus plant at the right time can be the difference between a successful transplanting and one that failed. In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss shares all you need to know about when to transplant your hibiscus plants, and exactly how to do it.
Hibiscuses are great additions to the garden landscape. With their attractive and varied foliage and large colorful blooms, these wonderful plants offer several seasons of interest and come in many shapes, sizes, and colors.
If you’ve found your way to our article, there is probably a reason your hibiscus needs transplanting. Perhaps you’ve discovered that your hibiscus is not getting enough sun in its original spot, or another shrub has grown larger and cast shade. Hibiscuses are sun lovers, and in this case, transplanting can bring your plant back to its full blooming potential.
Maybe your hibiscus has overgrown or will soon overgrow its current location. Or maybe erosion, building, or redirection of runoff has caused soggy soil or root rot that is harming your plant’s growth.
Perhaps you want to move your hibiscus to a space where you will enjoy it more or have a new plan for your landscape that requires it to be moved. Whatever the reason, have no fear. Hibiscuses are resilient and sturdy species that can endure transplanting. I will walk you through the process and give you some tips for dividing your hibiscus.
When to Transplant
There are two schools of thought on transplanting hibiscus plants, so we will address both and try to give you the right tools to make an informed decision. Both times are technically acceptable times to transplant, but your climate plays a role in which one will work best for you.
Many experts advise transplanting hibiscuses in autumn, just after it has finished blooming. This is a perfectly acceptable time to transplant your hibiscus, as long as you give yourself enough time for the hibiscus to establish itself in its new space before any freezing weather.
Most hibiscus plants are done blooming by late August. If you live in a colder climate, don’t wait very long after the last flower falls before transplanting. You risk losing it altogether if it doesn’t have time to acclimate to its new location before the freezing weather rolls in.
In warmer climates, you have a longer window in the autumn. Give your hibiscus as long as possible to recover from transplanting before the temperature drops below freezing.
Many authorities on hibiscus plants will tell you that the prime time to transplant is in spring after the last freeze, but before new leaves emerge.
If you are nervous about transplanting soon enough in the fall, it’s a good idea to wait until the spring, as this gives the hibiscus the better part of a year to recover and settle into its new space.
The survival rate for hibiscuses transplanted in spring is slightly better than those transplanted in autumn. So, when in doubt, wait until the ground thaws before you move your hibiscus to its new home. The catch is that you risk sacrificing flowers if you wait too long and the plant comes out of dormancy.
Transplanting it a little late in the spring won’t damage the plant’s health in the same way that planting too late in the season can. It may, however, compromise any setting buds, and you could miss out on a bountiful blooming season for that first year.
A note on tropical hibiscuses: If you live in zones 9-12 and have a tropical hibiscus, it will be far less obvious when your plant is dormant. Tropical hibiscuses do not shed their leaves the way that cold hardy ones do, and they can appear to bloom year-round in many cases, if they are properly cared for.
For tropical hibiscuses, the time of year is less important. If you live in a climate that rarely experiences frosts, you can technically transplant at any time. The best way to avoid interrupting blooming cycles is to wait until the primary blooming cycle ends. During this lull in flower production, is the closest your plant will come to dormancy, and this is prime time to transplant.
How to Transplant
Transplanting a hibiscus is a straightforward process, and they transplant quite well. A few key actions can help give your plant the strongest start possible in its new location.
Step One: TLC a Few Days Ahead
Transplanting is a bit stressful on any plant, so it’s a good idea to give your hibiscus a strong start by offering extra care in the days leading up to transplanting.
Avoid fertilizing before transplanting, as this will cause new leaf growth. New growth is tender and more fragile than established growth, so it is more likely to be affected by shock.
Do water your hibiscus well for a few days before digging it up. This will ensure that it is nice and hydrated, which will help it through the first days of trying to establish roots and minimize the risk of stress or shock.
Step 2: Choose and Prepare the New Location
When choosing a new location, consider the species’ needs regarding soil, sunlight, and water. Most hibiscus plants prefer to be in full sun. Tropical hibiscuses are the exception, as they grow in very hot climates where the summer sun is intense. These plants are better off in part shade, particularly in the afternoon.
If you are a seasoned gardener, you have probably watched your yard already to see which locations get sun, for how long, and at what time of day. There tends to be a significant difference in the intensity of the sunlight throughout the day, with the morning sun being much gentler and cooler and the afternoon sun harsher.
The sun factor varies by climate, so if you live in a warmer climate, try to choose a spot that receives the bulk of its sunlight as early in the day as possible. The morning sun has all the same benefits as the afternoon sun, with less of a chance of scorching the leaves.
If you reside in a cooler climate, select a spot with no less than 6 hours of sunlight daily. Cooler climates have shorter days later into the spring and earlier in the fall. Choosing a spot that continues to get full sun will make your hibiscus come out of dormancy earlier and enter dormancy later, giving you an extended season to enjoy the flowers in their full glory.
Hibiscuses don’t like to have soggy feet, except for the Scarlet Swamp hibiscus. Choose a location that has freely draining soil. The soil should be loose, slightly acidic, and amended with organic material if it is not already a rich, loamy composition. Clay-heavy soil will compact around hibiscus roots, which can cause damage.
Prepare the hole that you are transplanting to before you start digging. Consider the leaf canopy for an idea of how large the hole should be.
The root ball is likely about the same width as the canopy. Hibiscus plants don’t like to be buried deeply, so the hole should be about the same depth as the roots and slightly wider.
If your soil is poor or alkaline, consider amending it with good organic compost, manure, or peat moss. You can also add some of these materials as backfill for a little extra boost.
Step 3: Dig Up Your Hibiscus
Before you begin to dig, water the ground around the plant thoroughly. This will make digging and extricating the roots from the soil easier. Ensure to water all around the plant’s base and at least as far out as the canopy extends – going a little further out is even better to soften up that soil.
When you’re ready to start digging, look back at that canopy to determine how wide your root system should be. Using a pointed or rounded shovel, dig down into the ground all the way around the root ball before attempting to pull up the roots.
Once you’ve made it around the root ball with the shovel, use it as a lever to lift and further loosen the roots from the soil. You should be able to lift the roots out of the ground easily at this point.
Step 4: Replanting
Moving your hibiscus to a new spot at this point should be as easy as planting a new, potted plant. If you have a long way to travel, consider using a wheelbarrow to transport the root ball rather than handling more or jostling the roots around.
If you have rich, healthy soil, you can skip amending, but adding a bit of compost or manure into the mix never hurts. You can sprinkle some into the hole or use it to backfill. Position the plant in the direction you prefer, with the roots close to the soil surface surrounding the hole. Backfill as needed.
If you are concerned about water absorption, use the extra soil to build up a moat around the trunk(s). Next, cover the roots with a layer of mulch for insulation and to help retain moisture in the soil. Lastly, water it in well. This is an essential step because it will help the roots to adjust and minimize shock.
Step 5: Prune
Your plant is almost certain to lose a fair amount of root mass during transplanting. Reduced roots will struggle to support the amount of plant matter above the ground. To reduce shock and allow your plant to recover its roots and canopy at the same rate, you’ll want to prune the hibiscus.
Typically, it is recommended to cut the foliage back by about ⅔. This sounds drastic, but hibiscus plants are fast growers. Pruning will greatly reduce the amount of shock. If you neglect this step, you run the risk of losing your plant altogether.
Step 6: Aftercare
Continue to baby your transplanted hibiscus for 4-6 weeks after transplanting, just as you would any new addition to the garden landscape. Water deeply 2-3 times per week to help it establish roots in its new environment.
Resist the urge to fertilize for at least 2-3 weeks, as fertilizing will encourage new growth. Remember that the root system has been taxed and needs time to recover and anchor in its new location. When you fertilize, use a liquid fertilizer for a gentler boost.
Choose a fertilizer high in nitrogen and potassium. These are the first and third numbers in the NPK ratio, just for reference. These are the nutrients that best maximize the health of a new transplant.
If your area experiences a late or early freeze (late in spring or early in fall), make sure to protect your newly transplanted hibiscus. You can do this by applying an extra thick layer of mulch around the base to insulate the roots. Covering the foliage with a row cover will also preserve any new growth.
Hibiscus plants are sturdy and acclimate quickly to a new environment if their needs are met. Taking extra care of your hibiscus 2-3 days pre-transplant and 6-8 weeks post-transplant will give it the best chance of survival and acclimation.
Most plants undergo a certain amount of stress when moved, so don’t panic if you notice the leaves looking droopy. It is normal for a transplant to lose some of its leaves due to shock. With the right care, the hibiscus should be booming again before you know it!