Tips For Pruning Hibiscus Plants & When To Prune Hibiscus

Keep this tropical beauty healthy by pruning hibiscus the right way. Learn how and when to prune hibiscus plants to keep them vibrant.

Red Hibiscus Plant
(Image credit: nattul)

Pruning Hibiscus the Right Way

Tropical hibiscus plants benefit from pruning, whether it’s before moving them indoors for the winter, pinching for fullness, or rejuvenating leggy shrubs. Here are tips from the pros on the proper way to prune a hibiscus.

Pruning Hibiscus: What You Need to Know, According to Pros

Tropical hibiscus plants are a staple in many summer gardens. Proper pruning will ensure the large, fiery blooms keep coming all season. Pruning can be as simple as pinching back the growing tips for a fuller bush or as drastic as rejuvenation pruning to revive an old shrub.

Learn how to prune hibiscus with these tips from university cooperative extension research.

Pruning Hibiscus The Right Way - From the Experts

Pruning hibiscus will stimulate flowering on the shrub and improve its shape. You may have noticed that tropical hibiscus produces one bloom at the end of each branch. Basic pruning can increase the number of branches, thereby increasing the number of blooms. Pruning hibiscus for shape will make it more pleasing to the eye. Removing dead wood when you notice it will ensure a healthier plant.

Do You Need to Prune Hibiscus?

Most hibiscus plants benefit from pruning, especially if you live in areas where frost can be a problem or you need to bring the plant inside for the winter. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is only hardy in USDA zones 9-12. People who live in frost-free areas can get by without pruning their hibiscus plants. The ideal conditions will promote branching and blooming with adequate water and fertilizer.

When to Prune Hibiscus

Containerized hibiscus should be pruned when it is brought inside for the winter if the plant will be placed in a sunny window. If it will be overwintered in a cool, dark location such as a basement, you can wait until spring to prune.

In warm areas where there is a chance of frost nipping the plant, outdoor shrubs can be pruned in the spring after the threat of frost has passed. If the area is warm enough not to worry about a frost, you can prune hibiscus shrubs in late fall. This will prepare them for a growth spurt in spring. Hard pruning, such as rejuvenation pruning, always should be performed in the spring.

How to Prune Hibiscus

Always use sharp, clean pruning shears and never prune more than one-third of the shrub at one time. You can remove dead or damaged stems at any time of the year, as soon as you notice them. When pruning, cut at an angle about ¼ inch (1/2 cm) above an outward facing (leaf) node to maintain an upright plant. If the plant has mostly horizontal stems and you want it more upright, cut the stems at an angle about ¼ inch (1/2 cm) above an inward facing (leaf) node.

You can direct a new branch to grow to the left or right by cutting above a node on the left side of a branch or on the right side, respectively .

Here are the types of pruning you may need:

To encourage branching and more blooms, you can pinch off the growing tips ¼ to 1 inch (½ to 3 cm) occasionally during the growing season. This is ideal training for a young plant.

For a full prune, cut each stem back by about a third to two or three nodes. This will promote branching, blooming, and a pleasing shape. However, blooming will be delayed till the new growth forms.

For selective pruning, only remove one-third or less of the stems from the base. This will allow some stems to continue blooming, while the rest are developing.

For a hard prune, such as rejuvenating an old, leggy plant, take all the stems down to about a foot from the ground, making sure there are leaves left for photosynthesis.

Pruning Hibiscus Into a Tree

To prune hibiscus into a standard, select a plant that has one main trunk and is at least 2 feet tall (0.6 m). Cut off the top about 2 inches (5 cm) to encourage branching. Then remove the lower branches close to the stem, leaving about 6 inches of branches at the top. Trim those back to 2 or 3 nodes to form a ball shape. As they grow, pinch them back to encourage fullness and to maintain the ball shape. Continue to remove any new growth below the ball flush with the stem.

For a braided tree, braid three flexible stems together, and remove any other stems. You may need to lightly tie the stems together until they are firm.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do You Need to Cut Back Hibiscus Every Year?

If you have a containerized hibiscus that you overwinter indoors, it will benefit from annual pruning. If your hibiscus shrubs are outdoors year-round and they did not suffer any frost damage, you can decide if you want to skip pruning that year.

Can You Prune Hibiscus in Summer?

You can pinch off the tips in summer to encourage fullness, and you can “fix” any protruding stems that look awkward by cutting them back. You also can lightly shape the plant if needed.

Nikki Tilley
Senior Editor

Nikki Tilley has been gardening for nearly three decades. The former Senior Editor and Archivist of Gardening Know How, Nikki has also authored six gardening books.