Yes, You Can Grow Hardy Hibiscus from Seed!
When it comes to adding drama and flair to the garden, you don’t need to look any further than this year’s featured flowering shrub; our very own, native Hardy Hibiscus. Hardy Hibiscus are deciduous shrubs, perennial in zones 4-9 and are comprised of the species moscheutos and of cultivars of the species syriacus. H. moscheutos is native to the wetlands of North America, thriving in marshes and floodplains of the Mid-West and Northeastern US all the way down to the coastal lands and swamps of Florida and Texas.
Being an herbaceous perennial in many growing regions, the plant dies back to its crown in the fall, remaining dormant through the winter. With a bit of pruning and a few inches of mulch to protect the crown, it will return with a flowery vengeance the following season, ready to put on a show bushier and more prolific than the last.
Hardy hibiscus has been commercially hybridized from the start of the 20th century but has enjoyed the greatest progress from the 50’s onward. One of the most daring objectives can be appreciated in the improved compact habit, which brought the naturally tall and rangy stature down into a much more manageable form, thus allowing for expanded applications and greater consumer enjoyment. (Check plant tags for exact plant height.) Increased flower size, expanded range of flower and leaf color, and increased cold tolerance have also been high priorities, often achieved by reaching into adjacent species to pull in wanted traits.
‘Mallow Marvels’ were some of the founding genetics from which breeders such as Flemings Flower Fields, used to create the earliest and best-known cultivars such as, ‘Kopper Kings’ and ‘Southern Belles.’ These in turn helped to bring forth current favorites such as ‘Lord Baltimore’, ‘Mars Madness’, the ‘Summer Spice’ series, and SUMMERIFIC®. Cutting varieties bring exciting colors and flower forms to the garden.
A popular variety bred by NGB member PanAmerican Seed.
Disco Belle™ Series
A popular variety bred by NGB member Sakata Seed.
Starting Your Hardy Hibiscus from Seed
Starting seed varieties at home is easy and fun and also an economical way to enjoy the plant from beginning to end.
- Sow seed indoors 6-12 weeks before the last frost depending on your zone.
- Seeds soaked overnight help jumpstart the process.
- Sow the large seed ½ inch deep into well-draining soil and keep at 60% humidity in full sun or under lamps.
- After 4-5 weeks, transplant into larger pots, taking care not to disrupt the taproot.
- As the last frost approaches in the spring, harden off the transplants during the day to achieve a stronger and more weather-resistant plant.
- Better branching and thus more flowers can be achieved by pinching back the tips when the young plant is around 6-8 inches in height.
Where to Plant Your Hardy Hibiscus
In the Northern areas, hibiscus works best in full sun and will thrive in South facing plantings. In the hot Southern regions, you may want to give it a little reprieve with partial shade. Hibiscus excels in high heat and humidity. A balance of light, good air circulation, and protection from harsh winds will keep diseases and structural damage at bay.
Hibiscus enjoys well-hydrated, slightly acidic soil with lots of organic matter. It prefers nutrient-rich soil, and adequate potassium is a must for ultimate flowering. If you have sandy or poor soil, you will want to amend, working in some organic matter to hold in the nutrients and moisture. A well-balanced slow release fertilizer applied twice a year usually does the trick, but this is of course dependent on your initial soil quality.
How to Use
Hibiscus can add a tropical flair to planters, be featured as a showy garden specimen or contribute height and drama to garden beds. It’s a great accent choice for low-lying landscapes with water features since it is native to wetlands. It’s also a fantastic addition to pollinator gardens, as it is an effective attractor of butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds- with the added benefit of being deer resistant. Thanks not only to the inherent qualities of this North American native but also to breeders and horticulturists throughout the decades, Hardy Hibiscus offers many avenues of use and enjoyment in our modern-day gardens.
Learn more about the Hardy Hibiscus
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I bought a couple hibiscus plants a few years ago. Each year they keep making more and more. Cut them down in spring and many new shoots come up.. saved some seed last fall and put in seed trays with grow light system and heat pads. The middle of January . Now have about 30 young seedlings coming up. Didn’t soak, scrape or nothing.
Do hybrid Hardy hibiscus require stratification or winter sowing?
You may lightly nick the edge of the seed but if you soak overnight, that should do well. You may try winter sowing. We do not have experience with that and hardy hibiscus seeds.
I’ve collected seed from a long-thriving, fuschia hardy hibiscus growing at a friend’s house in central Vermont and plan to follow the advice regarding seed germination. We are officially in Zone 4 but microclimates here support lush lavender, so we are trending warmer over the last 30 years. Friends who have propagated from stems or roots have gotten white blooms from this source plant and I read the earlier Q and A that someone has also had white flowers come from seed-started pink hibiscus. Does anyone at NGC have more insight regarding this phenomenon? I’d much prefer to have the fuschia blooms.
Our suggestion would be to purchase seeds from a reputable Hardy Hibiscus seed retailer. This way, you will be certain that you are receiving the color flower you want for your garden. Retailers can be found on our Year of the Hardy Hibiscus page.
How can you get the seed from the plant?
Collect the seeds once the flower pods begin to split and open. To overwinter, store the seeds in a cool dark place until you are ready to plant next year.
Which if the H. Moschetos varieties would work well in a wetland “swamp” which is always wet and highly organic? I don’t know if the hybrids tolerate this type of soil.
Hibiscus moscheutos hybrids are perennial wetland plants also. For your specific location and requirements, we would suggest you talk with your local garden center or extension office to find the varieties that will work well in your area.
I grew 7 of the lunas this spring in a pot, should i plant them in ground in sept in z4, or bring them inside for the winter and put in ground next spring as 1 yr old plants? Advice please?
Yes, Fall is a perfect time to plant your perennials like Hardy Hibiscus. Plant 6 Weeks before the Ground Freezes. Once frost hits perennials start to go dormant, transferring energy into their roots for the following year. Giving your freshly planted perennials a period to get established in their new home will increase overwintering success.
I have started seeds from the different colors of hardy hibiscus. Came up easy and growing good. But they all have white blooms on them even if they were seeds from a pink one. Do they always revert back to white?
No, they shouldn’t go back to white flowers.
I live in zone 9B and plan on starting the seeds in the garage with full spectrum grow lights. Instead of using soil could I start the seeds using Seed Starter Soil Plugs, then transfer them to the ground? Will this work?
We do not have actual experience with this process. Give it a try and let us know. Thanks
How long takes to first blooming?
I have so many starters.
Flowering will depend on the variety and may take more than the first year to flower.
My neighbor has one hardy hibiscus with big red petals. I have been collecting the petals and the their pods. Are the seeds inside the pods? I want to try plant from the seeds. Also can the stems be grafted and how?
Yes, the seeds are in the pods of the flowers. These should be left to dry and then removed and replanted.
Just curious. Will I be able to use the seeds from the plant I purchased from Home Depot. Thanks.
Yes, those will work as well.
More than twenty years ago, an aunt planted a few perennial Hibiscus, possibly Luna White, near her driveway in northern Connecticut, Zone 5+ where we can get Winter temperatures down to -25 Degrees for a few nights, occasionally. Over the past several years since, as the plants have self-sowed, the number of plants have increased to probably 12 to 16, and they grow to at least 5 feet tall. Over the years, they have not been mulched by either her or me; the other plants that share that bed: native goldenrod, phlox, wild (white) aster drop their leaves and this has become their mulch, much of the time. Over the years, I have collected their seeds/pods, although sometimes the seeds have dropped to the ground before I can collect them. I really enjoy them and they remind me of my aunt who was a great gardener!
I grew some sudden storm hibiscus from seeds … I gave some to my daughter hers didn’t come back up plus a couple other people I know. We live in Michigan. Is there possibly a reason why?
They may not have been hardy hibiscus but rather tropical hibiscus which is sold in spring at Walmart and home Depot in combos and individually. They just label them hibiscus. If the flowers are 3-5″ it’s a tropical. If the flowers are large they are the hardy perennial “dinner plate” hibiscus. Hope that helps!
Joan – It is hard to know what caused the problem. And that is correct, if the hibiscus is not the hardy type it will not survive the winter temperatures.
What is the best way to over winter the seeds so they’ll be ready to be soaked and planted in the spring?
We asked our NGB member Syngenta their Hardy Hibiscus expert on the best way to overwinter the seeds…”Best to hold them cool and dry. I typically use a fridge for the cool part. Put in a ziplock bag with some of those dry-out packages that you get in clothes or with some DampRid® to get the dry part.”
How many seeds should be planted together to make the bush?
Just one seed for each bush. Be sure to check the height and spread of each variety to determine which one will work best in your area.
This was so helpful to me I love the plant my mother had them around the edge of our ponds they were the red one and they were beautiful all summer when I move to Oklahoma from Missouri all I could find were the tropical ones but last year I found three pink and white ones and this year they are three times bigger and had seed so I gathered them in hope that I could grow more of them thank u so much sincerely love flowers
Good article. I harvested seeds from my hibiscus last fall and left them in an open plastic container over the winter. Late this spring, I soaked them in water for several days. I tried to scar a few with a file; but, gave up. Since I really didn’t expect any success, I put the seeds in the ground, in a row, right next to their “mother plant”. I now I have 7 four inch tall plants that are way too close together. What is the best way to transplant these babies? I live in Northern Indiana; we have pretty harsh winters.
We asked our Hardy Hibiscus expert who commented – Best to transplant as soon as possible to give the plant as much time as possible to establish itself before the winter. Use a shovel to dig up as much of the roots as possible and try not to disturb the root ball too much when separating them from each other. Then plant the clump of roots and soil in a new spot such that the soil ball is level with the soil line of the top of the new hole. Water in thoroughly and be sure to water while the roots grow out into the soil at the new location.
Have lots of successful seeds available in fall
The mention of Hibiscus syriacus (a.k.a. rose-of-sharon) is unnecessary and confusing in this article. While hardy, this non-native species is a woody shrub and comes from Asia. It’s quite different from H. moscheutos and our other native species.
From the author of this article: Hibiscus syriacus is indeed a woody plant that does not die back to the ground in the winter as Hibiscus moscheutos does. The ploidy levels are also very different making crossing between the two species difficult (although breeding within each species is actively occurring). But they are both winter hardy compared to Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Although any plant can be grown from seed, Hibiscus syriacus varieties are typically propagated vegetatively from cuttings or grafts as seeds would not come true-to-type.
Hardy Hibiscus is the common name for Hibiscus moscheutos. Hibiscus syriacus, although considered “hardy”, is generally referred to as Rose of Sharon for a common name.
Can you list good sources for seed? I have not had great success locating them.
Yes, a number of our NGB members have seeds for sale including Park Seed, True Leaf Market, Pinetree Garden Seed, and American Meadows. Be sure to check out all of our NGB members that carry hibiscus seeds and plants on our Year of the Hibiscus page.