Leggy plants

RetiredFlorida(9)November 14, 2012

Some of my hibiscus that were thick bushes seem to be getting leggy on me. I'm thinking of cutting them back and using the cuttings to propagate them. Is that a good idea at this time of the year? It has been mostly high 40's to low 50's at night and 70-80's during the day.

I really don't like the looks of leggy hibiscus, they just look sickly when they're like that.


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Sorry I wasn't able to answer sooner, year end reviews etc... Leggy hibiscus plants are normal this time or year. The lower light intensity (closer to the red end of the spectrum) causes plants to do try and adjust. Given your current temps, pruning is an option, but be mindful. If your temp suddenly drops, you may do more damage than good. Our indoor lighting last year caused a similar effect. I let the plants grow out, and did a careful pruning the following spring. If I was in your shoes, I might consider a more selective pruning. Maybe a branch or two every couple of weeks. Pruning is great as hibiscus love it, and this gives additional surfaces for blooms. A single branch producing a bloom or two a week can easily change to 4-6 branches producing multiple blooms daily.

Hope this helps,

    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 9:44PM
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Thanks Ed.

My plants seem to be slowing down a little, changing leaf color but about 5 are still blooming. My double orange was also thinning. I guess I'll chill for now. First season getting back into this, so everything is new, like a parent with a newborn, hehe.


    Bookmark   November 17, 2012 at 11:55AM
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My Hibiscus have gotten so thin, and they did not bloom much this year. I would feed them once a month but did not seem to help. Any suggestions? Also, I cut them back to about 2 feet off the ground a few days ago. Of course now I wonder if I should have even though the weather is still in the 80's here and seldom gets cold here.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 3:05PM
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What type of Hibiscus do you have? The three most common types are Rosa-Sinensis, Syriacus, and Moscheutos. All prefer well draining soil and a specific formula of fertilizer. I'll work backwards as it's easier. Moscheutos is a water lover and can grow in both standing water and normal watering conditions. They die back each winter, only to grow back bigger and bolder late next spring. The stems have no deciduous, bark appearing properties, like other hibiscus. As the freezes set in, I will cut mine to about 2-4 inches from the ground once the stems harden and no longer have flexibility.
Syriacus (Rose of Sharon) is a shrub or small tree. Left alone, these will produce endless flowers. My Blue Satin was flowering for most of the summer in direct sun with high heat. In late August I upgraded to a larger pot, and only received a lone flower for the rest of the year. It seems that other than watering, it is best to leave these alone.
Rosa-Sinensis is the common tropical varieties most think of. Older plants show bark like properties in the stems. For pruning, I never remove more than 1/3 of a stem and it can take 6-8 weeks for blooms to return. Usually my pruning is staged over several weeks. I clip 1-3 stems every 2-3 weeks until I have completed the process. Since mine are all in pots, I will prune the roots back about a third when I complete the stems. This also cuts down on blooms as the plant recovers. The end result is a fuller, happier plant, with lots of surface area for flowers. It is not unusual for these plants to grow 'leggy' and have larger leaves as the light quality lowers.
I use the same fertilizer for all types. I have attached an image of the type I located at a 'Big Box Store' that most closely contains what hibiscus need. All fertilizers contain a Phosphorus - Nitrogen - Potassium content displayed as #-#-#. Hibiscus prefer a medium to low Phosphorus, a very low Nitrogen, and high Potassium count. The potassium is the backbone to hibiscus flowers. Avoid the "Super Bloom" fertilizers as they have a high Nitrogen content that can damage hibiscus.
Ultimately, there will be times that plants just wont produce buds or flowers no matter what you do. Some of my plants like Erin Rachael, Sunny Wind, and Mandarin Wind keep flowering, but Gabriel and Sea Spray haven't bloomed. And Tangerine Mist only shows small flowers that barely open. Just keep the plant healthy, and eventually it will reward you.
I know thats a lot, but I hope this helps,

    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 12:38AM
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I have read in your posts about cutting the roots back - please tell me how to do this. I have a habiscus that I am wintering in the house for now its third winter. It is obviously root-bound but I have been afraid to transplant because the last time I transplanted a habiscus it died! Any advice would be greatly appreciated. IF you tell me to transplant it, what kind of soil should I use - or nonsoil as the case may be. Maybe that is what I did wrong the last time!

    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 2:07PM
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I will do my best to assist. Care must be taken when dealing with a hibiscus's roots. First identify if the problem is a root related. Next is knowing if the plant can handle a pruning. And as far as soil is concerned, I use miracle grow 'moisture control' soil and add some extra perlite to aid in drainage. Also i make sure all my pots have plenty of drainage holes and add a layer of rocks to ensure they are never clogged. This seems to work for me, but I do keep an eye on my plants for deficiencies and add appropriate mixtures as needed. You can always email me, or even call if you really need more details.

1) Does my plant have a root issue. Signs of congestion are "poodleing". I love that term I got from an expert here. It will yellow and drop lower leafs while holding onto upper leafs. Much like a poodle, there will be complete barren stems with large leafs at the end. Over watering during the winter can also produce the same result as well as poor drainage. If you are sure your issue is root congestion, move forward, if not hold off. Leggy plants are normal in low light conditions, and light pruning helps prepare for spring.

2) Pruning the roots. Gently remove the plant from the pot. Use sharp, clean instruments when pruning. I remove about 25% (at most) of the lower roots and soil. Next I add an amount of premixed soil to the bottom of the pot. Make sure it is moist, not soggy, not dry. Winters are dry here, so I watch mine closely. Place the plant back in the pot on top and keep your fingers crossed. Remember to keep the water light, and refrain from chemicals. The plant just needs TLC for the next 2-4 weeks. There will be leaf wilting and yellowing. You have stressed the plant considerably, but look at the new growth for details. I have attached an image from my recently root pruned 'Erin Rachaels' notice how the lower, large leafs are wilted or yellowing. If you look closer you see that the new growth is upright and healthy. I suggest all growers of tropical hibiscus get a spray bottle to mist their plants at least every other day during the winter.

I really hope this helps.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 11:56PM
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Thanks for the information Ed. The reason that I asked about pruning the roots is that the roots are visible on the top of the soil which makes me think this plant needs to be repotted. This is a nonhardy plant so should I do the transplant now while the plant is indoors or should I wait until spring when it can be outside? It is now in a 10-inch pot - how much bigger should I go? Appreciate your help!!

    Bookmark   January 18, 2013 at 1:56PM
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Firstly, hibiscus are shallow feeders. There will always be roots on or near the surface. I have attached an image below. I am also adding a new thread to the forum with an image of a flower I got today from the same plant. Do not be alarmed with surface roots.
Next, Hibiscus R-S need to be slightly root bound to flower, yet not enough to restrict growth. Best bet on potting up is going 1 size larger. In your case a 12" pot. Ultimately, what do you want from the plant? A huge flowering bush or a window house plant? Both can be accomplished if addressed early on. As long as you have some decent light you can repot anytime. These plants are highly resilient. It actually takes a lot of trauma or neglect to kill them. Email me if you are really concerned or need help. I can call if you like.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2013 at 10:35PM
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