Pruning hibiscus: when and how to do it

Pruning measures on the hibiscus are not a must – but the ornamental shrub forms particularly many flowers in the summer, if you cut back his previous year’s flower shoots in late winter vigorously.

In this video we show you step by step how to prune a hibiscus properly.
Credit: Production: Folkert Siemens/ Camera and editing: Fabian Primsch

If you prune your hibiscus correctly, the ornamental shrub will thank you with a lush flowering in summer. The shrub tolerates pruning well and will even tolerate pruning down to the old wood – even if it then takes a little time for the slow-growing shrub to become nice and dense again. The type of pruning you use depends on how old the hibiscus is and the growth habit you want to grow it in. The following are instructions and practical tips.

Note: The shrubby Ebisch or garden hibiscus (Hibiscus syriacus) is the only flowering shrub of the genus Hibiscus that is winter-hardy in our latitudes. Although young plants should be protected from excessive frost with a layer of mulch during the first winter after planting, frost damage is no longer a concern with larger plants. Nevertheless, you should give the hibiscus a sunny, warm location with a favorable microclimate, so that it develops well and blooms abundantly. Above all, the ornamental shrub should be protected from cold easterly winds.

The hibiscus should be pruned regularly to keep it blooming, beautiful and healthy. You start with educational pruning at planting, followed later by pruning to maintain the crown, thinning and rejuvenating. Most pruning is done in late winter and spring respectively.

How to prune young hibiscus plants?

Young hibiscus plants get a training pruning. Already when planting, remove all weak and damaged branches. The remaining shoots – with young plants there are usually no more than two or three – should be shortened by at least half with the scissors to stimulate their branching. Young plants should also be pruned back heavily in subsequent years to encourage branching at the base.

Pruning Hibiscus: Step by step

Take out tightly standing branches at the base

Cut off inward growing branches completely

First, take out strong branches that are too tight at the base (left). Cut off inward growing branches completely (right)

By removing branches at the base, the basic structure becomes a little more airy and young vital shoots can grow back from below. For such pruning work, it is best to use loppers with a small opening angle, because they allow you to easily reach the inside of the shrub and place the tool directly at the point of attachment. Branches growing inwards should also be cut off completely to bring additional light into the crown.

Remove competing shoots

Remove dried branches

Remove competing shoots (left) and dry branches (right)

For competing shoots, place the shears at the v-shaped branch bifurcation and remove one of the two branches. Otherwise these would hinder each other in their development. The front branch has grown outwards nicely, but unfortunately it has dried up and has to be removed. Before doing so, you should scrape off some of the bark with scissors to make sure that there is no living tissue left.

Cut back the hibiscus by about a third

Cut back thin flowering branches to the old wood (left). Overall, prune the hibiscus back by about one-third (right)

Cut back long thin flowering branches to a few buds. In the case of strongly branched ends with many short annual shoots, pruning down to the two-year-old wood is advisable. They occur when the shrub has not been pruned for several years. It is important that there is a young branch underneath the cuttings onto which you can branch off, or – as here – an eye facing outwards. When pruning, try to maintain the natural crown shape of your hibiscus by cutting back the branches in the center less than the shoots in the outer part of the crown.

Hibiscus after pruning

Hibiscus in full bloom

After pruning, the shrub looks a bit bare (left), but sprouts again well in spring to present itself in full bloom from July (right)

Until the end of September, the hibiscus continuously opens new buds. Next year, a light thinning pruning is necessary so that the crown does not become too dense due to the newly formed shoots and remains flowering.

How to do the maintenance pruning of hibiscus?

Once the crown of your hibiscus has developed satisfactorily, only cut out weak and dried-up shoots in the future. The flower shoots from the previous year cut back to a few buds. However, because the ornamental shrub becomes denser over time, it must also be thinned out from time to time by cutting out part of the previous year’s flowering shoots. To do this, remove one of the two previous year’s shoots from each of the branches.

Maintenance pruning of the hibiscus

Cut off one of the two previous year’s shoots completely at v-shaped branches so that the crown does not become too dense

In the case of developed high stems or small stems, you can let the crown grow freely in the following years or proceed as with pollarded willows by cutting back all of the previous year’s shoots to the strong branch framework, except for a few buds, every year around February.

Rejuvenation pruning for the hibiscus

If the ornamental shrub has developed lopsidedly or has become lazy in flowering after several years without pruning, a rejuvenation pruning will remedy the situation. To do this, simply cut back the branch structure to different heights between 30 and 50 centimeters above the ground. The hibiscus will sprout new shoots in many places in the following months. This new shoot must be thinned out in summer, leaving only the necessary extensions and branches of the old main shoots. Flowering is not expected in the first year after severe rejuvenation pruning, as the shrub first tries to compensate for the loss of substance it has suffered and therefore restricts itself to vegetative growth. If the summer is very dry after the rejuvenation pruning, you should supply your hibiscus regularly with water – otherwise the annual shoots will remain very short.

Raise hibiscus as a tall stem

If you want to raise a hibiscus high stem, you need a lot of patience, because this growth form needs several years until it is completely developed. When pruning, leave only the strongest main shoot uncut and remove all others. In subsequent years, starting in early February, again cut off all lateral branching of the main shoot at the branch ring and otherwise allow it to grow undisturbed until it is slightly longer than the height of the desired crown approach. Now, the top is cut off in early spring to stimulate sprouting of the buds underneath. The stem extension is then pulled from the topmost of the new page branches by running it up vertically on a thin bamboo stick. The remaining three to four side shoots make up the main branches of the crown – cut them in by about half so they branch well.

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