Winter Hardy Hibiscus Vs. Tropical Hibiscus Plants

By Laura Miller | April 11, 2021
Image by danielvfung
by Laura Miller
April 11, 2021

Living in Northeast Ohio doesn’t give one much opportunity to grow tropical-looking plants outdoors. So it never failed, whenever I drove by one particular house, that I always took my eyes off the road momentarily to catch a glimpse of two gorgeous dinner plate hibiscus. They were growing on either side of the front sidewalk.

Like sentries leading to the home’s main entrance, these winter-hardy hibiscus produced a spectacular show of huge, burgundy-red blossoms each summer. Every time I drove past, I fell more in love with these beautiful flowers. Finally, I figured it would be prudent to plant my own hibiscus before I ended up driving off the road while admiring someone else’s.

Making a Plan for Hibiscus

It just so happened, we had a little grassy spot between the driveway and the side of our home. There was a short, muddy path which led to a side door. But for the most part, this spot was a pain to mow and it screamed of the need to be beautifully landscaped with a winding path and lots of tropical flowering plants.

In Northeast Ohio, true tropical flowering plants are few and far between. But I did my best. Visits to local nurseries yielded ornamental grass, yucca, and two different types of sedum. My mother-in-law provided an abundance of hens and chickens, but the main highlight in my tropical garden was, of course, going to be hibiscus. 

Naturally, I threw caution to the wind and picked my hibiscus based solely upon color, not suitability to the climate. As soon as my eyes fell upon the brilliant orange blossoms on the tropical hibiscus plants, I knew they’d be the perfect contrast for the shamrock green accent color of our home. 

Fool Mother Nature

Now, tropical hibiscus plants are not winter hardy in my area. But I had a plan to outwit Mother Nature. I purchased four identical large pots. Into two of these, I planted brilliant orange tropical hibiscus plants. The other two I sunk into the flowerbed where I wanted my hibiscus to spend their summers. 

It was a simple process. In the spring, I would drop the planters containing the orange-blooming tropical hibiscus plants into the pots sunk into the ground. In the fall, I could lift them out again. I was actually proud of myself for fooling Mother Nature!

Yet in the end, Mother Nature won. While indoor tropical hibiscus care is not difficult, the arduous task of finding window space for two big tropical flowering plants was. After several years of moving these heavy planters in and out of my house, the zeal wore off. Needless to say, my brilliant orange-blooming hibiscus didn’t make it through that winter.

Planting Zones Matter

Following the advice that I’ve often given others, I chose more suitable plants for my climate. Winter hardy hibiscus not only survives in Northeast Ohio, but these tropical-looking flowers require very little maintenance. I supplement with water during dry spells and remove the woody stalks from the previous season each spring. 

Each summer, I’m rewarded with brilliant pink dinner-plate sized flowers. Yes, I said pink. Winter hardy hibiscus doesn’t offer the range of blossom color as tropical varieties. But hey, if I can’t have the color I want, I’ll love the color I have. And I do love my pink dinner-plate hibiscus.

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