Propagating Perennial Hibiscus

I’ve written before about the Southern Belle hibiscus that I have growing along a fence. The plants grow well and are covered with huge blossoms during the summer.

Southern Belle Hibiscus

Southern Belle Hibiscus

I have three plants but I want a fourth to fill in an empty pot along the fence. I grew the plants that I have from seed but I’m finding that Southern Belle is a variety that’s no longer readily available as seed. I considered dividing one of the clumps but that seemed like it would be a lot of work – the mass of roots and stems of the existing hibiscus is large and well established.

Then it hit me – take a cutting. Many plants can be propagated by taking a cutting of a stem and rooting it. The hibiscus shoots are just beginning to grow and I thought that these shoots might be perfect for rooting. Herbaceous plants are usually easy to root as long as the stems aren’t too woody. The hibiscus shoots that are coming out of the ground are far from woody; all of the tissue is very new and soft. If any part of a hibiscus should root easily, it should be these shoots.

So I cut a shoot, trimmed off the bottom leaves (these shoots are so young that the leaves aren’t even full size) and put it into a peat pot with sterile potting mix. As an added help in rooting, I dipped the cut end of the shoot in rooting compound. This compound contains the chemical indole-3-butyric acid (IBA), a plant hormone that stimulates adventitious root formation. While the mechanism isn’t well understood, IBA has been used for years to propagate plants, particularly woody plants. I doubt the hibiscus cutting needed the IBA but figured it couldn’t hurt!

Hibiscus Cutting

Hibiscus Cutting

After potting up the cutting, I put it into a Ziploc bag and placed it near a plant light. It’s now been about a week and the cutting is growing and when I tug on the stem, I can feel a little resistance, a sign that roots are beginning to form. I’m optimistic that this attempt at propagating a perennial hibiscus will work. Between the young shoot, the IBA and the season (propagating plants in the spring is often easier than other times of the year), I expecting to be able to plant this cutting in the garden in a few weeks. The plant will be smaller than the other hibiscus, but it’ll catch up with them in time.

Who needs Southern Belle seeds when there are shoots of existing plants that can be propagated?!

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