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Hardy hibiscus varieties require minimal care to remain dormant through winter. The plants naturally enter dormancy during the fall in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 4 through 9. The leaves turn brown after the first frost and the plant appears dead. Trimming the dead stems back to the ground prevents new growth during brief periods of warmer winter weather. A winter mulch applied over the roots, 8 inches deep, insulates the roots of the plant against cold and prevents early new growth until spring or early summer. Use chopped leaves or pine straw for the mulch.
Tropical hibiscus plants are only perennial in USDA hardiness zones 10 and 11 unless you protect them during winter dormancy. Growing the plants in containers makes it easier to protect the plants from cooler temperatures. Bring the plants indoors once temperatures begin to drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Reduce watering and only provide the plants with bright indirect light so the leaves yellow and fall off naturally, which forces the plant into dormancy.Keep tropical hibiscus in a cool, dark location where the temperature remains near 50 F, such as an unheated garage or a basement. Warmth and sunlight may make the hibiscus break dormancy too early. Tropical hibiscus do not go completely dormant so the plants do require light watering through winter. Supply only enough moisture so the soil doesn't dry completely. Gradually increase watering and expose the plant to increased levels of sun and warmth in April so the hibiscus can begin breaking dormancy and putting on new growth.
Prepare your hibiscus plants for the move two or three days before the fall nighttime temperature is expected to hit 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Using clean, sharp tools, prune back the plants to within 4 inches of their main stems, disinfecting your tools with rubbing alcohol between cuts to avoid spreading plant diseases. Also remove dead leaves, flowers and other debris from the plants and their containers. Preparing helps eliminate insects that otherwise might move indoors with the plants. Set a garden hose’s spray nozzle on its finest spray, and hose down the plants until all their surfaces drip water.Grow hibiscus in pots if you intend to overwinter the plants indoors. A hibiscus can live for years in a 10- to 14-inch-diameter container, according to The Tropical Hibiscus website. If you love the idea of inground hibiscus shrubs, then sink potted ones up to the pots' rims in the soil for the summer. When you’re ready to move the plants indoors in fall, lift and rinse their containers. Hibiscus planted directly in the ground often succumb to root rot after they are lifted and potted for winter. (Source: homeguides.sfgate.com)