7 Reasons Why Your Hibiscus Leaves Are Turning Yellow

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We put a lot of love and hard work into our gardens, so the sight of yellowing or browning leaves can quickly put us into a panic! So, what do you do if your Hibiscus leaves are turning yellow? Is this something normal?

Yellowing Hibiscus leaves are normal — in very small amounts – but otherwise they’re a sign of a bigger issue that you’ll want to take care of. It could be as simple as sunlight, a change of environment, or watering strategies, or it could be something like pests, pesticides, problems absorbing nutrients, or even the wind simply drying up your plant enough to have an effect!

In today’s article, we’re going to explore the most common causes of yellowing leaves in Hibiscus plants, as well as offer some potential remediation strategies that can help you get your plant back to feeling its best. If you’re ready, let’s talk about Hibiscus leaves turning yellow and what you need to know!

Starting off with the basics – What is the ideal Hibiscus environment?

Your Hibiscus plant is going to need a well-draining soil, preferably with a bit of compost or other organic matter to help ensure that it’s nice and fertile. The soil type can be chalk, clay, sand, or loam, although if you are working with a soil that is clay-heavy, then you might want to consider preparing and planting your Hibiscus in a raised bed. That way you can help to avoid water buildup and the potential risk of root rot!

The soil also needs to be acidic, with Hibiscus thriving in a pH of 6.5 to 6.8. It’s a good idea to test the soil first and if you need to make it a little more acidic, adding a little peat moss to amend your soil can help to make it more acidic.

Your Hibiscus will also need a lot of sunlight, 6 to 8 hours a day, and if you live somewhere that gets very hot, then you might try to find a spot with partial shade. Just make sure that it’s getting a minimum of 6 hours sunlight and if that’s the case, then the location should be fine.

Finally, you have to be careful not to over or under water your Hibiscus. Typically, a deep soak once a week during growing season will be ideal, but as watering schedules will vary based on your location, try simply testing the top 2 inches of soil with your fingers – if they are dry, it’s time to water – and by doing this every 2 days you’ll start to get a feel for your Hibiscus plant’s watering needs.

Now that we’ve covered the foundational bits, we’ll take a look at the most common reasons for yellowing leaves so that we can get to the bottom of the issue and help you to get your Hibiscus back to good health!

What causes Hibiscus leaves to turn yellow, anyways?

Wilting Pink Hibiscus with leaves turning brown and yellow
Wilting Pink Hibiscus with leaves turning brown and yellow

Finding out the root cause of the problem (pun completely intended) is going to be key in order to help your Hibiscus. To that effect, we’ve compiled the 7 most common reasons why a Hibiscus might start yellowing. We’ll list them below for quick reference and we’ll expand on each in the sections that follow.

Here are the 7 most common reasons why a Hibiscus starts showing yellow leaves:

  • Change of environment
  • Insects
  • Insufficient nutrients
  • Over or Under Watering
  • Pesticides
  • Sunlight factors
  • Temperature (Don’t forget those windy drafts!)

1. Change of environment

This applies to potted Hibiscus, although it could also apply to a transplant if you’ve recently moved your Hibiscus to a new spot in the garden. You’ll want to consider factors such as

Is the plant getting shaded during the day? If so, you’ll need to move it where it can get the full 6 to 8 hours of sunlight that it needs.

Is the soil drastically different? Unlikely unless you’ve moved it a good distance, but you can test the soil on your own with 3 DIY methods courtesy of Almanac.com to rule this out or simply to help for the next time you’re picking out fertilizer.

Is the plant protected from wind? – The Hibiscus plant is tropical and if it’s being subjected to constant drafts or wind then you’ve got a problem. That’s because the Hibiscus is tropical and those winds can reduce the humidity in the air enough to make conditions less ideal for your plant. Try to ensure that your plant has a wind-buffer to help avoid this issue.

Did you recently change pots? You’ll want to make sure that the soil is ideal – Hibiscus needs well-draining soil and the pH should ideally be between 6.5 to 6.8, just for a couple of examples. Double Check out ‘Starting off with the basics’ for more information.

2. Insects

Every plant has insects that want to use it as a food source and a spot to raise their family in, with Hibiscus being no exception to the rule. With Hibiscus, there are usually 4 main culprits that you’ll want to keep an eye out for – Aphids, Mealybugs, Spider Mites, Thrips, and White Flies. We’ll talk a little about each in the sections below.

Aphids

These tiny insects might be black, white, or green, and the best place to look for them is the bloom or at the top of the stem. Aphids like to bite into your plant and suck out the juices and while a few can’t do much damage, they reproduce very quickly and then your Hibiscus will be in trouble.

A good way to deal with them is to take a tablespoon of vinegar and dilute it in a gallon of water (never put pure vinegar directly on your Hibiscus!) and add 3 or 4 drops of dishwasher soap to the mix. After mixing it well, you can put it in a spray bottle and spray the top and undersides of the leaves to deal with those pesky Aphids nicely (and pesticide free!).

Mealybugs

Much slower than aphids, Mealybugs are tiny and oval-shaped, with a somewhat spiky or hairy look to them, and they subsist on the sap from your Hibiscus and other plants. If you see them, then you’ll want to isolate the plant from others, as they can spread fairly quickly and do a LOT of damage to your Hibiscus in very little time.

One way to deal with them is to first get some cotton balls and rubbing alcohol, and then wet a cotton ball with your alcohol and go after all of the Mealybugs that you see with this. The easiest way is just to clean all of the leaves with your cotton ball, as this is something that you’ll want to do anyway to be thorough – you really can’t take a chance with these pests!

After that, you’ll want to dilute 1 cup of rubbing alcohol in 32 ounces of water, and add 3 to 4 drops of Dawn dishwashing liquid to the mix. Stir it all up well and fill a spray bottle with your DIY insecticide and spray the whole plant from top to bottom.

After that, just repeat this process twice a week until the Mealybugs are gone!

Spider mites

Spider mites are quite tiny – they’ll look like little dots moving around on your Hibiscus – but despite their tiny size, they have an enormous bite! If you notice your leaves yellowing and little holes in them, then the odds are further examination may lead you to spotting spider mites.

Thankfully, Spider mites are pretty easy to deal with. A few sprays of plain, old water will blast them off of leaves quite easily, as they won’t be able to keep hold.

Thrips

Thrips are small, cigar-shaped insects that may be brown, yellow, or black, but whatever color they all spell trouble. Like Mealybugs, they like to drink sap, but the good news is that you can treat them with the same spray we’ve described for using on Mealybugs!

White flies

White Flies look like moths, only scaled down to 1/10 or 1/16 of an inch, and while they like to eat sap like the other pests we’ve mentioned, these insects leave something behind called honeydew. This sticky substance will start slowly coating the leaves, preventing photosynthesis from occurring and the results… well, yellowed leaves!

Left unchecked, this may eventually kill your Hibiscus, but you can deal with White Flies via an application of Neem oil or with insecticidal soap and that should do the trick nicely.

3. Insufficient nutrients

If your Hibiscus isn’t getting enough nutrients, then you’ll definitely see some yellowing leaves. That’s one reason why it’s good to test the soil before planting – it gives you a good idea of what you are working with so that you can pick out an ideal fertilizer. Hidden Valley Hibiscus has their own proprietary blend of Hibiscus fertilizer using an NPK of 17-5-24, but if you are shopping at your local nursery, as a general rule you want to target medium levels of Nitrogen, low levels of Phosphorous, and high levels of Potassium for ideal results.

Also, we should mention that if your soil doesn’t drain very well, then you could be overwatering your plant, and this can cause your Hibiscus to be unable to properly absorb nutrients. If you think that this might be the case, you can try changing up the watering schedule a bit to see if this helps. Incidentally, that brings up to our next most common causes for yellowing…

4. Over or Under Watering

With Hibiscus, the ideal watering schedule is usually going to be giving your plant a good soak once a week, but it will vary from location to location. The goal is to ensure that the soil is always moist, so that the Tropical Hibiscus will be comfortable. The easiest way to always know when to water your plant is to simply check the top 2 inches of soil every 2 days and this should quickly give you a schedule that fits your plant and your location.

 During the summer you’ll want to water a little extra to help protect your plant from the heat and a 1-inch layer of compost is also a great way to help retain more moisture in the soil to the same effect.

During winter months, you’ll want to check your watering schedule again with the same method, and you’ll see firsthand that the watering schedule will be much more relaxed – likely every 2 weeks, but you’ll need to check.

5. Pesticides

If you will be using commercial, synthetic pesticides, then you need to be very careful. Pesticides can burn the leaves on your Hibiscus, so it’s best to try them at half strength first if you are going to be using them, or you could always try one of the recipes we’ve shared today for a gentler solution.

Another thing to keep in mind if you will be using pesticides is that it’s important to apply them early in the morning or late in the evening, so that sunlight isn’t going to be a factor. If it’s quite hot outside, the sudden introduction of pesticides can basically get ‘cooked in’ to some extent and this will stress your plant immensely.

If you are seeing yellowing or browning in a few spots following pesticide treatments, then a little careful pruning of those leaves is a good idea. Provided that the pruning is minimal, it can actually be therapeutic, as this will reduce the stress on your plant and allow it to focus on healthy regeneration.  

6. Sunlight factors

Hibiscus needs to have 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight daily, although if you live in an area where the sun really puts on a Summertime show (such as Texas or Arizona), then partial shade is also a very good idea. While these plants thrive in full sunlight, it’s important to remember that they are tropical, so they’re a little more used to temperatures being around 85 degrees and a lot more humid!

If you’ve provided partial shade and your Hibiscus has some dense areas of leaves with a lot of yellowing, then this is another good time to do a little pruning. Sometimes if your plant gets a little too bushy then you have a scenario where some leaves are being shaded by their neighbors.

By pruning the ones that are yellowing you give your Hibiscus a little relief and a chance to grow new leaves a little more strategically, so that they aren’t all so ‘crowded’ on your plant.

Finally, consider your plant’s neighbors. If you have tall plants right next to your Hibiscus, then they might well be shading it during a few hours every day. Should this be the case and your plant cannot be easily relocated, then a little judicious pruning may be able to help.

7. Temperature

While we’ve discussed what happens when it gets too hot for your plant in our ‘sunlight’ section, on the flipside of the temperature coin we’ve got the winter to factor in. While some varieties of Hibiscus do have some frost resistance, when it gets colder starting around the end of fall, you’re going to notice leaves dropping and your flowers will start becoming less colorful.

This is completely normal – your Hibiscus is simply going dormant!

When you see this, then your response should be to stop giving the plant fertilizer, cut down on the watering, and a little pine bark mulch may be used to help fortify your plants. If you layer 2-3 inches of pine bark mulch around your plants (most important, the main shoot!), then this will help to provide a nice bit of extra protection for the root systems below.

FAQs

It’s almost time to wrap things up but before we do so, we’ve collected a few frequently asked questions on the subject of yellowing Hibiscus leaves that we think you might find useful. Let’s take a look and then we’ll get to formally wrapping things up!

Why are my Hibiscus leaves turning from green to brown and skipping yellow?

If you see leaves on your Hibiscus quickly turning from green to brown(or even black) then it is quite possible that you are dealing with wilt disease. You’ll want to act quickly – this can kill your Hibiscus if left untreated!

You can find a good treatment strategy from Hidden Valley Hibiscus by using the provided link so that you can make an action plan to help save your plant!

What do overwatered Hibiscus leaves look like?

When a Hibiscus has been routinely overwatered, yellowing or browning leaves are usually going to be what you’ll see, and you can check the texture of them and you’ll notice that they feel a little saturated or spongy. If your soil is looking flooded, then it might be a good idea to go ahead and lift the plant so that you can check the roots to ensure that root rot has not occurred.

Should I remove yellow leaves from the Hibiscus?

Not immediately, no. A few yellow leaves on a Hibiscus plant are actually quite a common thing to see, so you shouldn’t prune them right away – just keep a close eye on them to see what happens. If more leaves start yellowing, then use the symptoms that we’ve listed today to help you pinpoint the root cause and to choose a strategy to help remediate the issue.

Some final words on Hibiscus leaves turning yellow

Today we’ve taken a closer look at the most common reasons for Hibiscus leaves turning yellow and while there are a wide range of problems that will exhibit this symptom, we hope that the provided information will help to quickly narrow it down so that you can get this issue resolved fairly quickly.

Just be sure to use the tips that we’ve shared today and with a little luck, your Hibiscus plant will be well on the mend and looking like it’s old self in no time flat.

Thanks so much for visiting today and we wish you and yours the very best!

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