Hibiscus Leaves Turning Yellow

My Garden Life
June 8, 2022
Table of Contents
If you’ve had some experience with growing hibiscus, then you likely already know that hibiscus leaves turning yellow are a common sight.
The appearance of yellow leaves on hibiscus may be nothing to worry about and the issue could resolve itself with no action required. Yellow hibiscus leaves may, however, be indicative of a nutrient deficiency, watering issues, pests, temperature or other factors that can easily be addressed to ensure that your hibiscus plants stay healthy and regain their color.

Too much or too little light can lead to yellow leaves on hibiscus

close-up of red hibiscus with unhealthy pale green-yellow foliage
An overabundance of sunlight can be the reason for yellow leaves on a hibiscus plant. Too much sun can cause the leaves to turn yellow and to develop white spots. If this occurs, remove the damaged leaves and move your hibiscus to an area with less sun exposure. If it isn’t in a pot and must be transplanted to be relocated, you’ll find helpful information about how to transplant your hibiscus here.
A lack of sunlight can also lead to yellow leaves on hibiscus. After the leaves turn yellow, they will begin to drop off. The solution is the same – move your hibiscus. Remove the remaining damaged leaves and move your plant to an area where it will get more sun.
Some yellow leaves may result from the stress of the plant being transplanted or relocated, but this should resolve itself.

Yellow hibiscus leaves can be a sign of nutrient deficiencies

yellow hibiscus plant with leaves that are pale yellow due to nutrient deficiency
Yellow hibiscus leaves that remain on the plant rather than falling off could show a lack of necessary nutrients. Applying fertilizer or amending the soil will resolve this problem, but take care not to over-fertilize as you may do more harm than good.

Improper watering or poor drainage can turn hibiscus leaves yellow

woman watering a potted yellow hibiscus plant with a watering can
Watering too much or too little can turn your hibiscus leaves yellow. Hibiscus plants do need a lot of water to do well, particularly when it’s hot or windy, but overwatering can damage them. As a rule, you should water your hibiscus enough to keep the soil damp, but not enough to make it soggy.
Also, make sure that your hibiscus container has adequate drainage. Self-watering pots are an option to consider, especially if your plant maintenance time is limited or if you travel frequently.
As discussed later in this article, you’ll need to dramatically reduce the amount of watering in the winter while your hibiscus is dormant.

Hibiscus leaves turning yellow may indicate a pest problem

tip of a hibiscus plant infested with mealybugs
Hibiscus leaves turning yellow may be indicative of a problem with spider mites or other pests, especially if you also see unnatural markings on the underside of the yellow leaves. Apply a pesticide or spray on some soapy water to rid the plant of its attackers, but be careful not to use too much pesticide as this can lead to even more leaf yellowing.

Temperature issues can also result in yellow leaves on hibiscus

potted hibiscus plant indoors on a table near a window
Too much heat or cold can cause yellow leaves on hibiscus. If it’s too hot, your plant could suffer from heat stress. You’ll need to increase watering to prevent this. When temperatures start to cool, make sure your hibiscus is not located in a drafty or windy area. Bring your hibiscus indoors if a freeze is expected.

Hibiscus leaves can turn yellow if the plant is rootbound

Woman with gardening gloves removing a hibiscus plant from its nursery pot.

When grown in a pot, a hibiscus plant’s roots can eventually become so tightly packed that they start to cut each other off, reducing the circulation of water and potentially killing sections of the roots. The visible impact on the foliage is the same as a plant that is too dry, because, well, it is too dry since the roots are no longer able to provide sufficient amounts of water to support the plant.

To determine if yellowing leaves are a result of your plant becoming rootbound, you will need to remove your hibiscus from the pot to inspect the roots. If it’s rootbound, you’ll want to repot it into a pot 1-2″ larger in diameter.

Yellow hibiscus leaves can be a sign that the plant is becoming dormant

close-up of yellow leaves on a hibiscus plant
Yellow hibiscus leaves may simply be a sign that your plant is going into a dormant state for the winter. This occurs with both hardy and tropical hibiscus varieties. Generally, you’ll need to reduce watering to help the plant achieve dormancy.
If your hibiscus is potted, once your plant goes dormant, move it indoors and place it somewhere that’s cool and dark. Cut back on watering during dormancy, watering only enough to keep the soil from becoming completely dry. Continue this through the coldest two or three months of winter. Then cut it back if needed, move it to a warm sunny area indoors, give it a bit of fertilizer and resume regular watering.
close-up of two gorgeous orange hibiscus blooms
Hibiscus plants are popular ornamentals and can add a bit of the tropics to your home or landscape. They aren’t difficult to grow or care for, but you’ll be more successful if you can recognize when your hibiscus is in distress. To learn more about this beautiful flowering plant and how to grow hibiscus in pots, check out our article.
potted pink hibiscus by a window with lacy curtains filtering the sunlight

4 Comments

  1. Angela Pivovarnik

    I’ll send out a hibiscus because the water too much or not enough is like an oxymoron it’s one of the other how do I know why my leaves are turning yellow

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Angela,
      You’ll need to monitor the soil moisture more closely. Feel the top one to two inches of soil. If it’s dry, then it’s probably time to water. If it’s wet, don’t water until the soil surface is more dry.

      The reason it’s confusing to determine if the yellow leaves are a result of the plant being too dry or too wet, is because the symptoms for a plant that is too dry, are identical to the symptoms for a plant that’s been getting too much water (and developing root rot).

      In either case the plant is not uptaking water. A plant in dry soil simply has no water to uptake. A plant with root rot can’t uptake water because the roots are damaged and no longer functioning. The end result is the same because the plant is not getting water, and that’s why you get yellow leaves from either of these moisture extremes.

      Try to get your plant on a consistent watering routine by monitoring the soil moisture. If your plant is growing in a pot, be sure the pot has drainage holes so excess water can drain out. Also be sure the pot is not in a saucer where water collects, and the pot stands in water. This can keep the soil in the lower part of the pot too wet and root rot can develop.

      Reply
    • Carolyn

      Hello, Carolyn in Chicago. All the leaves are falling off my hibus tree. Do I need to add fertilizer? I’m clueless about my tree. Helllp!

      Reply
      • My Garden Life

        Hi Carolyn,
        If you have read through all of the suggested causes of yellowing hibiscus leaves listed in the article and you see no sign of pests, then you’re probably going to need to inspect the roots. You didn’t mention whether your hibiscus is in the ground or potted, but in either situation, the condition of the roots will give you a lot of information.

        The health of any plant’s foliage is a reflection of the root system that supports it. Once you can observe the condition of the roots, you will be better able to tell what measures to take. If the roots are mushy and sour smelling – it’s likely it’s getting too much water. If they are dry and brittle looking – too little water. If potted and they are dense and winding around the pot – time for a bigger pot. Also make sure your plant is getting at least six hours a day of bright sunlight and do not apply fertilizer until the plant is healthy and producing green foliage again.

        Reply

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