Hibiscus plants (Hibiscus spp.) are prized for the bright blooms, but those blooms aren’t attractive if they are covered with bugs — and neither is the foliage. The more than 200 species of hibiscus plants are loosely divided into two groups: those that are tropical in origin and those that are hardy enough to survive freezing temperatures. Both types can be bothered by insect pests.

Consider the Climate

Hibiscus plants range widely in size and shape — some can grow as large as small trees. Some are annuals, and others are perennials. Sometimes, it depends on the climate. Tropical hibiscus plants are not tolerant of frost and are often grown indoors as houseplants in cooler climates. Hardy perennials can tolerate freezing temperatures. In general, hibiscus plants are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 11. Hardy hibiscus plants do not usually grow well outdoors in USDA zones warmer than zone 9, while tropical hibiscus plants do not usually grow well outdoors in USDA zones colder than zone 9.

Attack the Pests

Because some of the most popular hibiscus plants are tropical ones — in particular, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, which is only hardy in USDA zones 9 through 11 — many are cultivated in pots and brought indoors for the winter. Sometimes, they bring bugs with them. In fact, indoor and outdoor hibiscus plants can be bothered by a wide range of insect pests, including spider mites, aphids and whiteflies.

Mix It Up

Insecticidal soaps work well against the pests that plague hibiscus plants, and you can even make up a solution yourself with ingredients that are already in your home. Add 1 tablespoon of any liquid dish soap to a quart of water, and mix gently. Pour the solution into a spray bottle for easy application.

Why It Works

Insecticidal soaps — including homemade ones — are most effective against soft-bodied insects, such as those that swarm on hibiscus plants. The soap contains fatty acids that cling to and wash away the outer coating of the insect’s body. This disrupts the insects’ bodily functions and kills them. Because of this, to be effective, the spray must actually cover the bugs and not just the plant or soil. The best way to make sure the spray coats the bugs is to spray them directly — if you can see them. If not, coat the leaves thoroughly with the spray, including the undersides of the leaves — you are bound to get some bugs in the process. Check after four days, and spray the hibiscus again if you notice more bugs.

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