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How to grow Roselle Hibiscus: Growing Jamaican Sorrel

How to grow Roselle Hibiscus_ Growing Jamaican Sorrel

Roselle hibiscus, red sorrel, Jamaican sorrel, and Florida cranberry are a few of the many names for “Hibiscus sabdariffa”, which is a tasty and stunning addition to the garden. Although a perennialroselle is usually grown as an annual.

Learn how to grow roselle hibiscus, and enjoy the season-long color, beautiful blooms, and red flavorful calyces it produces.

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8 Tips for How to Grow Roselle Hibiscus

1. Plant roselle at the right time

  • Roselle germinates at soil temperatures between 75°- 85°F, and does well directly sown in the garden. 
  • Plant 2-3 seeds 1/2 inch deep and about 3 feet apart. When seedlings are 2-3 inches tall thin to the strongest seedling.
  • In the low desert of Arizona, plant roselle from seed or transplants once temperatures warm up in March through the end of May.  (Start seeds indoors from February – April.)
  • In cooler climates, start roselle from seed indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost. When seedlings are 3-4 inches high, transplant them into a spot in the garden that gets full sun.
How to grow Roselle Hibiscus: Growing Jamaican Sorrel
Roselle Hibiscus seeds

2. Plant roselle in the best location

How to grow Roselle Hibiscus: Growing Jamaican Sorrel

Roselle prefers well-draining fertile soil. Overly rich soil or extra fertilization leads to a very large plant with fewer calyces. A sunny spot is best for growing roselle successfully. In the low-desert of Arizona, some afternoon shade is fine.

3. Give roselle plenty of moisture

Roselle hibiscus prefers humid, warm conditions and does not tolerate frost. It is grown as a short-lived perennial in zones 10 and 11, and as an annual in cooler zones.

How to grow Roselle Hibiscus: Growing Jamaican Sorrel

In the low desert of Arizona, the roselle plant begins to thrive when the more humid monsoon weather begins. Keep the soil evenly moist as roselle grows. Take care not to overwater as roselle can be affected by root rot if the soil is not well-draining.

4. Give roselle hibiscus room and support to grow

How to grow Roselle Hibiscus: Growing Jamaican Sorrel
Rebar support for roselle hibiscus
How to grow Roselle Hibiscus: Growing Jamaican Sorrel

A roselle plant is very large and needs plenty of room. Space plants 3-6 feet apart in rows at least 5 feet apart. One or two good-sized plants may be all you need for a bountiful harvest of the beautiful calyces. Provide support for roselle hibiscus. I normally use a length of rebar pounded into the ground (about a foot) as a support. The branches can get very heavy, especially after a rain or once branches are loaded with blooms and calyces.

How to grow Roselle Hibiscus: Growing Jamaican Sorrel
Rebar support for roselle hibiscus

5. Understand that roselle is day-length sensitive

What does that mean? When a plant is “day-length sensitive”, the light cycle affects when the plant will bloom. The stunning blooms (similar to okra blooms) are triggered as the days get shorter in the fall. 

How to grow Roselle Hibiscus: Growing Jamaican Sorrel

Although the plants don’t bloom until fall, planting roselle earlier in the season ensures a large plant with plenty of blooms and calyces to harvest. Roselle planted in August would (probably) still bloom, but the resulting plant and harvests would be much smaller.

6. Harvest roselle calyces at the right timeHow to grow Roselle Hibiscus: Growing Jamaican Sorrel

  • After the beautiful roselle bloom fades, the flower withers and falls off.
  • Between 7-10 days after blooming is the best time to pick the calyces.
  • It is time to harvest when the pointy red calyx around the seed pod is just over an inch wide. The seed pod is fully grown but still tender.
  • • To avoid damage to the branch it’s best to remove the calyx with clippers.
  • Harvesting roselle calyces early and often increases the overall yield of the plant.

7. Use roselle hibiscus in several ways

The flavor of the roselle calyx is similar to cranberry, but less bitter with lemon undertones. To use the calyces, cut open the calyx, remove the white seed capsule, and rinse before using.

Use the calyces to make jellies, juice, tea, pies, and even this recipe for “mock” cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving.

One of the most popular uses, especially in Jamaica, is as a seasonal drink, “Rosa de Jamaica” at Christmas time in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. In Mexico and in Mexican restaurants in the United States, the beverage is known simply as “Jamaica”.

The blooms, leaves, and pods of roselle hibiscus are also edible. The leaves taste like spicy spinach, and are used in many cultures around the world. Use the leaves in salads, cooked greens, tea, and jams. Both the leaves and calyces contain natural pectin.

How to grow Roselle Hibiscus: Growing Jamaican Sorrel
Dehydrated calyces
How to use Roselle Hibiscus: 5 Tasty Recipes

Looking for recipes to use roselle hibiscus? In this article I share my 5 favorite.

8. Save seeds to plant and share with others

Leave a few calyces on the plant so you can harvest the seeds at the end of the season. When the seed pods dry, they will crack open easily. Shake out the seeds, and store them in a dark, cool location.

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Thursday 26th of May 2022

I am growing roselle for the first time and have two small plants right next to each other. I’m not sure how sensitive their roots are and am wondering if I could I have any luck uprooting and moving one of the plants or should I just snip it out?

Angela Judd

Friday 27th of May 2022

I would snip it - they can be tricky sometimes, especially when it's hot out.


Monday 9th of May 2022

Is it beneficial to pinch the seedlings?

Angela Judd

Friday 13th of May 2022

I haven't needed to. It seems to branch on its own.


Wednesday 6th of April 2022

What are the best soil to use for in ground? A bag that I can buy from lowes? Thanks


Monday 11th of April 2022

@Angela Judd, thanks I will check it out.

Angela Judd

Saturday 9th of April 2022

For in ground beds adding organic matter like compost is key. I like the bagged Omni compost that is available at Lowe's.


Sunday 27th of March 2022

I'm grateful to have found this. I would love to grow my own roselle plants to make Sorrel, which so many think is the same as Hibiscus tea. I'm excited for this resource and to grow closer to my culture.

Nicole Mahaffey

Monday 14th of March 2022

What would recommend for a square foot gardening space?

Angela Judd

Tuesday 15th of March 2022

I would recommend at least a 4x4 area per plant.