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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 with 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 to harvest the seeds at the end of the season. To harvest roselle seeds, allow the pods to stay on the plant until the seeds inside have dried and turned brown. When the seed pods dry, they will crack open easily. Shake out the seeds, and store them in a dark, cool location.


If you enjoyed this post, please share it!

Barbara

Tuesday 14th of November 2023

Hi Angela! I love your informative blog, YouTube channel, and the calendars! You have opened a window of hope to gardening in the low desert! I am growing and harvesting Roselle Hibiscus right now and unsure of the best way to remove the sepals from the calyxes? I have been drying the whole thing in the sunshine and then trying to remove them and they just fall apart. I noticed in your picture above they were "fresh" on the dehydrator rack... Could you please provide the best way to harvest these to remain whole? Many thanks!

Angela Judd

Tuesday 14th of November 2023

Hi Barbara, I harvest the individual calyces with clippers when the plant is still growing. To separate the "fruit" from the seed pod I cut it off on the bottom. I've found this is the easiest way to harvest and process large amounts of calyces. Hope this helps.

Robert

Thursday 19th of October 2023

I am currently growing mahogany splendor hibiscus, do most of the attributes apply to it? Are the leaves edible, calyxes ok to make tea or jelly, etc? Any other suggestions would be appreciated

Angela Judd

Thursday 19th of October 2023

This is a different plant, mahogany splendor hibiscus doesn't fruit.

Tammy

Thursday 12th of October 2023

I wish I had come across your post much sooner. When I planted mine, I planted them 6“ apart in a raised bed and never thinned them out. Thankfully I have a 4’x12’ bed!! They have taken over all but 2’ on an end where a couple tomato plants are still fighting for space. One of them are at least 10’ tall (including the 26“ raised bed) and my husband was ready to pull them all out until I found some tiny buds appearing!! Yea!! Such beautiful plants, but I will designate a separate area next year for them. The stem alone is over half the size of my wrist!! I live in zone 8a in NC. Garden space is much too precious these day, not to be able to use it for veggies. ;-)

Nancy

Thursday 21st of September 2023

I plant my roselle in a big pot, they are now flowering (3rd of September now). However, I think I underestimated the pot. Can I still transplant the plant to the ground instead at this flowering stage?

Angela Judd

Monday 25th of September 2023

I would leave it alone for now. Transplanting it may shock it and you may not get a harvest.

Patrice

Thursday 4th of May 2023

I'm planting my first roselle this afternoon. (Phoenix) If I were to try to keep this as a perennial, how would I overwinter it?

Delilah

Saturday 6th of May 2023

@Angela Judd, My packet says to plant 8-12” apart rather than 4x4 space. It is the zinger Hibiscus. Is that just a different variety?

Angela Judd

Friday 5th of May 2023

I have yet to have mine overwinter successfully - put it in your warmest location and hope for the best.