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. Learn how to grow roselle hibiscus, and enjoy the season-long color, beautiful blooms, and red flavorful calyces it produces.
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. In the low desert of Arizona, plant roselle from seed or transplants once temperatures warm up in mid-March through the end of May.
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.
2. Plant roselle in the best location
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.
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
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.
It might be necessary to provide support for roselle hibiscus. I have used a length of rebar pounded into the ground (about a foot) as support. The branches can get very heavy, especially after a rain or once branches are loaded with blooms and calyces.
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.
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 time
After the beautiful roselle bloom fades, the flower withers and falls off. After a few days, the pointy red calyx around the seed pod is about an inch large and ready to pick. The seed pod is fully grown but still tender. At this stage, the calyx can be popped off by hand. As the calyx gets larger, the stem hardens and needs to be removed with garden clippers. About 10 days after blooming is the best time to pick the calyces. 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.
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.