Named for its edible leaves, Jamaican sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa var. sabdariffa) is also called red sorrel, roselle and Florida cranberry. This shrub is a short-lived perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 11 and an annual in colder zones. Growing 5 to 7 feet tall, Jamaican sorrel's narrow, lobed leaves and stems are reddish-green, and it flowers late fall through early winter. Its flower bases, called calyces, are used for making jellies, jams, juices and wines.
Needs and Tolerances
Jamaican sorrel requires a full-sun site but tolerates a variety of other growing conditions. Thriving in sandy soil rich in organic matter, Jamaican sorrel tolerates most soil types and a pH range between 4.5 and 8. This adaptable plant also tolerates strong winds, flooding and stagnant water, and grows at elevations up to 4,100 feet. Jamaican sorrel suffers damage from fog and frost but grows well in humid, warm conditions. In its native homelands it receives 59 to 79 inches of rainfall a year, and it requires constantly moist soil in cultivation.
Spacing and Mulching
Spacing for Jamaican sorrel depends on the reason for growing it, but all plants benefit from mulching. If growing Jamaican sorrel as an ornamental shrub or for its leaves, space plants 3 feet apart, but if you're cropping Jamaican sorrel for its calyces, grow three plants together on mounds 6 inches tall and 2 feet in diameter. Space mounds 3 to 6 feet apart in rows 5 to 10 feet apart. Mulching with manure helps protect Jamaican sorrel from root pests, suppresses weeds, conserves soil moisture and supplies plant nutrients. Spread a 2-inch layer of well-rotted manure around plants, avoiding the stems.
Weeds and Fertilizer
Weeding and fertilizing Jamaican sorrel promotes vigorous, healthy growth. Remove weeds from around plants weekly until they grow 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall, when their foliage shades out further weed growth. If growing the plant for its edible flower buds, fertilize Jamaican sorrel lightly, applying a 24-8-16 feed diluted at a rate of 1/2 tablespoon per gallon of water every two weeks, or at half the rate recommended in the manufacturer's instructions. Fertilize Jamaican sorrel with 24-8-16 feed diluted at a rate of 1 tablespoon per gallon of water, or at the recommended rates, if growing the plant as an ornamental or to harvest its foliage. Water Jamaican sorrel when the soil is dry to a depth of 1 inch.
Harvesting and Rotating
Harvest Jamaican sorrel leaves and calyces at different times, and rotate plants to different growing areas each year. Jamaican sorrel leaves are ready to pick 10 weeks from sowing. If growing shrubs for foliage and calyces, remove stems to 3 to 4 inches above the ground three times at intervals of four weeks, and then allow the plants to regrow and produce calyces for harvest. Calyces are ready to pick when they're plump and have stopped growing. Rotating Jamaican sorrel to different spots every year discourages root nematode infestations. Jamaican sorrel grows from seed and cuttings.
A graduate of Leeds University, Jenny Green completed Master of Arts in English literature in 1998 and has been writing about travel, gardening, science and pets since 2007. Green's work appears in Diva, Whole Life Times, Listverse, Earthtimes, Lamplight, Stupefying Stories and other websites and magazines.