Growing roselle, or what we also call rosella, is one of the more manageable tasks we have here where we live, but it wasn’t always this way.
Roselle is a valuable plant that is very generous when conditions are suitable for it to perform to its full potential, and getting the conditions right took some time for us.
The wonderful thing for us, and something we are very grateful for, is the plant has now made itself at home here. We are putting this article together for others looking for plants that can be resilient, are helpful in several ways, and are attractive.
Why grow roselle and what can it be used for?
We grow rosella for several reasons, one of which may surprise you. For many years we tried to grow a particular variety of rosella that had quite a large leaf, and while it did produce masses of these leaves, the fruit harvest was never anything to write about.
We grew it for fish food because we had put fish in our pool, and they were herbivorous. They loved the leaves, so we grew roselle next to the pool, so we didn’t have far to go to feed them.
We also ate the leaves in salads and as greens in wraps. The fruit was treated just as you usually would; it was made into jams and cordials.
Nowadays, we grow a different variety that has narrow leaves and is far more generous with fruit. Because we have had this variety on our property for a few years, it has adjusted to the soil conditions and is quite happy to self-sow and grow in all places.
This coming season we will test the idea of growing tomatoes with the rosella plants and see if the two get along. We believe the tomato should be able to use the roselle as a support structure, and a test case last season gave a good indication of the potential.
Bear in mind the roselle plant we now have is a narrow leaf variety far more open than the typical bushy roselle plant that is common. This should allow plenty of sunlight to reach the tomato plant.
If you wish to investigate what other uses the roselle plant is good for, “Using rosellas : a self sufficient perspective” is recommended.
How long does roselle take to grow?
Roselle is an annual crop for us, but the odd plant decides to try and grow for a second season after we cut the plants back come season’s end. This image shows the latest attempt at defying the natural laws of the botanical world.
The roselle plant takes about nine months to get from a seedling to producing fruit, which can vary a little from location to location.
Our season for growing this plant never stops now because as soon as the plants have finished and we cut them back and drop the green waste back on the garden bed, the seeds are already waiting for the first storms of the wet season to germinate and start the next generation.
Bear in mind we are located in the wet tropics of Northeastern Australia, so the temperatures never get low enough to stop things from growing; it is the lack of rainfall that limits the garden’s output generally.
In your situation, wherever you may be, the season for roselle is early spring. Allow for the entire summer and into the cooler season to harvest from the plant. It does not like cold climates.
Do Sabdariffa roselle seeds keep for long?
We don’t know of the viability of more than 2 years old seeds, and as we leave the plant to self-sow for the most part, we see this time frame as a limit that we can trust.
There may be literature somewhere that can give more granular details on this topic, but if we work with the two years, we seem okay.
Is Roselle or rosella hard to grow and care for?
Once the conditions are suitable for this plant, it is a straightforward plant to grow and care for. We like it that way because we have many tasks that need attending to all the time, so we try to avoid plants that require close monitoring and take up valuable time.
It is a process that has stood us well as we build out the most resilient plants that we find helpful in the yard and the kitchen. It is the bedrock of self-sufficient food gardening. We have a dedicated article on the “best plants for self-sufficient living” that you may find helpful.
What conditions does the roselle plant prefer?
Rosella likes the sun and performs in well-drained soil full of organic matter.
A thick layer of mulch is also very beneficial but is not entirely necessary because this plant has quite deep roots and can access moisture at a reasonable depth if the top layers of soil are a little on the dry side.
It could be considered slightly drought-tolerant, but as with all plants, having the optimal conditions will always give a far better yield at harvest time.
Our yard has a few spots where roselle self-sows, and they are all different in soil type and sun aspect.
We have not noticed a substantial difference in harvest quantity across them, so we are confident that roselle will grow in partial shade, as long as there are a few hours of good sunlight for them.
The plants grow differently in the shade and are lankier, but the harvest is still good. The plants that grow in full sun are lower but bushier and harder to pick. The yield is about the same as the shaded plants.
Remember, we are in the tropics here, and our sun is stronger than most other places.
How much water does the roselle plant need?
We have discovered this plant is quite flexible in its water requirements. We have tested the driest locations in the yard for rosella, and these have been grown from seeds cast over the soil surface with no mulch to speak of.
The only water these plants received was rainfall, which was sporadic at best. The plants survived and grew just a few calyxes that produced a few seeds, and the coming season will let us know if these were viable.
It is safe to say that a regular watering every other day or so will be fine for growing this plant, and watering could be spread out further with a good layer of mulch over the soil.
Roselle seeds : save and store them or leave to self sow?
This is not a situation that needs to be either/or, but it is probably best to do both.
We suggest saving a good handful of the seeds from several plants and storing them in a cool, dark, dry location for the following year and then letting some seeds fall and self-sow to test if your conditions are suitable for another generation of roselle to grow there.
If they do germinate and grow, there is a good chance you can get these seeds to become localized to your yard, which will help with resilience.
We are getting lazy where we live here because we just let the plant self-sow now, and the plant is coming up everywhere. They appear in the lawn, in pathways, and in multiple gardens, so it is close to becoming a weed.
This is precisely what we had hoped for when we started down this permaculture path 6-7 years ago. It is a fantastic situation when the backyard becomes a self-replicating system that grows food automatically every year.
We can now spread these plants to others who sometimes have difficulty finding the plants. We dig up seedlings and pass them around to neighbors who can use them, or we transplant the odd one into a new area if there is room for it.
Seed saving is an intelligent practice and something that we all should do, and while roselle is one of the plants we leave to self-sow, we collect and store seeds from it as well as other plants like the snake beans we grow.
Our methods are targeted toward self-sufficiency and resilience, and although we are excited about how our yard/system is evolving, there is always more to do and learn.
We have many articles on this site that detail methods of building resilience in your life, and saving seeds is just one useful skill. “23 skills for self-sufficient living” details several others related to plant selection and soil conditions.
Growing Hibiscus Sabdariffa is not that difficult if you practice organic growing and understand soil conditions based on healthy soil biology.
The roselle plant is a very generous member of our list of plants that we now rely on for food security and resilience. It is not a staple, but it has many beneficial uses that we utilize and enjoy. We hope you have the same success we have been blessed with.
Article by Tim Blanch for TheTropicalHomestead.com. He is a qualified Permaculture designer.