Lavatera is an easy to grow, upright shrubby plant with attractive green foliage and large flowers which range in colour from white to deepest rose. It flowers from midsummer until the first frost.
The mallow is native to the Mediterranean and is easy to grow. It is mainly pest and disease resistant and will attract beneficial insects such as butterflies and bees. It can cope with poor soil and coastal weather.
Some forms of lavatera are annuals while others are perennial. Perennial Lavatera bloom in summer, whereas annuals bloom from summer to the first frost.
Because it is fast growing, and often flowers in its second year, perennial lavatera is a great plant to add some maturity and colour to a relaxed planting scheme in a relatively short time.
Perennial lavatera is a large shrub that will need plenty of room to grow. It reaches a height of 3 to 6 feet (1-2 metres), with a similar spread, making it ideal for the back of a mixed border. It is popular with gardeners because it is quick and easy to grow and will produce an abundance of large, 5-petalled flowers over the course of each summer.
These shrubby plants do not live long, perhaps four or five years; however, they are easily grown from seed and grow quickly, making them great value for money. And by the time your first plant has reached the end of its life, it will probably have self-seeded and you will have plenty of new plants to choose from.
Lavatera is also relatively hardy. They can be damaged by severe frosts, but as they respond well to hard pruning in spring any damage can be removed without harming the plant’s health. In very cold areas they are best planted against a wall for some protection from the harshest weather.
There are many varieties of Lavatera and they can be split into annual and perennial types. Annual varieties will be sown and flower the same year, usually dying with the first frost. Perennial types will last for several years and can grow into large shrubs. They benefit from heavy pruning in the spring to promote new growth.
Annual varieties bear a profusion of hollyhock-like blooms. Many of these individual flowers can be three inches wide and come in a range of colours from white to ruby-red and some feature contrasting veining.
Perhaps the most widely grown annual lavatera is L. trimestris. These reach a height of around 2 feet (0.5metres) and come in a range of colours from the pure white ‘Mont Blanc’ to a light pink called ‘Pink Beauty’, the deeper pink of ‘Silver Cup’ and the cherry-hued ‘Ruby Regis’.
These annuals, which typically bloom from July to autumn, make useful fillers when gardens need an extra boost of colour. The spikes also make beautiful cut flowers.
The perennial varieties are often called tree mallows. They are shrubby plants that grow quickly. Perfect in borders and at the back of flower beds they add maturity and colour to the garden in a relatively short time, generally flowering profusely in their second year.
Lavatera maritima is a fast-growing shrubby plant that reaches 8 feet (2.5 metres) tall and can spread up to 12 feet (3.5 metres). It produces abundant large pink to white flowers. The leaves and stems have a soft grey-green hue. This species is rugged and especially easy to grow, tolerating most conditions and hardy to at least -8°c. It is a perfect choice for coastal gardens.
L. thuringiaca is the most widely grown perennial lavatera. The flowers range from pale to rich pinks depending on the variety. Though they are shrubby in appearance, these perennials die back to the ground each year in winter. They can reach a height of 6 feet (1.8 metres).
Lavatera x clementii ‘Barnsley’
Lavatera x clementii ‘Barnsley’ is popular cottage garden favourite. It reaches a maximum height and spread of 7 feet (2 metres). It produces hollyhock-like flowers from June until September. These flowers are white with a red centre and change to a pale pink as they mature.
Lavatera ‘Barnsley Baby’
For those with a smaller garden, there is a more compact version of Barnsley available called Barnsley baby. This plant has all the charm of its bigger brother but reaches a maximum height of 75cm (30″).
Lavatera x clementii ‘Rosea’
Lavatera x clementii ‘Rosea’ is a very popular variety due to its abundant pink flowers and soft, felty leaves. It flowers from June to September providing summer-long colour.
Lavatera is easy to grow and will tolerate a wide variety of conditions. A classic plant of the cottage garden, they also do well in coastal sites. Because they grow so quickly, they are a useful plant for filling a gap or making a new garden look established more quickly. They are not a long-lived plant; however, their fast growth and prolific flowers make them great value for money, especially as they can easily be propagated from seed.
Lavatera grows in most well-drained soil types, including poor soil. Because they are tolerant of salt, they can also suit a coastal garden.
Your lavatera will bloom best if it is planted in full sunlight. However, the plant will tolerate partial shade.
The plant copes well with dry weather. However, it will benefit from watering in periods of drought. If the soil around it becomes too dry it will begin to drop its blooms.
Feed the plant a general-purpose garden fertiliser monthly during the growing season. Do not be tempted to over-fertilise your lavatera or you will end up with abundant leafy growth but few blooms.
Lavatera is best pruned in early to mid-spring, once the danger of frost has passed. It is quite a simple process as these shrubby plants do well when cut back hard. At this time of year, your plant will have new shoots growing at the base of the plant. These are the flowering shoots for this year. All other wood can be cut back now. This will regenerate the plant and prevent the stems from becoming old and woody and failing to flower. Cutting back your lavatera will promote vigorous growth and the development of strong new shoots that should provide you with plenty of summer flowers.
To prune your Lavatera take a clean sharp pair of secateurs and cut all stems back to 1 foot above ground level. Some of the thicker stems may require loppers or a pruning saw.
Now, if there are any weak or brittle stems, these should be removed to ground level as they are probably dead or dying. Most dead stems will snap easily. If you are not sure if a stem is dead, scrape a little of the bark away. If the stem is green under the bark it is alive. If it is brown, it’s dead.
When pruning back healthy growth, look for a swelling on the stem. This is the point where a new shoot is developing. You should make your cut just above this bulge.
Propagating Lavatera is very easy. In fact, if you already have one of these plants you may find they have self-seeded and you have numerous baby plants in the beds around them.
The plants can easily be grown from seed. It is best to plant them directly in the soil in the place you want them to grow. This is because they have a long root system so do not do well when transplanted. Plant the seeds in spring, after the chance of frost is passed. Space the seeds 18-24 inches (45- 60 cm) apart. They will germinate in around 15 to 20 days.
Seed can also be planted earlier, indoors to get a head start. Sow three to four seeds in a peat pot and thin out all but the strongest seedling. Once the seedling is 4 inches (10 cm) high, harden off and then plant the whole pot in the garden to prevent disturbing the roots.
Perennial lavatera can also be propagated from softwood cuttings in spring or summer.
Choose healthy stems that are just beginning to turn woody at the base.
With a clean, sharp knife or secateurs, trim each cutting. Make the lower cut just below a leaf in new wood. Then trim the overall cutting down to 3 -6 inches (7.5cm to 15 cm).
Remove all leaves from the lower half of the cutting and remove flower buds.
Dip the cut base in hormone rooting powder as this speeds up rooting and reduces the chances of rotting.
Prepare a 7.5 cm pot with free draining compost for each cutting. Using a dibber or pencil, make a hole for the cutting. Place the stem in the hole and water lightly. Place a plastic bag over the pot and secure with an elastic band.
Position your cuttings in a sheltered but sunny spot in the garden out of direct sunlight. Keep an eye on the cuttings to ensure they do not dry out. You will know your cuttings have taken when you see new growth coming from the stem, or roots appearing through the holes in the bottom of the pot. This will take 4-8 weeks. You can then pot them on and leave them in a sheltered spot over winter for planting out the following spring.
Common Lavatera Problems
Lavatera is rarely bothered by pests and diseases. Even when they do have a pest population living on them they rarely suffer great harm. However, there are a couple of pests that can cause unsightly damage.
Spider mites, as the name suggests, resemble tiny spiders. You may see their tiny webs before you notice the mites themselves. They will suck the sap from the young stems and leaves of your plant. This can cause the leaves to yellow and become deformed. Luckily, this plant is quite robust so doesn’t suffer too much. Spray the leaves with a jet of water to knock the mites off. You can also use insecticidal soap if the infestation is severe.
Aphids are tiny insects that suck the sap of plants. They are unlikely to critically endanger your plant, but they can cause a lack of plant vigour and distorted growth. They also excrete a sticky substance on foliage which also encourages the growth of sooty moulds. They can be treated in the same way as spider mites, with a jet of water for mild cases and insecticidal soap for larger infestations.
Lavatera is generally sturdy, strong and disease resistant. However, they do sometimes become affected by hollyhock rust, especially in damp, foggy or misty conditions.
Hollyhock rust is a fungus that attacks many plants. It is generally not fatal to lavatera; however, it can cause the foliage to turn yellow and the leaves to wither and drop. You may see yellow spots on the tops of the leaves and raised spore-containing pustules on the undersides. It is usually most virulent in spring and autumn but can continue in summer if the weather is damp.
To prevent hollyhock rust you should keep the area around the plant free from weeds and dead matter. It is also wise to water your plant early in the day to allow the moisture to evaporate from the foliage. You should cut off infected leaves as you find them. Thin out the plant if necessary to allow for better air circulation. You can also use a fungicide in early spring if the problem is extensive.
After the Lavatera finishes flowering, you should prune away all infected leaves and stalks to soil level and destroy them. Luckily this is a vigorous plant that benefits from hard pruning and dies back over winter, so infected growth can be removed without harming the plant.
Mulching you plant will also help to cover any spores on the ground and prevent reinfection. Keep the mulch away from the plant base to avoid rotting the stems.
Q My lavatera has very yellow leaves and not many flowers. What could be wrong?
It sounds like your lavatera is not getting enough sun. These plants can tolerate some shade but will flower best in the sun. The yellowed leaves could also indicate a lack of iron. Try using an iron-rich fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone to see if that perks your plant up.
Q My Lavatera Clementii has grown to about 4 foot and has lots of beautiful flowers. My problem is that the stems have gone completely floppy. I thought that Lavatera was an upright plant that didn't require much staking. Am I doing something wrong?
It sounds like your plant is suffering from the heat. It has plenty of new growth but as it is still young, may not have substantial enough roots to support it. You could try creating some artificial shade with greenhouse netting or fleece and see if this helps your young plant stay sturdy and upright. It will also require plenty of water if the weather is very hot and dry.
Q My 18-month-old Lavatera was shooting well this spring when it suddenly wilted and died. What could have caused this?
It is possible that your Lavatera suffered from wind rock. This can happen when strong winds rock the plant and cause damage to the root system. To prevent this from happening in the future make sure the plant is well firmed in when planting. You may also want to stake plants that are situated in exposed areas. Lavatera often like to be partly sheltered from the worst of the weather so try to ensure it is near a fence, wall or other shrubs or trees.