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Abutilons are commonly called “Flowering Maples” because of the shape of the leaves, and other times called “Chinese Lantern” because of their colorful, dangling blooms. The term ”Chinese Lantern” may lead one to believe they originate in China, but these tropical hibiscus-related plants are actually from South America.
Some Abutilons are vigorous growers with an upright growth habit that can reach eight feet or more in height. Others tend to follow a compact growth habit with a more bush-like appearance. Many of the more compact growers are perfect for decorative containers or hanging baskets.
Although some Abutilons will do fine with a lot of sunlight, most would prefer a shady nook and a regular supply of water. Most Abutilons are hybrids and are easy to grow and propagate.
Once established, they lean toward the tough side of drought tolerance. An amended well drained soil is recommended. Although Abutilons are fairly disease resistant, they may at times be prey to white flies on the leaves, but the degree of damage done by this pest may be lessened if plants are given good aeration. These plants respond very well to pruning. If cut back severely in the fall, they recover their vigorous growth in the spring.
Whether they are called Abutilons, Flowering Maples, or Chinese Lanterns, their use is as versatile as the label you apply to them. They are useful in many gardens as a background shrub, in a hanging basket, or trained as a standard. They also are well suited for porch containers. They can grow to 10 feet and tolerate radical pruning well.
Abutilons bloom throughout the year with a minimum of care; they produce quantities of open-faced blossoms over a prolonged period of time. The blossoms are 2 – 3 inches in diameter, borne singly, with plenty of buds showing color simultaneously. In Southern California abutilons grow in many different light conditions, shade, filtered sun, and bright sunlight.
- Abutilons can stand a wide range of temperatures from cool to very hot; however, they dry out and wilt rapidly. Fortunately, they bounce back from occasional negligence. They like moist, well drained, amended soil.
- Abutilons have a healthy appetite. Feed them once every 3 – 4 weeks with 20-20-20 or any balanced fertilizer. If an abutilon becomes root-bound or hungry, its leaves turn yellow and drop.
Abutilons are an easy to grow perennial and a rewarding choice for any Southern California garden AND they attract Hummingbirds.
Abutilons are prone to whiteflies and red spider mites. To combat whiteflies, use yellow sticky traps. To control red spider mites wash the leaves with a brisk spray of chilly water. Occasionally scale or aphids will be attracted to the plants, but they can be treated with insecticidal soap.
Potting and Repotting
Soil that is to be used as growing media in the pots should include additives such as perlite or vermiculite. This will help to create a loose and friable growing media that will allow for easy penetration by the plants roots. It will also help to retain water and nutrients, and promote good drainage. If the intention is to keep the plant in the pot as a container plant, a good option would be to use a commercial potting mix.
Soil should be moist when potting and repotting. When abutilon cuttings are ready to be removed from their small starter containers and placed in pots, fill the pot with soil about 2/3 full; then mix in some Osmacoat, and tamp the soil down with another pot bottom or by hand. Normally, the small new plants are put into 1 gallon pots to further develop their root system before being planted in a larger container or in the garden. The roots of the new plant should be “ruffed up” and set into the pot and covered with soil. At this point, the plant will be firmly planted, upright, and able to stand on its own. Slowly add water until water runs out of the bottom of the pot. Repeat watering until the container is well saturated.
Repotting Established Plants
When an established plant becomes rootbound, it will need to be repotted. Signs of a rootbound plant include:
- The pot has filled with roots and there is very little soil left
- The plant wilts within a day or two of watering
- The roots are growing out of the drainage holes
It may be necessary to gently pop the plant out of its container and take a look at the roots. If it is desired that the plant will remain in the same pot rather than moving it to a larger pot, the plant can be root-pruned. After gently removing it from the pot, use a Sharpe knife to shave off an inch or two from all sides and from the bottom of the root ball. Place fresh potting soil in the bottom of the pot; then put the plant back in, and add fresh potting soil around the sides.
Propagation by Cuttings
The ideal time to take cuttings is when the plant has begun its active growth cycle in early spring. The ‘stock’ plant should be healthy and well branched to ensure the health of the new clones. Using a sharp clean knife, take a cutting 3 or 4 inches in length from the top growing tips or vigorous side shoots. The cut should be made at a slight angle, just below a node (The point on the stem where a leaf has developed). Trim off any flower buds and the lower leaves from the cutting, leaving a stem with 3-4 leaves at the tip, cut these leaves in half. Cutting the leaves helps to prevent loss of water.
Preparing the Cutting
- Dip the cut end into a rooting hormone such as Rootone® or Hormonex® about ¼ inch deeper than it will be set in the planting medium.
- Use a separate container for this to avoid contaminating the rooting hormone in the original container.
- Alternately, place some rooting hormone on a clean paper towel and push the appropriate portion of the cutting into the rooting hormone.
- Then, tap off any excess powder and insert the cutting into a hole in the planting medium with at least one, but preferably 2-3 nodes covered.
The nodes are where the new roots will emerge. The hole made previously should be wide enough that none of the rooting hormone will be scraped off during planting.
Various types of planting medium can be successfully used. Sterile moist sand, vermiculite, sphagnum moss, or a mixture of 80% perlite and 20% peat moss will all allow for easy water penetration and fast drainage.
However, sand will require frequent watering. A perlite and peat moss mixture is a good choice because it provides a good starting medium and retains moisture better than sand. Small PotWater the rooting medium well.
Create a mini-greenhouse over the container with poly film over a wire frame (an old aquarium works very well for this) and place it in a bright, warm spot (NOT full sun).
Keep the cuttings at a minimum temperature of 72 degrees, and you will be rewarded with several new plants in just a few weeks.
Keep in mind that when you are doing any type of plant propagation that you are doing “plant surgery”, and that cleanliness is extremely important. Always use a clean, sharp knife and sterile potting medium for the best results!
Please, let us know in comments if any information is missing. Questions, advice and your experience is always welcome and appreciated.