How to grow Lavatera
Lavatera are stress-free, good value plants. Although the shrubby types are not very long-lived, they remain firm favourites with many gardeners for their profuse summer-long flowering. Here we look at how to get the best from them.
- Mallow-like funnel-shaped flowers in white or pink
- Ever popular free-flowering shrubs and subshrubs
- Annuals make inexpensive bedding plants
- Best planted in spring
- Enjoys a well-draining site in full sun
- Shrubby types are pruned hard in late spring
- Propagate shrubby cultivars from softwood and greenwood cuttings; raise annuals from seed
All you need to know
What are lavatera?
Lavatera is a genus in the mallow family of around 24 species. They are found in many parts of the globe usually in rocky, dry places.
All have hollyhock-type flowers in shades of white and pink, often 5-8cm (2-3in) across. These are produced on uprights stems with grey-green leaves. Plant forms are quite variable. Most commonly grown are the woody shrubs and sub-shrubs (a sub-shrub has a woody base but the stems die back in winter), but there are also hardy annuals,
Perennials are any plant living for at least three years. The term is also commonly used for herbaceous perennials which grow for many years (To compare: annual = one year, biennial = two years).
Easy to grow and flowering in summer for a long period, they easily earn their keep summer borders or cottage style gardens.
Choosing lavatera for your garden
There are a few types of lavatera to choose from, depending on the space you'd like to fill and whether you are after a shrubby plant or not.
- Where there's space at the back of a border in a sunny spot, then you can find a home for a shrubby lavatera such as Lavatera x clementii ‘Rosea’. You’ll need a space at least 1m wide for most cultivars. While they get to around 2m (6½ft) in height, you can also cut them down each spring as they flower on current year’s growth.
- For patios, select a smaller
which will reach less than 1m (3ft) tall such as Lavatera x clementii ‘Barnsley Baby’. cultivar
Gardeners often use the word variety when referring to a specific plant, but the correct botanical term is 'cultivar'. Whichever word you use, it means a distinctive plant or plants, given a specific cultivar name and usually bred to enhance certain characteristics, such as flower or fruit size, colour, flavour or fragrance, plant size, hardiness, disease resistance, etc. Additionally, it is worth knowing that, botanically, variety has another meaning - it refers to a naturally-occurring distinct plant that only has slight differences in its looks. For example, Malva alcea var. fastigiata differs from typical plants by having an upright habit.
- If you live in a very mild region or have a greenhouse for overwintering, try the shrub Lavatera maritima. It’s evergreen with grey-green foliage and silky mauve and cerise flowers, ideal for a container with a height to around 1m (3¼ft).
- Perennials will blend into a sunny herbaceous border on a free-draining soil.
- Choose annuals such as L. trimestris Beauty Series if you want pretty summer bedding or cut flowers. Shorter annuals can be grown in containers too so are ideal if you have a sheltered balcony or windowbox. Size will vary. Remember to check the plant label on purchase or the seed packet when sowing. For annuals suited to bedding, short plants are normally best, whereas for cut flowers, longer stems are preferred.
Buy container grown shrubby plants, ideally for spring planting. Mail order plants that arrive in small pots (eg 9cm) are best potted up and grown on into a 2 litre size, rather than going directly into the garden.
Perennials can be bought as container grown plants from nursery or garden centres. Annuals can be grown from seed or bought as packs of bedding in late spring for planting out.
Check the label on your lavatera for temperature hardiness of shrubs, subshrubs and perennials before buying. You don't want to discover your new plant needs protection in winter if you bought it for a bed in the garden!
When to plant lavateraLavatera are best planted in spring with the growing season ahead of them.
Where to plant lavatera
Plant in a sunny location, ideally on a well-draining site. Lavatera will tolerate drier soils than most plants. Although they will grow on clay, their soft wood means they’re not especially long-lived plants and wet winter conditions tends to shorten their prime further.
A site out of strong wind is best otherwise tall perennials and subshrubs may suffer wind rock. Shorter cultivars can be grown in containers.
How to plant lavatera
When planting, first check the plant label for eventual size to indicate spacing so you can find it a spot where it won't get crowded out. Even though Lavatera trimestris and its cultivars are hardy annuals, be sure to only plant out young plants after hardening off.
Dig a hole at least twice the size of the rootball when preparing to plant shrubs and perennials. On very dry or light sandy soils add a little garden compost into the backfill soil. Lavatera won't mind if the ground is a bit stony but are unlikely to thrive on heavy soils unless they have been well improved with organic matter to make them freer draining. Rake the soil well and remove weeds before sowing annual lavatera - see propagation section for sowing details.
WateringWater plants well to get them established. Once well rooted, they should be fairly drought tolerant. Check on plants in containers for more regular watering needs.
FeedingLavatera are not heavy feeders so no need to apply fertiliser.
Staking and deadheading
Thankfully plants don’t normally need staking in a sheltered location. Deadheading also isn’t essential for most lavatera, however it helps when growing Lavatera maritima.
Only lightly tidy shrubby types in early winter. Wait until spring to prune properly (see pruning below).
Bring in any tender species before winter sets in. An unheated greenhouse would be suitable in most locations. Keep watering to a minimum. Annual bedding plants will die off at the end of the season and can be composted.
Caring for older plantsSub shrub types will eventually weaken at the base and fail to put on growth in spring. Four to five years is about average. Lavatera maritima seems to flower best on young wood, so propagate (see propagation below) ever few years to renew.
How and when to prunePruning lavatera is easy;
- In autumn it's best just to do a little tidying of sub shrub cultivars of Lavatera cachemiriana and L. x clementii. Leave the main prune until late spring, then cut back hard to new shoots emerging from the base
- Cut down herbaceous species in winter
- Shrubs with a permanent woody framework like Lavatera maritima can be pruned in spring
Propagate perennials, shrubs and sub shrubs by softwood cuttings in early summer. They should make small flowering plants the following year.
Annual and biennial lavatera are readily raised from seed. A spring sowing for annuals in March or early April is best.
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