Last updated on January 21st, 2020
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Lavatera is an easy to grow, upright shrubby plant that is known for not just the attractive foliage but for the large display of flowers. These flowers can be a bright white such as that on Lavatera trimestris ‘Mont Blanc’ or a deep Rose/purple such as them on lavatera ‘burgundy wine’, or anything in between like the lavatera maritima with its white flowers with purple and green towards the centre. Flowers usually manifest from the middle of summer until the first frost so will often flower well into September. Native to the Mediterranean, this plant is quite easy to grow and you can get both vigorous large varieties as well as dwarf varieties such as Baby Barnsley.
Thankfully it is fairly pest and disease resistant and does a good job attracting many beneficial insects to your gardens such as bees and butterflies. These flowers cope with any salty weather or poor soil conditions so also make excellent coastal plants. You can find annual or shrub varieties depending on your gardening needs but the hardy shrub varieties are the most popular. Due to how quickly they grow and how prolifically they flower in the second year, the shrub varieties are great for added colour in a short amount of time no matter the garden. Of course, you have to consider the size and space you have available as these shrubs tend to need a lot more space than the smaller annuals. Most hardy shrub varieties will reach a height between 1 and 2 metres with a spread the same which is why they do well mixed into the back of a border with other perennial plants more smaller shrubs planted towards the front.
A relatively hardy plant they respond well to things like hard pruning come springtime and will bounce right back again healthier than ever. If you live in a very cold area, you would do well to plant the lavatera against a wall so that they get some protection from severe weather as they prefer a sheltered site and can struggle is very cold open sites.
Planting hardy lavatera
Even with the hardy varieties, when it comes to planting, it’s best you wait to plant outside until once any threat of frost is over. If you have purchased plants from a nursery or garden centre, it’s better to get them planted as soon as possible so we recommend buying them in spring and planting them straight away. Anytime after April is ideal but if you have a more tender Lavatera then its best to wait until May once the risk of frost of passed.
Sowing Lavatera seeds
If you are planting by seeds to grow varieties such as Lavatera trimestris, this is an economical way to fill borders, you can place them in the ground about 50 centimetres apart as soon as the risk of hard frost is over and they will germinate in about 20 days depending on when they are sown. Seeds can be sown between March and May and will usually flower through summer.
Planting cutting or very young plants
If you are planting with cuttings the same is true of spacing and simply place them outside once the danger of frost is over which is usually around May in most parts of the Uk.
Lavatera is quite easy to grow and you will find that it is tolerance of many conditions. These plants do well in smaller cottage gardens or along coastal gardens. Because of how quickly they grow many people prefer to use them as filler, filling in any gaps in a garden helping it to look established much faster but the more hardy shrub varieties can be planted to fill in large gaps with a single plant. The fast growth along with these flowers make wonderful value and you can, of course, propagate successful plants once you have cared for them for a year so that you can enjoy them time and time again by taking cuttings.
Grows well in most soil types as long as it well-drained
Lavatera grows best in well-drained soil but beyond that, it’s quite tolerant of any type of soil even poor soil. The plants are tolerant of salt as well which is why they thrive in coastal gardens. No matter where they are planted they do best, producing the biggest and brightest flowers if they are planted in full sunlight however they can tolerate partial shade if you don’t have any area in your garden with access to full sun.
Pruning should happen between the beginning and middle of spring as soon as any danger of frost is over. This is a very simple process, the plants respond well to hard pruning so don’t be to worried about pruning them to much, they always respond well. When you prune your plants at this point will have new shoots growing out from the base and these are the shoots on which flowers will mostly appear. That means all other wood you see can be cut back at this point. Doing so will regenerate the plant and prevent the existing stems from getting too woody and falling under the weight of the flowers which is a common problem. Cutting back your plants regularly will promote better growth, new shoots, and more flowers.
How to prune
In order to prune your lavatera make sure that you have the sharpest pair of gardening shears that have been properly sanitized, and begin cutting all of the stems that fall under the appropriate category back to about 30 centimetres off the ground. If you have very thick stems you might need a pruning saw or loppers. If you see any weak or brittle stems remove them immediately to ground level as they will likely not be very productive and only caurse problems down the line.
Watering and feeding
Hardy Lavatera will cope well with any weather including dry weather but if you have a series of droughts in your area you will do well to add some water to help the plant get through the dry spell. If you notice that the soil had become too dry obviously give it some extra water, something you will notice when the blooms start to drop.
In terms of feeding when the plant is growing you should give it an all-purpose fertilizer every month. You might want to be careful not to over-fertilize, if you add too much food to your lavatera it will encourage abundant leaves but very few flowers.
As mentioned there are many ways that you can propagate, the easiest of which is using seeds to sow directly into the garden between March or March or by taking cuttings.
Sow seed outside April to May or indoors to start them off a little sooner
You can take the seeds from your lavatera by storing them over winter and planting in spring or by buying them. Plant them directly into the soil where you want them to grow. These plants have a very long root system so it’s not good to transplant them multiple times. Put the seeds directly into the ground once any danger of hard frost is over which is usually around March / April. If you have multiple plants space them approximately 50cm apart. In about 20 days they should germinate but be patient as they can take longer depending on the ground temperature. Alternatively, you can plant the seeds indoors a little bit earlier to give them some extra time. You can put them in a peat pot with three or four seeds per pot. After the seedling has reached 10 centimetres in height you can take it outside for a little bit at a time every day to harden it off and then plant it outside but take care to avoid disturbing the roots.
Taking lavatera cutting
If you don’t want to use seeds you can always take softwood cuttings. Softwood cutting should be pliable and taken in the spring or summer. When you look at your lavatera plants choose healthy stems that are just beginning to turn woody. With a sharp knife or gardening shears, make a cut just below a pair of leaves into the new wood. The total cutting should be about 7.5cm to 15 cm in length. Remove any of the leaves from the lower half of your cutting and any flower buds. Lightly dip the cut base in rooting powder to help expedite the creation of a rooting system and reduce rot.
Take a small pot such as a 9cm size pot and fill will seed and cutting compost mixed with a little grit to improve drainage and put one cutting per pot placing it directly into the centre and watering it lightly. You want to cover the cutting with some form of plastic be it in a plastic bag, plastic cup if it is large enough, or place it into a propagator with a cover. Whatever you use secure it over the pot and be sure the plastic is not touching the cutting directly. Position all of the cuttings in a sunny but sheltered area that does not get direct sunlight and if you noticed they are starting to dry out give them quick water. In the span of one or two months, you should have new growth from the top and roots substantial enough at the bottom that you can take them out and put them in the garden the following spring.
Lavatera pests and diseases
Red spider mites
In terms of pests, as mentioned the lavatera is rarely bothered but there are still some pests that can cause a bit of damage. The first of these are spider mites. You will probably notice the small webs from the spider mite before you notice the spider mite yourself. These suck the sap out of the young stems and leaves so you’re leaves and up yellow and deformed. Spray each of the leaves with water to knock the mites off and you can use insecticidal soap if there is a very severe infestation or pesticides. You can always go the natural roots and let loose a variety of ladybugs to eat the spider mites away before they have secured their webs and damaged your plant.
Another pest similar to this is the aphids which also suck the sap out of your plant. Like spider mites, aphids will not critically endanger the plants but they do cause distorted growth. You can treat them in much the same way, washing them off or using a pesticide to kill them.
As far as diseases are concerned, hollyhock rust can happen if things get too damp. This is a type of fungus that won’t be fatal but it will turn the foliage yellow and your leaves will drop off. You will start to see yellow spots on top of your leaves likely in the spring or autumn if the weather is damp. Keep the area free from any weeds, remove any dead matter that falls to the ground, and be cautious about when you water so that the moisture has a chance to evaporate off the foliage. All of these measures will help to prevent hollyhock rust. If necessary you might have to thin out your lavatera so that it can enjoy better air circulation. When you notice this type of infection, wait until it finishes flowering and then prune away any infected leaves and stalks. Prune it back hard come springtime so that it can rejuvenate itself without this fungal infection.
Our favourite lavateras
Different varieties of lavateras, divided into annuals and shrubs. The annual varieties need to be grown and will flower in the same year and they typically die once the first frost happens. Shrubs will last for several years and if left to their own devices can grow into the form of large shrubs. Shrubs benefit of course from heavy pruning in the springtime in order to encourage more growth.
Annual varieties produce blooms that look like hollyhocks. Many of these flowers can reach up to 10cm wide and you can get beautiful varieties with multiple colours and contrasting veining, or rich ruby red, even white. Lavatera Trimestris is one of the most widely grown of annuals. This can reach up to half a meter in height. Within this variety, you can find the pure white, Mont Blanc plant. you can also enjoy Pink Beauty if you prefer light pink flowers. For those who want a deeper pink, the plant silver cup is best. Or a richer cherry colour, Ruby Regis is the plant to choose. Its a good idea to leave a few flowers to go to seed so you can sow them in spring.
These varieties bloom from July until Autumn and they are a wonderful way to add filler to your garden if you need extra colour later in the season. You can also cut the flower spikes and bring them indoors for beautiful interior arrangements.
Shrub varieties are typically referred to as tree mallows. These are shrubby plants that grow very fast and are great to add to the back of your flower beds for the height and colour they provide or to integrate into a garden border. They will flower profusely by the second year onward.
Some of the most popular varieties include the lavatera Maritima which is a very fast-growing plant that can reach up to 2.5 meters in height and spread 3.5 meters. The flowers it produces are large all the way to white. The leaves and the stems have a very soft hue of grey-green. This species is one of the most rugged you will find and can tolerate conditions down to negative 8 degrees Celsius which makes it great for coastal gardens.
Lavatera thuringiaca is a widely grown variety with flowers that range from pale pink to rich pink. These might be shrubby in their appearance but they can reach a height of up to 1.8 meters. These perennials die back all the way to the ground every winter but they come right back again in the spring.
Lavatera x clementii Barnsley is perfect for cottage gardens. This plant reaches a maximum spread and height of 2 meters. The flowers are hollyhocks style and will be present from June through September. The flowers are of particular note because you can find them with white and a red centre that change to a pale pink once they reach maturity.
Lavatera Barnsley baby is a compact variety that is perfect for smaller gardens. Taking on all the charm of the variety above this one only reaches a maximum height of 75cm which also makes it a good choice for containers and pots.
Lavatera x clementii Rosea is known for the abundance of pink flowers mixed with soft felt like leaves that provide color from June through September.
Overall, you have many varieties from which to choose each of which will work in all soil types. Maintenance is simple, pests are limited, and propagation is fairly easy.