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Pruning lavatera – When and how to prune mallow bushes
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Lavatera plants, otherwise known as garden mallow, tree mallow, or rose Mallow, are originally from the Mediterranean. You can find shrubby or annual varieties based on your gardening needs. The height of these plants achieve is of course contingent upon the variety but most hardy shrubs such as Lavatera Rosea, Lavatera Rosea and Lavatera Burgundy wine will reach a maximum height of around 2.5 metres. Easily grown and cared for shrub varieties are quite hardy and will live for many years while the annuals will die after the first frost.
They can be planted into the garden in an area with full sunlight or partial shade and tolerate all manner of soil and conditions which makes them perfect for the salty air of a coastal garden or the poor soil condition of a cottage garden. Most important is having well-draining soil.
Once you grow them it’s important to apply all-purpose fertilizer during the growing season but only once per month. Overfeeding them will lead to an abundance of lush, verdant foliage but very few flowers and that is not why most people grow lavatera in the first place. As you are growing these beautiful shrubs and enjoying all that they have to produce from July through September, you have to make sure you keep your plants structurally sound and healthy. That is best done by pruning your lavatera, in fact, they respond very well from a hard pruning as the new growth produces lots of flowers and if left unpruned they often become very woody.
When to prune lavatera
It is best to prune your lavatera in the middle of spring or the beginning of Spring if it has been mild so long as the danger of a hard frost is over. This is a simple process and one that encourages a great deal of strong growth. Part of the reason that lavatera is so popular is that it responds quite well to hard pruning which means the size can be easily controlled and more flowers.
At this time of the year when you look at your lavatera, you will see that there are new shoots coming out of the base. It is on these new shoots that flowers will grow later in the year so you want to leave these where they are. But all of the other older wood that has remained from the previous year can be cut back hard if needed. This type of regeneration will prevent your stems from getting too old, too woody, which eventually will reduce flowering and harm the structure of the plant. By cutting back your lavatera regularly you can develop strong shoots with ample flowers and vigorous growth.
How to prune lavatera
When you are ready to prune, take your sharpest set of pruning secateurs and sterilize them in a mixture of nine parts bleach to 1 part water or use a disinfectant such as Jayes Fluid. Select the old-growth and cut it back to 30cm to 60cm above the ground depending on how hard you want to prune. If you have an older shrub that has been around for a few seasons the stems might be thicker in which case you will need a pruning saw or loppers to prune them.
If you notice any weak or brittle stems cut them all the way back to the ground or to the main stem. These are likely dying or dead. If you are unsure whether a stem is dead or dying, you can take your pruning shears and scrape away a small amount of the exterior bark. If the colour underneath is green, you can leave that and prune it regularly as it is still alive. If however the colour underneath is brown, cut it all the way down to the ground.
When you prune healthy growth you want to keep your eye out for swelling along the stem because the swelling is indicative of new shoots starting to develop. So always make your cut directly above that swelling. If you are unsure its not a big issue as they usually recover no matter where you prune them so don’t worry too much
Take cutting as you prune if you want to try growing new plants
If you want to propagate from an existing lavatera you can cut softwood cuttings from the plant around the same time that you prune. These should be between 7.5cm and 15cm in length. Use the same sterilization for your pruning shears and be cognizant of the same swelling along the stem when you make your soft woodcuts for propagation.
Overall lavatera is very easy to grow. You can propagate them regularly, enjoy them year after year, and no matter how much you prune them they will bounce back even stronger than before.