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Sonoma County Master Gardeners Helping Local Gardeners

Plant of the Month-April

Abutilon (abutilon x hybridum)

By Becky Goodsell, Master Gardener

Abutilons are showy perrenials in the Malvaceae family, originally from South America, Africa and Australia. One cultivar, Abutilon megapotamicum, originated from the 'big river', the Rio Grande in Brazil.

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An evergreen shrub that grows best in partial shade (too much shade will result in fewer flowers) abutilon has flowers that are bell-shaped, and maple-like leaves. These traits give rise to some of its common names which are, flowering maple, Chinese lantern, Chinese bell- flower, and mallow. The flower colors have a wide spectrum of white, pink (both delicate and hot), red, yellow, orange and salmon. One variety, 'Chameleon', is so named because the flowers change color during its blooming cycle. If you ever see one, you'll know the reason for the name of 'Phenomenal Yellow'. Some have variegated foliage; an especially handsome variety is 'Thompsonii', with mottled leaves like the end papers of an old tome.

The growth habit is open and some can reach up to 10' tall. A more compact,
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sun-tolerant variety 'Belle' is new on the retail market. 'Kentish Bell' would be happy in a hanging basket or wrapped around a column. Abutilons are useful at the back of a border or trained along a fence. They have a long flowering season, and are relatively disease free, although subject to leaf miner or white fly if crowded. They need to be protected from wind, but do not seem to be frost tender, as they weathered this winter's cold temperatures unscathed. They are not heavy feeders...a little Osmocote and a bloom enhancer (phosphorus) like guano or bone meal twice a year should suffice.

The abutilon is very easy to propagate from stem cuttings. Although the seeds are easy to harvest from their holders, they take quite some time to germinate and come to flower. The stem-propagated plant could produce flowers as early as three months. Pruning to control legginess should be done after a blooming period. Prune to an outside node and no more than one-third the height of the plant.