Lavatera is a genus in the mallow plant family that consists of 25 recognized plant species, both perennials and annuals. Like hibiscus, lavatera have large, showy, funnel-shaped flowers with five separate petals. The size varies greatly; some species are compact plants that reach only 2 to 3 feet in height, whereas shrub-like species can grow to a towering 10 feet and 6 feet wide. The best planting time for most species is in the spring.
Lavatera plants are cousins to the hollyhock and like those plants, they are relatively easy to grow— especially if you live somewhere that is not prone to excessively hot and humid summers. Because lavatera are fast growers, they are a good choice as a space filler or as a centerpiece to surround with shorter, less showy options.
|Botanical Name||Lavatera spp.|
|Plant Type||Perennial, annual|
|Mature Size||2-10 ft. high, 2-6 ft. feet wide|
|Soil Type||Loamy, sandy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acid, neutral, alkaline|
|Bloom Time||Summer, fall|
|Flower Color||Pink, purple, white|
|Hardiness Zones||6-8 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe, Mediterranean|
Caring for lavatera varies slightly depending on the species, but generally, once established, the plants require little maintenance. Lavatera has good drought resistance and it isn't affected by major plant diseases or pests.
Shrub-type lavatera has a mounding but rather irregular growth habit, which can serve as a screen or as the backdrop in a flower bed. If you want to give it a neater, more uniform appearance, you can shape it by pruning it.
Being a native of the Mediterranean, lavatera thrives in full sun and can actually begin to droop if you plant it in an overly shaded area. While flower output is best in full sun, if you live in a very hot area, a bit of shade during the daylight hours could be beneficial.
The plant does well in light, fertile soils, but can withstand poor rocky soil such as that found in its natural habitat. However, excellent drainage is crucial.
Water it regularly until the plant has established a good root system, which takes about one year. After that, switch to occasional watering only in the absence of rain. Because lavetera does not like wet soil, make sure the soil has fully dried out before watering.
Temperature and Humidity
Lavatera needs warm and dry weather. While perennial lavatera is frost-hardy, it does best in a sunny spot and will die back in winter if the temperatures hover around the freezing mark. It should be protected from cold winds and may not thrive in very humid environments.
Only fertilize lavatera once with a slow-release complete fertilizer in the early spring before it starts growing. Over-fertilizing will result in lots of foliage yet few flowers.
Types of Lavatera
Popular lavatera species include the following:
- Malva rose, island mallow (Lavatera assurgentiflora) with purple and white striped flowers that look a bit different than the more hibiscus-like flowers of other lavatera species. The plant, which is native to the Channel Islands, can reach a height of 10 feet and will be evergreen in coastal climates where it can handle salt spray quite well.
- Tree mallow (Lavatera thuringiaca), a woody shrub that can be grown as a perennial in warm climates.
- Rose mallow (Lavatera trimestris), a shrubby annual that grows to be about 3 to 6 feet tall with saucer-shaped, white to pink flowers.
- Lavatera ‘Barnsley Baby’ (Lavatera x clementii), a compact perennial lavatera for small gardens and containers, with light pink flowers that have a rose-pink center.
For perennial lavatera, yearly pruning is key for prolific flowering. In the spring, after the last frost and before the new growth starts, cut out all the dead, damaged, and woody stems at the base. Only leave the stems where you can see a new shoot developing, or the stem shows a swelling from which the new shoot will emerge. Cut those stems above the new growth, about 1 foot above ground level. If you are unsure whether a stem is dead, bend it. If it snaps easily, it’s dead.
Perennial lavatera can be propagated from cuttings in the spring or summer:
- Take a cutting about 4 inches long. Remove the leaves from the lower third.
- Scrape or score the bottom of the cutting. Dip it in rooting hormone and plant in a 4-inch pot filled with potting mix. Be aware that lavatera does not like to have its root system disturbed, so if you are planning to put your cutting in the ground once it is established, you might want to place the cutting in a compostable pot that can go directly in the ground without the need for removing the plant.
- Water the cutting well and keep it evenly moist until you see new growth, then transplant it in garden soil.
How to Grow Lavatera From Seed
Because of the issue with sensitive roots, it's usually best to plant lavatera seeds directly in the ground right around the time of the last spring frost. If you start them in pots indoors before moving them outside, use a pot that can go directly in the ground and decompose to avoid disturbing the roots.
For indoor starts, put your seeds in a potting mix about two months before the last frost and keep them at a temperature ranging from 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Seeds should be planted at a very shallow depth, just covered by soil. Keep them moist.
The seeds should germinate in two to three weeks. Move them outdoors into a full-sun location when there are at least two sets of true leaves and keep well watered until established.
Potting and Repotting
Lavatera can be grown as a patio plant in a container but it might have to be cut back more often to control its fast growth. Also, in a container, it needs more frequent watering. Plus, as mentioned, lavatera species really don't do well when their roots are disturbed, so be sure to put your plant in a sufficiently large pot that will be its lifelong home.
Perennial lavatera can overwinter outdoors in warm climates although they will die back and regrow in the spring. In a cold climate, bring your potted lavatera inside before the first frost and keep it in a full-sun location in your home.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Lavatera is mostly free of pests, but deer and groundhogs are known for having an appetite for mallows. These plants are also sometimes affected by Japanese beetles. If the bugs do show up, an insecticide containing neem oil should be able to repel them.
Lavatera can also occasionally contract hollyhock rust, a fungus that will cause drooping and premature yellowing of leaves as well as black spots on the stems which will quickly decay. There is no known cure for this disease so once a plant contracts it, your best option is to remove it and start again.
Common Problems With Lavatera
Most lavatera species are free from major issues. When the plants get overly thirsty, the flower petals will shed, letting you know it's time to give them a drink.
How to Get Lavatera to Bloom
If the plant does not bloom, the cause is often lack of sunlight. Lavatera needs full sun to bloom. Perennial lavatera could also failure to bloom because the flower buds were damaged during a late spring frost.
How long do lavetera plants live?
Well-cared-for perennial lavatera plants can live as long as five years. While that's a relatively short lifespan, the plants often self-seed, so they will grow in your garden just as long as you'd like them to.
What should I plant with lavatera?
Dahlias, moonflowers, lavender, and spider flowers all make good companions for lavatera plants.
Do lavatera plants attract pollinators?
Yes, the big showy flowers on most lavateras are particularly attractive to bees and hummingbirds.