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Originally from Mediterranean areas, Lavatera plants produce beautiful funnel-shaped flowers of different colours. These easy to grow plants enjoy well-drained soils but are not too picky about location and will grow well even in poor soils, but to really get the best from them I recommend pruning once a year, or at least every couple of years.
To ensure these semi-evergreen plants thrive regardless of the weather, you need to know when, and how to prune Lavatera, also more commonly known as mallow bushes. Together with pruning skills, I will also provide some care tips to ensure your Lavatera plants grow optimally, producing massive blooms and abundant green foliage. Over time if not pruned, Lavatera tends to get leggy bare stems with few flowers.
When do you prune Lavatera?
Like most shrubs, Lavatera bushes need pruning yearly to allow for better growth in the next flowering season. I find it best to prune Lavatera plants around the beginning or mid-spring as long as the risk of hard frost has passed. Spring is ideal because the plants are no longer at risk of being seriously damaged by frost, plus they should be getting ready to produce that year’s growth.
Pruning Lavatera is an easy job, as long as you know which bits to prune and you have a good sharp pair of secateurs for use. Because most Lavateras are easy to grow, hard pruning can be beneficial to maintaining their size too. Your Lavatera plants will have produced new shoots, so just leave them and cut out the old branches and stems.
How to prune mallow bushes
Using a pair of sharp pruning secateurs or loppers will make the process a lot easier, I also recommend cleaning the blades to prevent passing on any diseases. You can use either bleach, methylated spirit or vinegar diluted by water to sterilise garden tools if you don’t want to use chemicals like Jeyes fluid.
Ideally, you should cut Lavatera plants back to around 30-60cm (1-2ft) above ground, depending on their size, don’t worry about pruning them too hard as they are very forgiving. Remove any dead, diseased or damaged stems right back to ground level or to the main stem.
If you are unsure if the stems are dead, take your pruning secateurs or a sharp knife and scrape the bark’s surface. Living stems will have a green hue underneath the bark whilst dead stems display a shade of brown.
As you prune, look out for swellings along the stems that indicate there could be new shoots developing. If you notice such a swelling, cut above the swelling to reserve the new growth as this is where the new flowers with be produced that year.
After pruning I also like to make sure I feed the plant with some multi-purpose feed, mulch around the base and give it a good watering.
Read next: do you have an overgrown choisya? – read my guide on how to prune choisya here
When you prune it could be a good time to take cuttings for new plants
Some varieties of Lavatera do not have a long life span before their pass their best, which is why I like to propagate them often so I always have some fresh plants growing on. Lavatera cuttings should be taken around mid-summer, but you can kill two birds with one stone by harvesting softwood cuttings as you prune. The cuttings should be 7-15cm in length to ensure optimal chances of taking when planted in small pots.
As always, it is crucial to use sterilised secateurs to avoid infections and whilst you are cutting be aware of the swellings that indicate new shoots and leave them intact. Once the cuttings are taken, dip them in rooting powder and plant them into small pots in a mix of 50% sand and 50% multi-purpose compost to promote healthy root growth. You can also just use seed and cutting compost. Once the roots are developed, transfer them to a larger pot, growing them on further until they are large enough to be planted out.
Taking care of your Lavatera
While mallow bushes are resilient and easy to grow, you need to do a bit of maintenance occasionally.
- You must ensure that the soil retains good drainage and the plants are located in a nice spot. You don’t want your Lavatera plants exposed to too much sun as it may cause wilting. If placed in the shade, fungal issues will soon appear; therefore, find a sheltered sunny position with as little shade is possible.
- Fertiliser is crucial, especially during the growing season as it provides much-needed nutrients. Avoid overfeeding the plants as it may lead to more foliage than flowers which is a common mistake.
- Be on the lookout for any fungal attacks like rust or mildew that are common in Lavatera plants. These fungal diseases mostly affect the leaves causing discoloration, wilting and eventually dead leaves. Treat with a fungicide at the first signs of infection.
- Infestations, whether from aphids or spider mites should be dealt with immediately. Use pesticides to control the infestation and ensure to clear out vegetation at the base of the plant. Weeds and other unwanted vegetation give insects an area to lay eggs thus causing repeated infestations.
- Lavatera plants can withstand hard pruning once a year. Do not be afraid, they are resilient plants thus new growth is assured.
Lavatera plants flower from June to September making the garden a sight to behold. Depending on the varieties, these flowers will attract pollinators like bees, butterflies and birds thus increasing animal activity in the garden. As reiterated above, do not be afraid to prune your Lavatera plants as explained above, as the blooming season is always something to look forward to.