- Author: Dustin Blakey
Every year I try to plant something I haven't grown before. I skipped raising vegetables this year, but I planted some red abutilons that I bought on a whim so that I would still feel a little bit like a gardener in spite of taking the year off.
The variety I purchased was a patented hybrid called Lucky Lantern Red®. Botanists and lawyers would call these Abutilon x hybrida ‘Nuabred' PP25443, but that name won't sell plants! Abutilons have several common names but “flowering maple” is often used in California. Since most of these common names are just as many syllables as the botanical name I don't tend to use any of them. Abutilons are in the same family as mallow, hibiscus, cotton, and okra. (Malvaceae)
Abutilons were once popular with plant collectors, but less so now. When I was young I usually encountered them as houseplants. I thought they were cool because they often had a virus that causes them to have intriguing, variegated leaf patterns, only I didn't know that was really just a disease symptom. It turns out mosaic viruses are not really a topic covered in middle-school science class.
Maybe this interesting plant is gaining in popularity again. After all, I found it in Bishop of all places! Several recent varieties are on the market that make for colorful additions to landscapes, with bigger and brighter flowers than older types.
We can grow abutilon in our area, but this being the Eastern Sierra, growing it comes with some caveats. For one thing, you can mostly ignore its label. Plant it green-side-up and keep it watered and you'll be fine. Pinching the tips will encourage more branching.
Many members of this family love the heat. Abutilons tend to like it cooler. Bright sun is great, but mine look stressed when the temperature gets above 90°F in the sun. Here's a good rule: abutilons like the same conditions that make tomatoes happiest.
In May, I planted 4 of them. My two plants that get some mild shade in late afternoon are about 2 feet tall and have a somewhat bushy form. They are about the same size as my miniature roses. The one on my shaded porch is OK and looks better than I expected. The plant in full sun all day that gets very hot: not so much. It's about 12” tall and looks a lot like Bill the Cat. All the plants, no matter where they are planted, are covered with pendulous, red flowers about 2-1/2 inches in diameter.
Although whiteflies are not uncommon on abutilons, I haven't seen too many pests on my plants this season, except for the one planted in full shade which has a few, but not enough to fret about. According to the label they are supposed to be pollinator friendly. I haven't seen any insect activity around the flowers, but hummingbirds have been checking them out all summer.
Beside looking a little wilted in the heat of the afternoon, they have mostly been free of problems. The only problem I have seen on all plants is some mild magnesium deficiency.
I'd give abutilon in Owens Valley a passing grade as an annual, but there are better choices if you desire more visual impact.
Don't count on abutilons becoming a permanent fixture in your landscape, but if you're looking for something out-of-the-ordinary that never stops flowering, it may be a good choice as a summer annual in our area if it gets a break from the heat in the afternoons.
* 'Lucky Lantern' is supposed to be hardy to Zone 8. That means in a mild winter it may survive in Lone Pine or points south. Maybe.
- Author: Alison Collin
When my daughter moved to the East Coast in spring 2021, I inherited a tin containing numerous old seed packets which mainly represented her enthusiastic optimism followed by dashed hopes.
The first crop that I risked were seeds from a packet of 'Endeavor' beans packed for the year 2014. The seeds looked fine – not dry and withered at all and since my own choice of fresh seed that I had planted earlier in the year had steadfastly refused to germinate I really had nothing to lose. I raked over the row from which I had just harvested potatoes and on July 19 planted the beans fairly close together. In just a few days they had all burst through the soil looking healthy and vigorous, and they went on to provide me with the best crop of tender beans ever.
Emboldened by this success, I decided this year to plant some seeds from the oldest packet of the collection which proved to be a few seeds of the everlasting flower, statice (Limoniun sinuatum). I have never grown these before and since the packet stated that one should sow them before the end of 2006 I knew that I was really pushing my luck!
There were just five statice seeds in the packet which I planted in a cell pack in spring. Once again they all germinated. I potted them on, and luckily I kept them inside until after our last frost. Once planted out they sat rather forlorn-looking for several weeks but then the rosettes of basal leaves suddenly grew rapidly and the next thing was that flower spikes shot up giving a lovely display of pink and blue. It is the calyx of the flowers that give the pink, blue or violet color while the corolla is white, or sometimes yellow. Apparently these flowers keep their color very well if dried although I shall have a hard time cutting them to see if this is true!
I also planted some seeds of Gallardia 'Arizona Sun' (2009 seed). They have grown and even produced a couple of flowers, although the plants are still small.
My only failure were old Echinacea seeds, none of which germinated.
For reliable yields, especially of food crops, one should always plant fresh seed that has been packed for the current growing year. Some plants simply will not germinate at all if the seeds are not fresh, e.g. parsnips. With our hot climate during the summer, and heated houses in the winter it is often impossible to find a consistently cool temperature in which to store seeds in order to maintain viability.
Sometimes it is just fun to experiment!