Celebrate the delicate, pendulous blossoms that hang against Chinese lantern’s foliage, and you’re going to wonder if this shrub was adorned with handmade paper decorations. Commonly viewed as a potted houseplant, Abutilon hybrids are making the transition outside. And while they hold their leaves yearlong, the seasonal floral screen is without doubt worth loving outdoors. What better way to decorate the patio for summer and spring?
Botanical name: Abutilon x hybridum (name given to hybrid type)
Common names: Chinese lantern, flowering maple, Chinese bellflower
USDA zones: 9 to 11; many can tolerate temperatures down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit (find your zone)
Water necessity: moderate to regular water, particularly in summertime
Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade
Mature size: Up to 8 to 10 feet tall and broad
Gains: Attracts hummingbirds and bees
Seasonal interest: Flowers spring and summertime
When to plant: Plant softwood cuttings after the threat of frost has passed in spring.
Caution: The leaves are poisonous if ingested.
Revealed: Abutilon x hybridum ‘Vesuvius Red’
Missouri Botanical Garden
Revealed: Abutilon x hybridum ‘Bella Red’
Distinguishing traits. Soft, bright green leaves, very similar to those of a maple, cover the tree yearlong.
Delicate, papery lanterns hang against the foliage, in hues from yellow and white to pink and crimson. Most species bloom spring through the summer, though some flower almost nonstop.
Loose and pendulous in shape, Chinese lantern rapidly increases to its mature size — hybrids are available from dwarf to normal heights.
Revealed: Abutilon x hybridum ‘Albus’
Missouri Botanical Garden
The best way to utilize it. Chinese lantern is commonly grown as a houseplant, making it the nickname “parlor maple,” but I prefer seeing it outside, weather permitting.
In temperate climates plant it in which your garden receives morning sun and dappled afternoon shade, and permit the plant to arch and disperse within a casual screen.
If chilly winters prohibit your retaining Chinese lantern outside year-round, grow it like a potted plant instead, bringing it inside until the frost. Some gardeners even develop Chinese lantern as a yearly.
Revealed: Abutilon x hybridum ‘Cascade Dawn’
The Garden Route Company
Planting notes. In cooler, coastal climates, Chinese lantern can tolerate more sun and less summertime water. In hotter areas offer morning sun and dappled afternoon shade — keep it sheltered from extreme sunlight. Plant it into well-drained soil and be sure to mulch, particularly in warmer climates.
While the plant reaches maturity quickly, it has the tendency to get leggy; legginess can be controlled with pruning in early spring, prior to blooming. Pruning maintains a rounded form and retains the size more compact. It is also possible to pinch plants to encourage fullness.
Chinese lantern prefers monthly fertilizing once new growth begins, but it might create leaves rather than flowers if too much is used; it has the tendency to shed leaves if not fed enough. Control scale and whitefly.
Revealed: Abutilon x hybridum ‘Patricia’
Photo by Stan Shebs