Hanging like sweet little petticoats on a tree, the flowers of Chinese lanterns (Abutilon sp.) are certainly a sight to behold. Their delicate, lantern-like blooms open in spring and continue right through to autumn, profusely covering the graceful, slender branches in cheerful single and bi-coloured shades of red, orange and yellow, as well as white, pink and lilac. And when not in flower, the handsome, evergreen maple-like foliage provides the garden with year-round appeal.
Learn about lanterns
This fast-growing shrub can reach between 1.5-2m tall, although there are dwarf forms that grow less than 1m high, ideal for courtyards and balconies. Several varieties of Chinese lanterns are available in Australia; the most common is Abutilon x hybridum, which grows into a graceful shrub with distinct pendulous lantern blooms. Other varieties include Abutilon vitifolium and Abutilon megapotamicum. All grow well in the garden or pots and are a highlight for any backyard – give them a go!
How do I grow them?
Climate: Chinese lanterns grow well in most parts of Australia, and can tolerate light to moderate frosts once established. In colder areas, grow in pots and move somewhere warm for winter.
Aspect Plant in full sun or part shade and protect them from strong winds. Chinese lanterns flower more prolifically in full sun.
Soil Rich, moist, well-drained soil. In pots, use a good-quality potting mix.
Water Give frequent waterings, not allowing soil to completely dry out between waterings. Take care not to flood them though – they don’t like wet feet! You may need to increase watering frequency in summer, but water sparingly in winter. If growing in pots, check plants often, as potting mix tends to dry out faster than garden soil.
Fertiliser Feed annually in spring and autumn with a controlled-release fertiliser. During the flowering season, feed periodically with a liquid fertiliser designed to promote flowering.
Pruning Tip-prune young plants to encourage bushiness and flowering. For established plants, remove old twigs and dead wood and roughly prune back by one-third in late winter or early spring, just before plants put on new growth. If your plant starts to look leggy, give it a hard prune – cut branches back to around 20cm from the main trunks.
Abutilons propagate easily from cuttings. Simply take a firm tip cutting in late spring or summer and remove the flowers and lower leaves, leaving at least 3-4 leaves at the top. Fill a pot with propagating mix, then use your finger to make a shallow planting hole in mix – insert cutting, backfill and water. Position pot in an area with filtered sunlight and the cutting should take root within 4-6 weeks. You can also strike cuttings by sitting them in a few centimetres of water for several weeks, until roots form at the base.