HARDINESS: Frost tolerant
PREFERRED SOIL pH: Near neutral
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Average, well-drained
PREFERRED LIGHT: Sun
ATTRIBUTES: Trumpet-shaped, satiny, white or pink flowers; for beds, hedges, or masses
SEASON OF INTEREST: Summer through fall
FAVORITES: Pink 'Silver Cup'; white 'Mont Blanc'; deep pink 'Ruby Regis'
QUIRKS: Poor survival rate for transplants
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Meadow sage, ornamental grasses, yellow- or white-flowered annuals
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Full sun; well-drained soil
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Rare; hollyhock rust in extremely damp situations; Japanese beetles
CRITTER RESISTANCE: Good
DIMENSIONS: 18-36 in (45.7-91.4 cm) tall, up to 30 in (76.2 cm) wide
Lavatera in the Landscape
When summer begins to heat up, lavatera starts to glow with luminous pink or white, cup-shaped blossoms that continue day after day for the duration of the season. Closely related to hibiscus, lavatera has flowers with a similar shape and the same impact, but lavatera packs its punch into compact, 1-3 ft (0.3-.6 m) tall plants, each with a 30 in (76.2 cm) spread, causing these annuals to look more like a stalwart perennial or mini-shrub. Individual blossoms are short-lived, but lavateras make up for that by generating new blossoms all summer.
Grown in groups of 3 or more plants, lavateras will form a lush mound or uniform hedgelike edging for a sunny flower bed or walkway. The most challenging part of growing care-free lavateras is remembering to sow the seeds, because this is one flower that transplants so poorly that it is seldom sold in 6-packs. You should sow seeds where you want the plants to spend the rest of the summer.
There are a number of very beautiful varieties of lavateras. High on the list is 'Silver Cup', with its bright, shiny rose pink flowers that often span 4 in (10.2 cm) across. 'Mont Blanc' bears equally large, white flowers on 2 ft (0.6 m) tall plants. 'Ruby Regis' sports flowers 3-1II in (9 cm) in diameter, with vibrant cerise pink petals like glowing satin. 'DwarfWhite Cherub' is a newer variety bearing snow white flowers that almost cover the 12-14 in (30.5-35.6 cm) plants. 'Parade Mix' offers similar flowers but with the widest range of colors, from deep rose to nearly white.
Success is easy with lavateras if their few needs are met. Sow the seeds on loose, friable soil. Incorporate compost, bagged humus, or another form of organic matter before attempting to grow lavateras in heavy clay soil. Sandy or loamy, well-drained soils need little more than a half-strength application of a balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10 formulation, at the time of sowing. Sow seeds in a sunny site about 2 weeks before your last frost is expected, and barely cover the seeds with soil. Thin seedlings to 20 in (50.8 cm) apart when they are 2 in (5.1 cm) tall. Seeds also may be started indoors in individual peat pots containing moist soil. Barely cover the seeds with soil, keep the soil moist, and transplant outdoors when the seedlings are only 3 to 4 weeks old, planting them in their peat pots.
Once lavatera plants are up and growing, they require little. Clip off faded blossoms once a week. In midsummer, apply a soluble, all-purpose fertilizer according to package directions to keep plants blooming steadily until fall. Water deeply if they wilt during a drought.
Prolonged wet, humid weather can create conditions conducive to hollyhock rust, evidenced by cinnamon-colored fungal deposits on leaves. Remove any disfigured leaves, and pull out severely affected plants.
Leaf-chewing Japanese beetles can also be a problem. Pick and dispose of them early in the morning when they are sluggish, or use a botanical, neem-based insecticide, which is labeled for use on lavatera, and apply according to package directions.