The Q&A Archives: Growing Conditions

Question: I purchased a bush that has variegated leaves that look like maple leaves and it flowers. But there was not a slip giving any information in regard to the bush. I am looking for any information I can find. The garden center listed it as a flowering variegated maple bush. Can you tell me anything about this plant I have purchased. Thank you

Answer: I think your plant is Abutilon, or flowering maple. Although the flowering maple (Abutilon hybridum) may be grown outdoors in warmer regions (Hardiness Zone 8), it is most often grown as a house plant. The flowering maple is not really a maple at all; the common name is derived from their maple-shaped leaves. Abutilon is also commonly known as a Chinese bellflower or a Chinese lantern.

The blooming season for most Abutilons is from April through June, but they will often flower periodically through the winter as well. The flowers differ with each variety, but generally resemble a cross between a Hybiscus and a Hollyhock, and are available in many colors ranging from white to reds, yellow, orange or shades of blue. The foliage is usually a pale green, but there are variegated forms with white or yellow mottling.

Flowering Maples need a considerable amount of room in which to grow. If left unrestrained, they may grow to ten feet in height and spread, so it is important to not provide too large of a planter, nor to feed this plant too well. When the plant has reached a suitable size, the growth can be controlled somewhat by pinching, pruning and keeping it slightly root bound.

Flowering maples should be pruned to the desired shape in early spring or late fall. They can be trained into a hanging plant growth pattern by pinching back each stem tip every time is grows out two or three inches. To create a more vertical tree like structure, allow only one main stem to remain, and remove all side shoots from it until it reaches the desired height. Then pinch the main tip to force lateral bushiness at the top of the plant.

In addition to needing filtered sun, these plants grow best when kept at about 70 degrees F. during the day and 60-65 degrees F. at night. They require a well draining but evenly moist soil. The plant will benefit from being kept outdoors in filtered sun during the summer months, but must be returned indoors before frost. (Be sure to check carefully for insects, when you bring it back in) During the winter, if growth has slowed, the soil should be allowed to dry out between waterings but never allowed to remain dry for too long. Humidity is not too great of a concern except during the winter months when it is helpful to give your plant an occasional misting.

Feed your plant monthly when it is showing signs of growth, alternating between an all purpose (20-20-20) and a bloom type (15-30-15) liquid fertilizer applied at half the strength of the manufacturer's directions. Abutilons tend to drop their lower leaves if they are underfed, so you will need to 'live and learn' to find the right frequency of feeding. Flowering maples should be repotted in the spring if it becomes necessary, but only into a slightly larger pot unless you want to drastically increase the size of your plant.

Enjoy your new plant!

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