How to Grow Abutilon Plants

Abutilon plants growing in a container

Here are some easy tips for how to grow your abutilon plants: Given good light and proper care, abutilon rewards its keeper with a steady show of lovely hibiscus-like flowers, available in a wide range of dazzling colors. Does best with temperature between 65 and 75 degrees. Abutilon plants need bright light.  Water thoroughly and then let plants dry until the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch before watering again. Feed monthy with an all purpose (20-20-20) fertilizer. As frost approaches, bring abutilon indoors.  It can be overwintered inside, but when the air is very dry, mist every few days or set plants on a bed of damp pebbles to prevent problems with spider mites. In spring or summer, take 4-inch-long stem tip cuttings and put to root in damp seed-starting mix. Use rooting hormone powder, and transplant to any peaty potting soil after 4 to 6 weeks; set three rooted cuttings in a 6 in. container. In about a month, repot individual plants to 8 in. pots. Never add lime, since abutilon does best in acid soil.

Description: A mass of handsome drooping flowers (1 to 3 in. long) blooming nearly year-round makes the abutilon plant a favorite accent plant for indoor blooming. The Chinese bellflower, or Indian mallow, does well in the greenhouse or window box. This exotic tropical transplant comes in many different forms: handsome, erect, tree-like specimens; shrubby, herbaceous mounds; and long, trailing vines. The five-lobed leaves are usually edged or attractively mottled with white. The papery blossoms come in a wide range of bright colors, including vivid reds and yellows, pure white, striped, and many more in between. The flowering maple with solid green leaves is thought to be the strongest grower. Abutilon are most often grown indoors as colorful and lush houseplants, being treated like geraniums or fuchsias (placed outdoors in summer and brought indoors as the weather turns cold.)

Origin of Plant Name: In the18th century a Scottish botanist named Philip Miller changed the original Arabic name to its present form.

Propagation: If started outdoors as annuals, abutilon may be lifted, cut back, and potted in the fall to bring indoors. This way it flowers during the winter, and may grow up to several feet.  It also grows from stem-tip cuttings taken anytime during active plant growth. Young plants should be staked and pinched back frequently to encourage the growth of side branches, or they become spindly.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 8-10

Growth and Shape:  Regularly pruned, abutilon plants keep a bushy shape of 18 in. Tied to sturdy stakes, upright plants can easily reach 3 ft. They tend to be leggy, so careful pruning (by 1/3 their size in spring) just before the vigorous flush of new growth keeps the flowering maple in check.

Maintenance: Repot young abutilon plants every 6 months or so to allow room for growing roots. After plants fill an 8-inch pot (usually when they are 3 yrs. old), start new plants from stem tip cuttings.

Attributes: A nearly year-round show of delicate papery blossoms on gently drooping stems makes abutilon a charming ornamental plant. Extensive hybridization has produced dozens of cultivars with a wide range of colors, including contrasting veining.  A single parent plant will reward the gardener with a generous supply of new plants.  Display Tips: Bush rose, petunia, lobelia, Japanese aralia, and licorice plant are all good companions to the flowering maple plant. In addition to being grown in pots or hanging baskets, abutilon plants can be trained to a tree-like shape by tying the main stem to a sturdy stake. Pinch off all branches that grow from the lowest 15 in. of stem.

Special thanks to Cathy from Words and Herbs for the beautiful abutilon photo.

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19 Comments

  • Reply
    Faith Vaslev
    March 18, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    I just purchased two Abutilon ‘Red Tigers’yesterday.
    They are only about 5 to 6 inches tall. So my questions are:
    I will be potting them so I can move them in & out as the weather permits, so what would be a good container soil mix for them once I am ready to transplant them?
    What is the right pH for them?
    Being the heights given above, how old do you think they are? They are currently in 4″ grow pots.
    Thank you

  • Reply
    Pam
    October 26, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    I purchased a red tiger maple in a 4″ container in late May. We planted it on the west side of our home and watched it grow to 10′. I was advised to prune it back three feet. It really began blooming after it was pruned. Today it has 12 blooms. The blooms are spectacular! Should I move it inside for the winter? I also have a start and another plant, still in the plastic 8″ pot, and don’t want to lose any of them.

  • Reply
    Penny
    July 4, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    I have a three foot abutilon, when I normally grow it indoors, it seems to weep a sticky substance. Is this normal? I moved it outside this summer because of it.
    Can I prevent the weeping stickiness, it kind of makes a mess.

    • Reply
      jstutzman
      July 5, 2016 at 7:52 am

      Penny, sounds like you had an aphid problem that has now turned into a disease. Here is more info. Leaving it outside should help it to clear up. Good luck. Joe

  • Reply
    Penny
    July 6, 2016 at 9:45 am

    Thanks Joe, I will be patient as it is now outside, but will keep in mind what the article you shared says about neem oil.

  • Reply
    Pat
    July 7, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    How long from seed sprouting to flowering, please? I started a packet this spring and am curious.

    • Reply
      jstutzman
      July 11, 2016 at 7:37 am

      Pat, did you plant it outside or inside? It normally only takes 3 days for germination with soil temps around 70 degrees. The seeds must moist at all times. Joe

  • Reply
    INEZ NICHOLS
    October 8, 2016 at 10:19 pm

    I have a red tiger abulition that i let get too wet its leaves all wilted then shed. Now all i have is the main stalk will it come back? I got it dried out and made sure its draining better but still no leaves.

    • Reply
      jstutzman
      October 13, 2016 at 11:30 am

      I would go ahead and cut it back. It should pop out new growth in a few weeks. Good luck.

  • Reply
    Kathee
    October 22, 2016 at 4:58 pm

    I was just given a huge potted Red Tiger Abutilon that had been living squashed in a corner with no sun. It is at least 6 ft tall with many stalks and very gangly. So gangly in fact it looks almost like a weeping tree. It is now in a nice sunny spot and being cared for and fed. It has started to reward me with stunning flowers. But it is so gangly and such a mess of branches going this way and that before they bend and droop from the weigh their growth. Shall I wait until spring to trim it and then what is the best way to do so? Thank you for your help!

    • Reply
      jstutzman
      November 7, 2016 at 10:22 am

      Kathee, are you keeping this plant indoors? What hardiness zone are you in? With these answers I will be able to give you a better answer. Joe

  • Reply
    Dave
    August 31, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    I purchased a red tiger maple in a 4″ container in late May. When I got it home I planted it in a larger container. It’s growing like crazy but no buds. There were buds on it before I replanted it. I did fertilize it after I replanted it. What am I missing? Thank you for your help.

    • Reply
      jstutzman
      December 12, 2017 at 6:44 pm

      Dave, what hardiness zone are you in? Did it ever push new buds? Joe

  • Reply
    Kathee
    October 5, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    Sorry Joe! I gave up on getting a reply and missed yours until now. I did trim it and it has helped quite a bit. Now what I need to know is can I plant it in full sun? It is in a big pot outside now in a fairly sunny spot but I really would like to see it out my front garden which is pretty much full sun. I am in zone 9 (Folsom Ca/Sacramento)
    Thank you so much!
    Kathee

    • Reply
      jstutzman
      December 12, 2017 at 6:20 pm

      Kathee, you may certainly grow it in a container. Good luck, Joe

  • Reply
    Matt
    October 18, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    Hello:

    I purchased my Biltmore Ball Gown at a very nice nursery, so I can assume they knew what they were doing. It was a cutting when I purchased it, about 12 inches tall.It is now 3ft and beginning to have buds…some are dropping off(why??).It is an indoor plant…Am I supposed to be trimming it back…I did it once and it felt “weird” like I was harming the tree. It has several stems on it. It’s growing nicely, but I want to encourage better growth and not have it become spindly…I am a plant guy but am clueless on how to properly prume without harming or making my plant worse off

    Advice on all or any of this?

    • Reply
      jstutzman
      December 12, 2017 at 6:19 pm

      Matt, I would need to know what hardiness zone you are in before answering your questions as it will make a difference on how to care for the plant. Joe

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