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Canberra Today 8°/13° | Tuesday, April 23, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Chinese lanterns take a little love

Chinese lanterns… in a protected spot they grow and flower for many months. Photo: Jackie Warburton

Abutilon plants or Chinese lanterns, which are in flower now, can grow and flower for many months in a protected spot, says gardening columnist JACKIE WARBURTON. 

Abutilon plants are closely related to hibiscus and are a good substitute for anyone looking for a tropical-looking flower to grow in our climate.

Jackie Warburton.

Abutilons are of the mallow family and have a similar flower shape as hollyhocks and even okras. 

They are semi-deciduous and a little pruning is all that’s needed to keep them in shape. Their foliage is quite similar to maples and their decorative leaves fit well in Asian-themed gardens or in a soft cottage garden. 

Pruning is best done late winter to early spring to remove all the damaged and broken twigs and frost damage. Too much frost can make them brittle, so plant as an understorey plant or in a sheltered spot away from the westerly winds with morning sun. 

Flower colours vary and now there are new hybrids with yellows, pinks, whites… just about all colours including blue. Abutilon Red is my favourite with its vivid red colour. It’s also the one I have flowers from almost all year round. 

Most dwarf varieties only grow to 30 centimetres tall, which makes them perfect for a potted plant or as a garden border. 

The plumbago bush… hates our winters, but can survive in a sheltered and protected spot. Photo: Jackie Warburton

ONE of my favourite blue-flowering plants is the plumbago bush (Plumbago auriculata), which is flowering now. It also flowers in white.

In frost-free areas such as Sydney and the south coast it grows extremely well as a shrub, ground cover and even a climber. But here it hates our winters and can be tricky to grow. It can survive in a sheltered and protected spot.

I get the best effect by cutting it to the ground every winter. In spring it will send up growth shoots up to two metres tall with the most beautiful blue flowers that last from spring to autumn. 

Plumbago isn’t fussy about soil types, but give them a little bit of room, good drainage and they’ll grow well. 

ALL the winter seedlings need to be in the ground and growing now before the cold weather sets in next month. 

Winter seedlings that can go in now are all the brassicas such as cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbages. Growing brassicas in the cooler months will lessen the damage from the white cabbage moth and grow through our winters without a problem. 

Seedlings need to be covered at a young age to keep caterpillars from eating them. Cover the seedlings with a five-millimetre mesh cloth and a sprinkle of diatomaceous earth will keep snails and slaters at bay, too. 

However, there are only a few choices in sowing seed for this winter season as the main seed sowing was January and February. However, Asian greens such as bok choy or choy sum, chicory, corn salad, lettuce and peas can still be grown. 

Sow them into punnets of seed-raising mix and keep moist (but not wet). Once the seed has germinated, thin out the weak seedings. 

Once the roots reach the bottom of the punnet and the seedlings have at least four sets of leaves they can be transplanted to the ground and lightly covered with mulch. 


  • Fertilise all bulbs that are growing. 
  • Prune the last of the stone fruit trees for the season. 
  • Deadhead roses and fertilise for autumn flush. 
  • Keep up with pulling weeds that are about to seed.

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Jackie Warburton

Jackie Warburton

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