The Abutilon group contains around 150 varieties of small trees or shrubs which are not always totally hardy. Some varieties have variegated foliage which are Maple-like foliage, which has led to their common name of 'Flowering Maples'. Personally I believe the only resemblance is to the Acer Grisium, but thats me.
Abutilon - Flowering Maples
Abutilon plants or flowering maples are one of a few types of shrubs that can be pruned at any time during their active growing season. Abutilon's are quick to start to re-grow and subsequently flower.
The versatility of the Abutilon means you can simply prune it as and when required. In particularly prune after the winter damage where branches can be snapped or broken by high winds and / or heavy snow. This is best done in early spring when most types can be cut back quite hard. This will encourage strong growth in the spring which will soon regain its original height.
If a hard prune is required, the best time to preform this is early spring.
The Nature of the Abutilon is that it spreads, it can be double its width to its height, therefore it will need pruning regulary.
It would be easy to say, just take the hedge trimmers to it and you will be fine. Sorry to say, it needs a little more finess than that. If it is not pruned correctly, it can cause die back and the flowers wont flourish the next season. The best tools for the job are the trusted secateurs.
Its lateral soft wood branches can be lengthy and can be pruned back almost to the main stem. Trace it back to the main stem, approximately 6 inches away from the stem you will find the first leaf / node, make a cut just after the leaf / node or after any leaf along the line, depending upon how much you want to trim it down. In the growing season avoid big pruning sessions, only trim it back 25% to 30%, you do not want to weaken the plant before winter. If you just cut it back willy nilly, you may find you have cut too much off and there may not be a live node left on the branches. This will not encourage new growth as there is nothing there, this will probably cause die back.
This is a very happy plant if you keep it happy.
If grown as a patio pot plant, and taken into protective care for the winter, the Abutilon can be pruned to shape either as a shrub or a single stem 'feathered' specimen.
For a single stem mini-tree, either prune off the laterals - AFTER regrowth has started in spring, or prune back all laterals to within 6in of the main central stem or trunk. This will encourage growths which can then be attractively trimmed into a narrow pyramid - especially effective for the variegated foliage types.
The same single-stem treatment can be applied when Abutilons are grown as houseplant or conservatory speciments.
Wall grown Abutilons such as Abutilon megapotamicum should be pruned in early spring. This is best done by pruning wayward branches back to a main framework.
Larger shrub type Abutilons such as the semi evergreen Abutilon suntense should be pruned in the main to tidy the winter damaged branches which are apt to break under the weight of snow - or in heavy winds (Not the best situation for growing them)
The Abutilon group are either small trees or shrubs - not always totally hardy. There are several which have Maple-like foliage - sometimes variegated.
Abutilon plants – or flowering maples as also known – have a dual use for the garden. Their foliage is often attractive with a wide range of flower colours in forms from pendulous bells to open five-petal saucers.
Typical flower of Abutilon shrubs - Abutilon 'Canary Bird'
Not many – if any – of the Abutilon plants are fully hardy, though I have known one or two to live a charmed life through reasonable harsh winters when planted in the right place.
Flowering Maples are generally small to large shrubs, but sometimes small trees owing to their ability to grow on single or multi stemmed central trunk. For most gardeners and gardens in temperate areas, they are shrubs.
Abutilons are sometimes evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous depending on variety and planting position.
All types - even if stated to be hardy - should be grown in a sheltered place - preferably in full sun. Cuttings from all types are easy to root, and as precaution, cuttings should be taken and over wintered in a frost free environment, to ensure continuation for the following year.
The common name of Flowering Maple describes the foliage rather than flowers, for the leaves are often fully palmate or at least 5-lobed as with many Acers or maples.
Abutilons are not maples, but belong to the same family as the mallows and Hibiscus – Malvaceae. Other than botanical detail that determines the family group, all of the flowers share the distinct central style (female) surrounded at the base by the pollen- bearing anthers (male).
Flower colours of the various Abutilons range from deep red, through violet, pale pink and purest white.
Some of the variegated forms make good houseplants – or patio pot plants. All will grow in a container if large enough.
Abutilon Canary Bird - Evergreen large shrub or small tree - quick growing and erect in habit. Can reach 10feet in height with not too much of a spread. Yellow flowers - as above - are very attractive and are to be seen from late spring through to fists frosts of Autumn. Often suffers winter scorch and foliage damage in hard winters, but will soo re-grow to fill the original space occupied. Mulch in Autumn to protect roots.
Abutilon Kentish Belle - This evergreen shrub has arching branches which have brown-purple new shoots and pendulous yellow flowers with deep red calyces, which hand down along the new current year's shoots. Can be grown against wall or fence - where it will be hardier.
Abutilon megapotamicum - Unusual in the group as it has a fully pendulous or trailing habit. Foliage is normally evergreen: flowers hang from branches with red calyces and buds from which the yellow flowers emerge - but only a little! Flowers from late Spring through to first Autumn frosts. Does well in a permanent position at foot of sunny wall or fence, with low growing shrubs in front - protecting it through hard winters.
Abutilon x suntense - is a splendid small tree or large shrub, that will grow to 10 feet quite quickly. Erect habit is sometimes a bit lax, but it will respond well to pruning as and when required. The foliage (evergreen) is grey green and downy - not unlike that of the mallow family, for which it is often mistaken. It has violet mauve bell flowers that open wide - similar to the Canary Bird - and is a showy addition to a sun spot in the garden - or happy wandering over the top of a fence. Quick growing again if damaged in hard winters. Abitilon x suntense Ralph Gould and A x s, Violetta are my particular favourites, with A x s, Ralph Gould having the slightly larger and open flowers.
Abutilon vitifolium - similar in all respects to Abutilon x suntense - but having white (Abutilon vitifolium var. Album) or pinky mauve (Abutilon vitifolium Veronica Tennant) flowers. The latter has the larges flowers and is a mass of colour throughout late Spring through to Autumn.
Two are worthy of note - and are good for growing in large patio tubs that can be allowed an extra bit of winter protection....
Abutilon pictum 'Thompsonii' - with large mid-green leaves which are splashed with yellow, and soon growing to 8feet! Orange bell flowers - pendant - complete the picture. Plenty of colour and interest for the summer patio. Can also be grown in sheltered, relatively frost-proof area of the garden.
Abutilon 'Souvenir de Bonn' is often sold in garden centres during spring along with the bedding plants. It is attractive because of its yellow edge variegation on dark green glossy leaves, and profusion of orange bell flowers. Over the course of the year - if planted in the garden - it can reach 8 - 10 feet - but will be hit back quite hard with the Autumn frosts. No matter, it is easy to take cuttings, and will often soot out again from the base.
There are currently 231 different varieties on the RHS website, I can not list them all, here are a few popular ones.