The group of plants under the malva banner includes close to 30 herbaceous annual, biennial, and perennial plants. Herbaceous simply means that the plant doesn't have much wood, its stems are soft, as opposed to woody, and the plant grows quickly, blooms and goes to seed. A biennial plant takes two years to complete the same cycle, in that the first year the plant grows leaves, stems and roots, goes into dormancy, and blooms the following year (although I have found that biennials started during the winter will bloom the following fall).

You will notice that I include some lavateras. A number of species plants once belonging to the category of lavatera have been moved to malva. Experts do this kind of thing every few years, and frankly, it drives me nuts.

Lavatera trimestris

Also known as rose mallow, this is an outrageously pretty annual that comes in dark pink (silver cup), light pink and white. Hardy from zones 2 to 11, this flower, which is easily grown from seed, can be in almost any garden. With a height of two to four feet, and a spread of two to three feet, and blooming for several months. It does prefer cooler climates. If it is around long enough, it can grow into a small shrub.

silver cup mallow

pink mallow

white mallow

Hardy hibiscus

Hibiscus moscheutos, or hardy hibiscus, is seen everywhere in the summer. It is also known as swamp mallow. This is the big, hardy to zone 4 plant. This plant is a piece of cake to grow, requiring little more to thrive than full sun. It prefers moist conditions, but is quite happy with somewhat drier soils. It is something of a slow grower, but by late summer it produces flowers that can be the size of a dinner plate in shades of red, pink, purple, blue, lavender, maroon and white. It also comes in a double flowering form. The only thing to bear in mind is that, in my experience, Japanese beetles are quite fond of the plant.

Care is simple. Cut it down at the end of the season. This is hibiscus 'Lord Baltimore'. I owned this and the 'Pink Lady Baltimore'. Both are absolutely delightful, whimsical plants. They can easily grow five feet high and wide - save room!

Hibiscus moschuetos 'Lord Baltimore'

Tropical hibiscus

The tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) is a tender version of the hardy hibiscus. It generally cannot tolerate temperatures below about 37 degrees; at that point plants will show damage, drop leaves and die back. But is fairly tolerant in that it does very well in temperatures down to 50 degrees.

These are typically grown in pots. Most people discard them at the end of the season, but they can be easily overwintered by bringing them inside and putting them in some sun. I used to bring them inside and put them in my sunroom. While not blooming as much, they would, in fact, stay in bloom all winter because of the heat from window sunlight, even in zone 5a. This means that a patio over 50 or so degrees can support these plants.

Note that in experiments the tropical hibiscus does not require as much sunlight as is commonly thought. Two hours of sunlight daily produced blooms. And that includes sunlight through a window!

Tropical hibiscus in a pot

Abutilon, or flowering maple

Flowering maples are a group of tender, evergreen perennials often used as seasonal annuals or as houseplants in cooler zones. They look like dwarf flowering maple trees. They were popular during the Victorian era, later fell out of favor in the gardening world, but have returned to modern gardens in a plethora of forms. They are very inexpensive to purchase, and also can be grown from seed, and will reach as much as two feet during the growing season. I discovered this when I purchased a seed mix and began to grow my own. They can be overwintered by cutting the stem back and putting them in a place where they will get a bit of light, even a winter windowsill.

The flowers are usually solitary and come in numerous colors. They are supposedly hardy in only zone 9 to 11, but I grow them in zone 5a, putting them outside in summer and then bringing them inside to a sunny windowsill. Some can get quite tall - several feet, in fact. If they become leggy, they should be cut back to encourage branching. They are so easy that you can simply put some time-released fertilizer in the pot in warm weather and let them fertilize themselves.

coral colored flowering maple


Hollyhocks, also known as Alcea rosea, are cottage garden staples. They are usually biennials. If, however, they are cut back to minimize seeding they can live for three to four years in zones 3-8, with the first year being in the form of basal foliage. As a plus, they self-seed, so if they do not come back you can look forward to more as the years go by. Late summer is a good time to start them or transplant the seed. They are very undemanding plants, requiring little care, with one exception.

There is the infamous hollyhock rust. Frankly, it's pretty gross. The undersides of the leaves get bright yellow and orange rust spots with similar marks on the surface of the leaves. It can be managed. Remove all affected leaves as soon as you see them, and if you are diligent, you can prevent it altogether by using a sulfur fungicide (which is happily organic) every two weeks.

mixed hollyhocks

Malva alcea 'Fastigiata'

This pretty hollyhock like plant with two-inch flowers is a herbaceous perennial hardy in zones 4-7. With a bloom time from June to September, and a tendency to modestly self-seed, this is cottage gardening at its best. The petals are very notched. I have grown it from seed, and since it can be a bit insubstantial I would advise allowing it to seed so that you can produce a nice clump, and since it is short-lived allowing it to seed will give you a better chance of enjoying a substantial planting from year to year.

The height is given as two to four feet. In my zone, then 5a, it tended to be about two and a half feet tall., and it spreads of a width of about one and a half feet. The flowers bloom in the upper portion of the plant. It thrives in full sun to part shade, and attracts butterflies.

malva fastigiata

Musk mallow

Musk mallow is also known as Malva moschata. It is a perennial plant that is very much like a short hollyhock. Originating in Europe, it is a plant that grows in an attractive mound, a perennial European plant with pink or white flowers, deeply cut upper leaves, and kidney-shaped basal leaves. It has hairy black fruits. It grows three to six feet and is hardy in an extended zone, from 3 to 10.

The plant grows two to three feet high and one and a half to two inches wide and bears large pink or white flowers. It is deer and rabbit resistant and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

The plant has a relatively short life, but it seeds and will be more likely to return if it is cut back after bloom. It is very easy to grow, but is best grown in groups.

plantfiles for Malva moschata

Malva sylvestris

This very attractive plant is also known as common mallow and French hollyhock. This perennial, which is hardy in zones 4 to 8, grows two to four feet. It is very handsome plant, being rose-purple with darker stripes. I have found this to be a tough and easy plant that blooms repeatedly between July and September. Color intensity is best in full sun, but it also does well in part shade, and it can be easily grown from seed. The cultivar displayed below is 'Zebrina'.

I should add that I found a very large number of images of this plant, which means to me that it is extremely easy to grow - always nice!

malva sylvestris

Hibiscus trionum

I am including this plant because I have been asked to identify it by aggravated gardeners. Its nickname is flower of the hour because it only blooms for a few hours before wilting, and it tends to be invasive. When it popped up in my yard uninvited, I tore it out. And frankly, it is less than breathtaking, so if you don't mind something that lasts a short time I would advise Nicotiana alata or Mirabilis jalapa, which are much prettier.

This is also known as flower of the hour, for reasons I noted above. It has a height and spread of two to two and a half feet. Hardy from zones 2 to 11, so it can pop up anywhere. It is identified as being invasive.

hibiscus trionum

Malope trifida

This is a malva I have never seen in my twenty-plus years of gardening. There are two reviews of this plant on Daves Garden, and they are so descriptive that I am putting them here in their entirety:

On May 12, 2005, LilyLover_UT from Ogden, UT (Zone 5b) wrote:

Malope trifida is a nice large annual for filling in spaces. It blooms all summer long if started early indoors. It also self-sows.

On Nov 2, 2001, poppysue from Westbrook, ME (Zone 5a) wrote:

A member of the mallow family this annual is one of the nicest. The 2 1/2-inch, rose-violet flowers are cup-shaped and in the center where the petals narrow there is a cutout of a 5-pointed star showing the green of the calyx behind. The plants are easily grown from seed and will quickly reach their mature height of 3 feet. The rose violet flowers are excellent for cutting and will last several days in a vase.

Thank you, Lilylover and Poppysue. I personally am ordering this seed today.

plantfiles for Malope trifida

Image shared on PlantFiles by Karl Gercens, Conservatory Horticulturist at Longwood Gardens

There are many more members of this family but I included those with the most garden interest. I hope that you will try one or two.