A close relative of hollyhock, mallow is an easy-to-grow, short-lived perennial that is easily started from seed. Tall stems of small blossoms are held high above softly lobed kidney-shape foliage that blends in well with larger shrubs and other perennials. Planted once, mallow will often reseed itself for a continuous display of blooms year after year. The flat, buttonlike seed pods resemble tiny wheels of cheese, which inspired mallow’s lesser known name of cheese weed.
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Mallow's flowers come in shades of pink, white, purple, red, yellow, or orange, which look stunning when planted in large groups in cottage gardens or borders. Individual flowers comprise five heart-shape petals, many of which will feature darker veins. The flowers appear from early summer until fall, as long as deadheading takes place to encourage continued blooming. Mallow's large medium-green leaves make a coarsely textured background for its flowers and other nearby plants. Some species are grown specifically for their flowers. Other species are prized for their leaves, which are edible and medicinal.
Mallow Care Must-Knows
Mallow is easy to grow and start from seed, as long as you choose a location that provides moist, well-drained, organically rich soil and full sun. The latter promotes vigorous growth and reduces the need for staking. Plant the seeds directly in the garden and keep the area evenly moist until plants emerge. Most species of this plant are short-lived perennials; others are annuals or biennials, the latter of which will not bloom during the first season after planting. Stay alert, though, because mallow's enthusiasm for self-sowing can cause it to invade lawns, fields, and roadways.
Related: The Easiest Seeds to Start
Japanese beetles consider the foliage and flowers of this plant to be tasty treats. Mallow is prone to rust (small orange-to-brown blisters on the undersides of leaves), especially during the heat of summer. Although not harmful to the plant, rust can make the plant look ugly. Control rust by removing affected leaves early on and keeping foliage dry.
More Varieties of Mallow
Small musk-scented rose-pink flowers bloom profusely from early summer to early fall. The leaves also release a musky scent, especially when crushed. Zones 3-8.
Malva sylvestris is the most commonly found mallow. These come in shades of pink and purple, often with darker veining of the blooms. Zones 4-8.
Mallow Companion Plants
Obedient plant is named for the way flowers that are moved to a new position on the stem stay in place, much to the delight of children. It produces showy, unusual flower spikes with little tubular flowers in white, pink, or purple. They're excellent as cut flowers. Square stems carry pairs of mid-green (sometimes variegated), lance-shaped foliage, toothed along the edges. Obedient plant tolerates most soils, but tends to become aggressive when given ample water and full sun. It tolerates most soils.
The inflated buds of balloon flowers are fun to pop. And they make great cut flowers. Cut them in the bud stage, and sear the base of the stems to prevent the milky sap from seeping out and fouling the water. Most commonly available in blue-violet, balloon flowers also come in pink and white, as well as shorter forms that are better suited for rock gardens and containers. In fall, the foliage of balloon flower turns clear gold, so don't cut the plant down too early—enjoy the show! They tolerate light shade, but not wet feet or drought.
Globe thistle is one of the most elegantly colored plants around. It has fantastical large blue balls of steel blue flowers in midsummer, which would be enough. But making it even more lovely are its large coarse, grayish-green leaves, which set off the flower beautifully. If you can bear to separate them from the foliage, globe thistle makes a great cut flower, lasting for weeks in the vase. It also dries well. It's bothered by few pests or diseases. If it likes its conditions, it will reseed fairly readily. If you want to prevent this, deadhead flowers shortly after they fade.