Orange Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

20170923_164754This has to be one of the most interesting plants in our garden.  The small, but profuse, orange blossoms coat the stems that emanate from the base of the plant and stick around for months on end.  The leaves are an eye-catching bright green.  Plant this and you will be able to enjoy the quintessential hum of summer as bumblebees and hummingbirds will flock to your yard.  When the sun shines on it just right, the flowers seem to glow like magical little lights.

20170923_152755A handy growing summary chart is at the end of the article.

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Also known as Desert Mallow or Desert Hollyhock, its scientific name is Sphaeralcea ambigua.  It is native to the deserts from southern California and throughout the south west.  It is a very drought tolerant perennial, but the more water it gets the taller it grows.  In our yard with some irrigation it has grown 5-6 feet, but it is known to stay as small as 1-2 feet in some desert areas with little annual rainfall.  (Find other drought tolerant and ornamental plants here).

In my yard it gets full sun and sprinkler water a few times a week during the hot, dry season, keeping the soil moist but not wet.  It is growing in clay soil that is slightly alkaline with no problems.  It grows with stems that fan out from the base.  Mine started to flop, so I cut them back to allow the plant to grow more bushy and it recovered very quickly.

20170923_152732It’s spread is dependent on the length the stems get.  If they are very long they will flop over and therefore take more space.  It seems to respond very well to trimming back to keep it a little more tidy and upright.  I knocked ours back to 3 foot stems and within a month it grew back in to what you see in the picture above.

It takes the heat very well (we get up to 110+), and is supposed to be very cold tolerant, as well, rated to USDA zone 4.  It is a major attractant for all sorts of bees, including big bumblebees.  They absolutely mob ours.

As of now, we have had no issues with this plant.  It does attract some aphids, but the plant seems to be able to take it in stride.  We have snails but they don’t bother this one.  I don’t have deer or other nibblers to contend with, so I couldn’t say whether they are resistant or not.  Otherwise, just a beautiful plant that will be a stunner in your garden for months at a time.

20170923_112316Plant Summary:

  • Perrenial
  • Deciduous, but may retain leaves in warmer winter areas
  • Flower Color: orange
  • Height: up to 2-6 feet, depending on water availability
  • Width: up to 2-6 feet, depending on water availability
  • Sun: full sun
  • Water: drought tolerant, but grows more with regular water
  • Soil pH: 6.5 – 7.5
  • Soil type: tolerates various soils, avoid soggy soil
  • Key nutrients: balanced, potassium for flowering
  • Planting time: early spring




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