How to Care for an Abutilon Red Tiger

From spring until fall, flowering maple hybrid "Red Tiger" (Abutilon "Red Tiger") covers itself in bell-shaped blooms as flashy as its name. Large green leaves reminiscent of maple foliage offset the delicate, red-veined yellow flowers to perfection. "Red Tiger" is reliably hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11. Space multiple plants 3 to 4 feet apart for an eye-catching hedge. In USDA zones 8 and lower, it's stunning houseplant capable of nearly constant bloom. Wherever you grow it, wear long sleeves and gloves when handling "Red Tiger" so its mildly toxic sap won't irritate your skin.

Abutilon hybridum CHINESE LANTERN hanging colorful flowers
credit: yanjf/iStock/Getty Images
Hummingbirds find "Red Tiger's" colorful blooms irresistible.

Soil or Growing Medium

As a garden plant, "Red Tiger" needs consistently moist, well-draining soil rich in organic material. It's an acid-loving plant, so the soil's pH should be below 7.0. Grown indoors as a potted plant, it likes a light, fluffy potting medium with plenty of peat.A mix of one part peat to one part perlite or vermiculite works well. Before potting, pour the mixture into a plastic bag and slowly mix in 1/4 cup of water for each 1 cup of medium until it's evenly moist, but not saturated. Use a pot the same size as your plant's nursery container, and repot it every six months in a conatiner one size larger to accommodate its larger root system.

Watering Schedule

Between spring and fall, an in-ground "Red Tiger" needs 1 inch of water, or 6 gallons, per 10 square feet of soil. Supply what rain doesn't with slow, deep watering when the soil is dry. Water a potted plant whenever the top 1 inch of medium is dry to the touch. If its blooms or lower leaves are dropping, moisture isn't reaching all the roots. Fill a tub to the pot's depth with water, set the plant in it until the growing medium is fully expanded and drain it well.

Fertilizing Schedule

Fertilize outdoors with bone meal once a year, as soon as "Red Tiger's" new growth emerges in spring. Sprinkle 4 to 6 tablespoons, or the label's recommended amount, of the bone meal around the base and work it lightly into the soil. Feed a houseplant every two weeks from spring to fall and cut back to once per month in winter. For the heaviest blooms, make a solution of 1/4 teaspoon of water-soluble, 10-30-20 plant food per 1 gallon of water and substitute the feeding for a regular watering session.

Spring Pruning

A mature "Red Tiger" reaches 6 to 8 feet high and up to 4 feet wide. Spring pruning as new growth appears shapes an outdoor plant and keeps a houseplant compact and bushy. With clean, sharp pruning shears, cut each stem back to just beyond an emerging leaf. Spring is also the time to remove dead branches. Disinfect your tools between cuts and when you finish in a solution of 1 part household bleach to 9 parts water.

Pest Management

Any "Red Tiger'' with sticky leaves hosts sap-sucking aphids. Fine webbing on the stems and leaves mean a spider mites. Hosing infested plants down with a strong spray of water may dispose of the pests. If not, spray all their surfaces to the dripping point with ready-to-use insecticidal soap. Both treatments are suitable for outdoor or indoor plants. Repeat the soap application weekly, or at the manufacturer's recommended interval, until they're eliminated. Follow the label directions and wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, waterproof gloves, shoes, socks and protective eyewear when spraying.