The Chinese Lantern Plant: A Colorful Blooming Choice
The Chinese lantern plant makes a delightful addition to any landscape. This hardy perennial produces gorgeous blooms that look like miniature hanging lanterns, making it an ideal choice for areas where you want some color but don’t have much space.
The Chinese lantern plant is easy to grow and will reach maturity and bloom in its first season if planted after the danger of frost has passed. Understanding how fast a Chinese lantern can spread in your garden, and taking steps to control its growth if needed, will help you enjoy the plant’s beauty for many years.
Cultivation and History.
Chinese lanterns first appeared in China, as documented by the book Codex Aniciae Julianne. It lists our subject, then called “physalis”—from Greek for “bladder”—as just another medicinal plant among many others.
Like tomatillo and a related fruit called ground cherry, the Chinese lantern grows its fruits within papery calyxes. It thrives best in full sun and grows to about 3 feet tall with dense clusters of medium green leaves up to 3 inches long.
Small white bell-shaped flowers only appear during summer; however, these little blooms are no less beautiful than their showier counterparts. The real appeal of these flowers is their signature lanterns (pumpkin-orange seeds that mature at the end of each season).
Propagation of Chinese lantern plant.
There are two ways to propagate the Chinese lantern: by sowing seeds or by division. Let’s talk about how you can propagate by division.
Spring is the most optimal season to divide your Chinese lantern plants. While there’s still some green growth, look for a stem and follow it until you reach the area where rhizomes are growing—these are usually underground stems that grow horizontally rather than vertically. With either a hand shovel or a hori-hori knife, use this spot as an anchor point and carefully work out clumps of these rhizomes along with any attached stems.
You can transplant this clump to a new garden spot or grow it in a container. If possible, do so on an overcast day, giving the plant time to recover from being moved out of the intense midday sun before its next exposure.
To plant your divided clump in the soil, dig a hole twice as large and deep as the roots. Then loosen some of this removed soil and place it back into the hole for better drainage. Place the plant’s roots in the hole, making sure not to bury them too deep or expose any of their surfaces—just enough to cover them with soil.
When growing cherry trees from seed, you can either plant them directly into your soil or start your seedlings indoors and transplant them when spring arrives.
If you decide to start Chinese lanterns indoors for later transplanting, time their seed sowing 6–8 weeks prior to your last spring frost. You can start them like you would other annuals.
If you plan to sow directly into your garden in spring, wait until all danger of frost has passed. Mature specimens are cold and hardy, but young seedlings can be killed by even a brief exposure at temperatures below freezing.
To ensure that your seeds will germinate, be sure to wait until the soil has warmed up to around 65–75°F. A soil thermometer can help monitor its temperature and find the best time for sowing. Identify a location for your garden that receives full sun and has well-draining soil. Work compost into the soil’s top six to eight inches if desired.
Spray your garden with a gentle spray from the hose, moistening the soil before sowing. Sow three seeds every 18 to 24 inches in groups of one or two types of plants and stagger each row by either 6 or 12 inches (30 cm). Because of their light requirements, these seeds should be sown on the surface or barely covered—with only 1/4 inch of soil.
Sprinkle the seeds into the soil, and then cover with a thin layer of mulch to ensure good contact. Wait about 21 days for sprouts—regularly until your plants grow strong enough to take on their own water needs.
When the first set of seedlings is four inches tall, thin them to one plant every 18–24 inches, you should harden off your last frost date before transplanting plants into their outdoor location (if you started seeds indoors).
Gradually increase the number of time seedlings spend each day outdoors, exposing them to more sunlight as they acclimatize to their new environment. If your seedlings have been in their containers for about a week, it’s time to transplant them—make sure that your weather forecast predicts no frost.
How to Grow Chinese lantern plant.
For faster results, you can sow your seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last predicted frost date. Or, if you’re patient enough for slower but more long-lasting crops, start sowing your outdoor staples when spring finally kicks in.
First, work organic materials into the top 6 inches of soil to improve poor soils and plant seeds. Keep moist and wait for germination—it should take between 14 to 21 days. To start seeds indoors, sow them in a seed-starting mix and place the tray in a warm location. Keep the seeds moist until they sprout—this may take several days.
Once you see that your plants have germinated (sprouted), move them to an area with more sunlight than where they were growing; this is called hardening off and will help acclimate your young plants for their outdoor transition when conditions are safe from frost.
If you want your Chinese lanterns to grow each year and produce blooms, starting the plants from seeds is an excellent way to do so. You can uproot the container plant at the end of its growing season and discard it, then sow new seeds in your garden for next year. This way, you don’t need to worry about how aggressively this plant will spread throughout your landscape when left unchecked during subsequent seasons.
The Chinese lantern plant is not your average houseplant. It’s not exactly an indoor plant, but it’s not an outdoor plant, either. Some would say it’s just an annual plant that can look good for a season or two on the porch or patio, but it can also be grown in an indoor container.
Because of its unique nature, the best growing tips for the Chinese lantern plant will depend highly on whether you want to grow it outdoors or indoors. The basic requirements will be similar in both cases: lots of sun and well-drained soil.
If you want to grow a Chinese lantern plant in containers, you’ll need to select one large enough to accommodate the growing plant. Clay pots work best because they provide good drainage and warm up faster than plastic or wooden ones. Fill with well-drained potting soil and place in an area where it will receive full sun to part shade. A heavy layer of mulch will help keep moisture in the soil around its roots over the long winter months when growth has stopped.
Pruning and Maintenance.
The Chinese lantern plant is super easy to care for: all you need to do to keep it healthy is provide water during dry spells and divide the plants as needed in spring or early fall when the plant begins to outgrow its space. And for extra fun, you can let them self-seed around your garden (or wherever you might like them), but if conditions in your area allow them to become invasive, keep them contained by growing them in pots that can be moved indoors during cold weather months.
Because Chinese lanterns spread via underground rhizomes, controlling it can be difficult. You may want to keep a bladder cherry confined to a pot or other container if you don’t mind the plant expanding from its original clump into something resembling a thicket.
Cultivars to Select.
Abutilons and Chinese lanterns have flowers that look very similar to hibiscus. There are more than 100 species of abutilon, which grow throughout the world in many different climates.
All the cultivars produced by hybridizing South American abutilons are known as Abutilon x hybridum and are grown in Australian gardens. These plants have low-growing, wispy forms and brightly colored flowers that look like lanterns. New varieties with more dense foliage are also available for those who prefer this type of plant.
Chinese lantern plants can thrive in full sun but grow well under less intense conditions. In warm climates, plant them where they will receive some shade during the afternoon.
Bladder cherry plants like soil that is moist but not soggy. The roots of young plants can rot if overwatered. Water deeply and infrequently instead, about an inch per week for established plantings or 2 inches every ten days during dry periods—depending on the weather conditions in your area.
Remember to water your plants evenly, but do not over-water or else the soil may become soggy—conditions which can encourage disease spread. If you have difficulty keeping your soil moist, consider applying mulch.
Although Chinese lanterns need to be watered regularly when young, they are somewhat drought-resistant once they mature. Flower and pod production is at its best with a consistent soil moisture level, but the plants can tolerate some dry spells between watering sessions.
Temperature and Humidity.
The seeds of this plant will germinate when the temperature is between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It doesn’t have any humidity requirements—the plant can tolerate cooler temperatures, but anything below 40 degrees F would kill it back over winter.
Feed plants in spring after new growth appears, using a light application of balanced fertilizer—unless the plants have proven too aggressive; then withhold feeding.
Granular fertilizer should be kept away from the plant’s crown and foliage because too much can cause fast growth rates that may lead to root rot and uncontrolled spreading.
Managing Pests and Diseases.
The Chinese lanterns are a common and beautiful addition to a garden, but it’s not without disease. Here are a few conditions that affect the plant.
Aphids are tiny, soft-bodied insects that feed on the sap of plants. These pests colonize under leaves, making them difficult to spot and damaging the hosts they infest by draining nutrients from their vascular systems. Watering plants can help eliminate aphid infestations, and ladybugs are known to feed on aphids that attack garden vegetation.
Another way to manage aphids is by attracting ladybugs and green lacewings, which eat the pests.
If a cutworm attacks your young plants, it will usually leave behind seedlings whose stems have been severed from their roots—the uncut remainder of the plant being ignored. Cutworms are caterpillars, not worms; they range from one inch to a little over two inches long and can be brown, gray, or white.
Cutworms can damage your plants in several different ways. However, the biggest threat occurs when your young seedlings are tender and easily damaged. Cutworms are dangerous to young seedlings because they can’t recover once one of these larvae eats through the still-tender stem.
Using paper rolls as collars, you can protect young seedlings from cutworms. You must place the roll around the plant and bury it a couple of inches deep in the soil.
It would be best to have a fully grown seedling when your toilet paper roll is empty. You can also prevent cutworm infestations by enlisting friends and family to help thin out their populations in other areas of your yard or garden.
Robins and parasitic wasps are two of the main predators that eat cutworms. To attract them to your garden: plant cilantro, dill & cosmos (which grow well here).
Members of the nightshade family are attracted to many plant-eating insects, including aphids, cutworms, and flea beetles.
The signs of flea beetle infestation are small holes or pits on the leaves and stems of your plants. Flea beetles come in many colors, but their size—typically less than an eighth of an inch long—is a better way to identify them. Chinese lantern plant hoppers are good at jumping away from you when you try to inspect them. You can control these pests by covering your crop with row covers.
Chinese lantern plants are not resistant to diseases; here are a few that you may encounter:
Unlike many fungal diseases, powdery mildew is caused by more than one species of fungi. Leaves infected with this disease have a grayish-white coating that looks like dust on the surface. Deformed leaves are obtained due to the sucking off of essential nutrients brought about by powdery mildew-causing Fungi.
It is imperative to prevent damping-off, a fungal disease that attacks young seedlings and causes them to wither and die. Once infected, there is no way to bring back those already lost. Preventing this frustrating disease relies on best practices when sowing your seeds.
Alternaria Leaf Spot.
Alternaria leaf spot is a fungus that can affect many plants, including bladder cherry. Watering at the base of plants and allowing for adequate air circulation can help prevent leaf spots.
Remove the infected material if you spot an Alternaria leaf on your Chinese lantern. To treat organically, use neem oil. Although neem oil is effective against fungus and insects, it is not harmless.
The fruits of bladder cherry have a history as an herbal remedy, but they can also be enjoyed just for their beauty. In your garden, Chinese lantern plants make a great border or can be included in flower beds. They combine well with purple New England aster and white Montauk daisy flowers. The bladder cherry is an excellent choice for cold-weather ornaments in the late fall garden. Its textural contrast to late-season chrysanthemums makes it particularly attractive.
If you leave the lanterns on your plant, they will continue blooming through the winter months and provide a splash of color in an otherwise dreary time.
Of course, if you do decide to harvest the husk-covered branches, there are many ways in which you can use them. You might even choose to hang miniature fairy lights from the boughs of your tree as a nod to its common name. You can arrange them immediately in a vase or create a wreath that will last throughout the season.
There are a few different ways to collect flower branches for arrangements. Some gardeners grow corn with deep red husks, while others prefer a hybrid variety with different colors on the same plant—from orange to green. Dried arrangements can be hung upside down or placed with their calyxes facing downward. Both methods should be allowed to dry in a cool, dark place for about two weeks.
Chinese lanterns are a beautiful, ornamental plant that can add a splash of color to your indoor or outdoor space. They are generally relatively easy to grow and care for if they receive adequate sunlight, water, and fertilizer. The key is to have complete knowledge of Chinese lanterns’ proper growing and care techniques. This article has given you all the information you need to successfully grow and care for Chinese lanterns. Remember, these plants are generally relatively easy to grow, but they have specific needs that must be met for them to thrive.
Frequently Asked Questions.
How do I care for a Chinese lantern plant?
The Chinese lantern plant grows best in full sun or part shade and should be protected from strong winds. Grow it in rich, moist soil to encourage prolific flowering—a good quality potting mix will help with this task.
Are Chinese lantern plants invasive?
The Chinese lantern, with its orange pods that resemble paper lanterns, is an invasive species.
Does the Chinese lantern plant need full sun?
Bladder cherry can grow in full sun or shade, but it thrives most when planted in a place where it can enjoy at least six hours of sunlight each day.
How tall does a Chinese lantern plant grow?
Chinese lantern has medium-sized, three-inch leaves. The perennial can grow to about 30 inches in height and two or three feet across.