Virginia mallow

Virginia fanpetals, Sida hermaphrodita

Virginia mallow (botanically, Sida hermaphrodita (L.) Rusby) belongs to the mallow family, hails from North America, and is classified botanically as a perennial plant. Just like Energy grass Miscanthus , it sprouts in April/May and reaches its final height of about 2.5 to 3.5 meters in midsummer. Due to its abundant flowers, it is also very interesting for bees and beekeepers as a bee pasture from around August up to onset of frost!

Virginia Mallow Cultivation

  • You can grow it by sowing, as rootstocks, as compressed bales, or by planting in pots.
    We recommend either compressed bales (4×4 cm), since the quality/price ratio is the best one here and the plants grow to a very high percentage (about 85–95%), or the plants in a 9-cm pot.
  • Rootstocks should be planted as soon as possible (March to mid-May) upon receipt.
  • Required: About 20–30 thousand pcs/ha, since you will have to anticipate some reduction.
  • Planting depth: About 5 cm in light soils and about 8 cm in heavy soils.
  • Planting: Best of all, using an adjusted potato planter or manually.
    Optimal soil contact is required, such as with pressing rollers or small shafts.
  • Soil block (compressed bale, pot): Main planting season is from April through May; however, it is also possible year-round, till September.
    Reduced weed pressure makes planting in the late summer interesting (water?).
  • Required: About 14–18 thousand pcs/ha. Planting: Distance 75 x 75 cm to 85 x 85 cm with conventional planters, such as those used in cultivation of vegetables, or manually, where smaller amounts are planted.

Plant Protection for Virginia Mallow

  • Virginia mallow should be possibly kept weed-free within the year of planting.
  • Mechanically, it is well possible to go with 3–5 operations, such as with chain harrows.
  • The larger your crop stock is, the less care it needs

Fertilizing the Virginia Mallow

  • No fertilizing within the year of planting!
  • Generally, no fertilizers are needed.
  • If it is available in your company, you can add a little amount of organic nitrogen in the spring. Ash recirculation is possible and reasonable.

Virginia Mallow Harvesting

    • Fully mechanized harvesting using a corn chopper; important: A good blade. Cutting height should be 10–15 cm, and chop length 2–3 cm
    • Harvesting is possible between December and April; ideally, after a dry, sunny week in March or April.
    • Water content should be as low as possible (10–20 %). Otherwise, heating of chopped materials or mold formation are to be expected.

Storage (=Folding) of Virginia Mallow

  • Under heavy snow loads (mostly in autumn), the plants may break or collapse.
  • They can be chopped across the storage direction. This means, however, more time and, respectively, more expenses.

Virginia Mallow Yields

  • For poorer locations, light soils and lower precipitation, under 600 l, Virginia mallow can exploit its strengths!
  • Dry mass yield / absolute dry tons1: 7–15 tons/ha, starting from the 3rd year
  • By contrast, the harvest yield tends to be lower on good arable soils than with energy woods, such as poplar, willow, and robinia, or also miscanthus.

Useful Life of Virginia Mallow

  • Setting: 1–2 vegetation periods
  • Cultivation period: About 25 years

Extermination of Virginia Mallows

  • After the last harvest, grub at a depth of about 30 cm and then loosen
  • New sprouts should be either controlled chemically or suppressed using grassland management or an arable crop that tends to consume nutrients actively

Using Virginia Mallow as Biomass

  • Harvest yields are mainly used for heating.
  • Wood chip ovens tolerate the material very well; so far no damages are known, such as those occuring when using miscanthus.
  • Using in Heating Plants, Business or Agricultural Enterprises for Self-Support
  • This material is also good for pressing to pellets or brickets -> easier to store. Large bales are possible, too
  • Chopped Virginia Mallows as Material for Molded Parts or Insulating Panels

Future Hopes for Virginia Mallow as Bee Pasture

  • Very interesting for both bees and beekeepers!
  • It flowers late and for many weeks, where no other plants flower anymore.
  • Retreat for Insects and Wild Animals, as well as a Blooming Corner in Your Garden

Summary on Cultivating Virginia Mallow

  • Easy cultivation and uncomplicated crop, including in areas that are “complicated” in agricultural terms, such as dry or poor soils
  • Despite some lower biomass yields, it is attractive
  • Annually harvesting very dry chopped materials with a harvester is a huge advantage, as compared to energy woods in short rotation.
  • Moreover, the existing trend to support bees and other insects gives a great boost to cultivating this plant.
  • Forest managers like planting Virginia mallow to provide animals with a retreat opportunity in “emptied” areas that are intensively used in agriculture.

According to various sources, Virginia mallow was first cultivated on European soils in Poland in 1950s, and it has also been used on medium-sized areas. Having almost been forgotten in the meantime, it has become important again since the rise in oil prices in the new millennium, particularly for locations that are too weak for many agricultural crops. Virginia mallow is a perennial shrub plant that, however, forms wood-like stalks with a diameter of several centimeters and reaches a life duration of about 20-30 years. It develops 8-15 branches in its second to third year of standing, which can then be harvested on a yearly basis. In subsequent years, the number can extend to 20-30 stalks.

In the first year, the above-ground growth is still rather weak, since Virginia mallow is predominantly developing its well-branched and thick-fleshed root system that can reach down to 3 m. This results in the following advantageous properties: Good suitability for light soils or for relatively dry locations, including under 500–600 mm of annual precipitation. Among energy woods, only robinia may probably thrive in such conditions. Moreover, the shrub is very frost-hardy at down to –30° C. It is harvested, like miscanthus, with rowless maize choppers annually, between December and April, when the water content of the harvested material goes much below 20 % (8-15 %).

What Location Is Suitable for Virginia Mallow?

For planting Virginia mallow, suitable are soils of average and also below-average quality, such as light, sandy soils or those tending to drying. Generally, marginal-yield locations, i.e., those that cannot be used anymore in agriculture with “conventional” extensive energy plants, such as poplar, willow, or miscanthus.

Actually, Virginia mallow also grows well on normal arable sils; however, it represents a special chance for poorer locations that can hardly be used otherwise.

Virginia mallows are also well frost-hardy with the above-described –30° C and can be cultivated well in continental climate with its low temperatures and little snow. Precipitation from 300–400 l/m²/year can be used as planting areas; however, ideal would be that of 500–600 l. Waterlogging or very “fatty” soils should be avoided.

Field Preparation for Planting Virginia Mallow

To prepare it for planting Virginia mallow, the field must be ploughed at least 20-25 cm deep in autumn. It should be ensured that no large organic masses of the preceding crops are included, since the releasing nitrogen inhibits ripening in autumn and drains nutrients at the beginning of the season. It would be perfect, if the location had already been used as arable land before. This prevents from the excessive growth of weeds. Immediately before planting, finecrumble the field once again and free it from undesired new growth.

Virginia Mallow Propagation

Virginia mallow usually propagates by seeds. Additionally, propagation by division may be of interest in small areas, while large-scale propagation with root cuttings, like with miscanthus, can be an alternative. Extensive sowing, as it propagates now and then, is not recommended from our current experience due to very different seed germination results. Strong weed pressure, difficulties in chemical treatment, and weak competitiveness during the sprouting period (1st year) also justify planting of stronger rooted plants (=seedlings). They are available in different sizes. That can be pressed bales 4×4 cm, a 9-cm pot, a 2-3-liter pot, or a perennial rootstock.

 

Virginia Mallows of Different Sizes
Virginia Mallows in Various Sizes (from left to right): 2-3-liter pot, 9-cm pot, and pressed bales 4×4 cm

Virginia Mallow Planting Material

Various opportunities are offered here. There are basically the following setting types: By seeds, as root cuttings, or with pre-grown young plants including earth bales.

No-till farming still appears to be premature. And inevitably, you have to struggle with very different and rather poor germination rates.

When planting Virginia mallow with root cuttings, finger-size root pieces are planted with, for instance, a potato planter in April, which sprout several weeks later. since such sprouting can be very different, in terms of both growth direction and sprouting time, subsequent (mechanical) weed control is extremely difficult. We don’t know any approved compounds for chemical weed control in German-speaking world.

The third and last planting method is planting of pre-grown Virginia mallows. We offer 4×4-cm pressed bales for larger areas; moreover, some of them in a 9-cm pot and in small amounts of pieces also perennial rhizomes of Virginia mallow (see pictures below).

In general, we can say that the larger your planting area is, the smaller (and more profitable) is the plant to be chosen. While hunters (for wild animals protection), beekeepers (for bee pastures) and private garden owners order rather larger plants, a farmer has, from the economic point of view, rather only a possibility to plant smaller young plants for an area of several hectares.

 

Planting Virginia Mallow

Root pieces are very sensitive to drying, so they must be planted as soon as possible after being unpacked (planting time: End of March to at latest mid-May).

Virginia mallow can be planted with earth bales year-round, from April to September. Along with the main planting season in spring, (late) summer is also of interest for
planting, since weed pressure decreases here essentially and the plant can be set very well for sprouting in the subsequent spring. Recommended planting distances reach 75 x 75 cm to at most 85 x 85 cm (about 14,000-18,000 pcs/ha) for rooted plants and a little thicker for planting root pieces with 20,000–30,000 pieces, because reduced growth must also be taken into account here. With regard to the harvest, it is recommended to shape the areas as rectangularly as possible and pay attention to their accessibility to heavy harvesters.

Root pieces are planted to the depth of about 5 cm in light soils and down to about 8 cm in heavy soils. The most cost-effective planting is with an old modified potato planter. The dropping tube shall be replaced with a polocal tube of about 15-20 cm in diameter. For successful growth, an optimal soil contact is necessary, so it is important that the planter is equipped with pressing rollers. Surface must be rolled additionally, especially in case of light soils and dryness.

Young rooted plants can be planted with a row of conventional planters used in cultivation of vegetables or in tree nurseries. For smaller areas, of course, it is possible to do it manually. In general, it should be noted that a higher planting stock means quicker closing of the stock, and so the expenses for weed control can be reduced significantly.

Virginia Mallow Protection and New Growth Aftercare

In the first year, weed control, along with the plant quality, is the key factor for the success of planting Virginia mallow. After the second year, a partial harvest of about 30 % of the full yield can be expected, but it is not profitable yet. In the third year, the first full harvest will be gathered. We cannot recommend any specific means of chemical weed control. Alternatively, it is relatively easy to ensure mechanically keeping the lane free, while something can then be made manually; however, Virginia mallows can mostly grow without that. Generally, the following applies here, too: Who keeps the field free from weeds in the first, maximally in the second year as well as possible, he/she will be reqarded with long-term rich yields.

Otherwise, according to our knowledge, there have not occurred any noteworthy pests or diseases in the crops, apart from partial yellowing for an unknown reason. However, this may freely change at extensive plantings in the long run, which is why we recommend to cultivate different energy plants. A good combination for Virginia mallow would be to plant (block by block) robinia or paulownia.

Should Virginia Mallow Be Fertilized?

Since the large part of the accumulated nutrients and of the assimilates formed is repositioned into the thickened roots starting from early autumn, possible fertilization is only necessary on a limited basis. Falling leaves remain in the field as mulch layer. Basically, no fertilization is necessary, so there can just be light (organic) nitrogen portions to be introduced in spring, before sprouting (March).

Useful Life and Liquidation of Virginia Mallow

This crop lives about 20-25 years (max. 30), whereby you can expect one to two vegetation periods as setting stage, 20-25 years as the main use stage, and about five years as the stage of subsequent use.

To eliminate the crop, the field must be tilled with a grubber to the depth of 30 cm as soon after the last harvest as possible. Then root bales are milled, so that Virginia mallows die from drying. Sprouting root pieces are eliminated at the stalk length of 20-40 cm either chemically or mechanically.

To achieve the relevant competitive pressure, you can cultivate a nitrogen-consuming catch crop forming the strong above-ground mass. The first regular successive crop can then be expected in autumn.

How Is Virginia Mallow Harvested?

This crop is practically always harvested using conventional maize harvesters. Period from December through April has proven to be the best time for harvesting, ideally being March/April. A week of sunshine before harvesting would be an advantage, in terms of reducing the water content. The latter one must be as low as possible (10−20 %), since a higher humidity (>25 %) may cause heating and mold growth in the chopped material. Chopped material usually has a good storage stability. A condition for a relevant quality of the chopped material is the harvesting technique and using high-quality blades. Moreover, it is a key condition that you have enough material to chop − we recommend a cutting height of 10-15 cm. Chopping length should be 2−3 cm, while the materials should be chopped across the bowing-down direction. Another possibility is to press it to large bales that can also be burnt in whole by large combustion plants.

Here is also our video on Harvesting Virginia Mallow with a Chopper:

 

Bowing Down (Breaking Down of Virginia Mallows in the Field)

In dry and/or continental locations, it is no problem, since there is no much snow here. In snowy regions and with early, heavy snow already in about October, bowing down the plants can matter. This may complicate harvesting, which may, of course, lead to cost disadvantages. In general, harvesting is also possible in this case, ideally across the bowing-down direction.

Harvest Yields of Virginia Mallow

Yields are strongly affected by the soil quality, water supplies, and temperature of the location. Average dry mass yields (DM-yields / absolute dry tons*): 7,000−12,000 kg/ha from the 3rd year (equivalent to about 40-70 m³ of harvested material, loose). This amount must always be considered as related to the yields of other crops in (below-)average locations! We find the sources, according to which Virginia mallow can reach up to 40 tons of dry mass per hectare each year, too excessive and not achievable.

* 1 absolute dry ton corresponds with a ton of biomass calculated down by 0 % of water content.

Verwertung Sida-Hackgut

Harvested material (chopped material) of Virginia mallow is currently mostly used in heating. As a simple and advantageous substitution for wood chips, it contributes to the guaranteed supply for biomass heating plants or is cultivated in agriculture for self-supply. Trials to press Virginia mallows to pellets or brickets were very positive, while the current trend is rather to use brickets due to the optimal energy input/output ratio. Of course, chopped Virginia mallows can be used in pressing molded parts, manufacturing insulation materials, or utilizing as the second-generation biofuels. The latter applications are currently supposed as just experiments for the reasons of their costs. Chopped Virginia mallows can also be thought of as animal bedding, for instance, for horses or, like miscanthus, as garden mulch. Based on the manageable size of the planted areas, there are no considerable considerations in this direction.

An important positive factor is the considerably easier burning of chopped Virginia mallows as compared to, for instance, the chopped elephant grass. Unlike miscanthus, Virginia mallow does not need any changes in conventional wood chip oven, and there is no need for fears regarding aggressive constituents, according to the current state of the art.

At first glance, bee pastures and energy crops do not always combine. This may be a mistake, what we are going to show you below in this report 🙂

Bee pasture = nature, while energy crop = overexploitation?

No! Neither is each planting of a bee pasture necessarily environmentally good nor are energy crops as such “harmful.” As it often happens, this depends on the smart usage.

We at Energiepflanzen.com come, as the name suggests, from the “Corner of Energy Crops.” However, we have noticed a strongly growing interest of beekeepers in our energy plants for a couple of years already.

Why is it?

Particularly, those beekeepers thinking outside the box and trying to integrate larger correlations into their work with bees discovered energy crops as bee pastures.

Considerable advantages thereof:

  • Multiple applications: A flowering energy crop provides both bee food and woods / wood substitutes.
  • Permanent crops: Bee pasture energy crops offered by us are generally all extensive permanent crops demonstrating a useful life of 20-25 years in average.
  • Ongoing bee pastures provide not only short-term pollen, such as oilseed rape, but also, beyond their flowering time, valuable retreat locations for insects and also for larger wild animals.
  • Bee pasture energy crops reduce erosion, improve microclimate, and structure open agricultural landscapes

Here you can choose from our rich offer of bee pasture plants (further below): Most popular bee pasture energy crops

Among energy woods (=energy wood) robinia (acacia, Robinia pseudoacacia Nijsegi) is certainly the most popular one. It provides beekeepers with very intensive flowering starting from the 3rd-5th year of standing already and the relevant honey harvests, and it also produces extremely hard and dry (about 35% in harvesting) wood. This is why robinia is often used outdoors for playgrounds, yards, terraces, etc.

Then follow various energy crops that also create a very valuable bee pasture. As very timely catkin-bearing trees, they belong to the very first bee plants in the year.

Among herbaceous or shrub-like growing energy crops (energy shrubs), the cup plant (Silphieum perfoliatum) currently experiences a real boom as bee pasture! Since farmers found out that it is really close to the maize harvests in producing biogas and, at the same time, does not need much cultivation, the cup plant has been widely cultivated in Germany.

Not as well-known as cup plant, Virginia mallow bzw. 

And feel free to contact us by e-mail or phone at: +43-6213/69 956 for any personal questions regarding Bee Pasture & Energy Plants!

Virginia Mallow Flowers

Further Information on Virginia Mallow

Our Video with Further Information on Planting, Cultivating, Harvesting, and Using Virginia Mallow:

Johannes M.’s family, Burgenland, Austria in March, 2019

Dear Ms. Asen,

Today, we have received the goods! The plants are of top quality! Thank you for your efforts, we highly appreciate!
We are looking forward to rhizomes.

Best regards,
Johannes and family


Johannes, July, 2017


Steffi D., Saxony-Anhalt, Germany in August, 2017

Hello, Mr. Sperr,
the plants have grown perfectly, and they are flowering now already!
Well, everything is ready to start for my bees for the next year.
Thank you very much once again, and best regards.
Steffi D.


Ingo M., Schleswig-Holstein, Germany in May, 2015

Hello. I’m happy to reply to you. The plants are rising very differently. I have a high weed pressure. What herbicide do you use? What was the optimal planting depth. Some plants are only coming up now. Other ones are about finger-strong. Growth is about 50 %
What am I doing wrong? Starting in 2016, I’d like to plant some 5-8 thousand more.
Otherwise, optimal order processing.
Looking forward to the next order.
Ingo M.

Mr. Ingo M., Schleswig-Holstein, Update in July, 2015

Although the weed pressure is high, I’m surprised very much how strongly the plants develop, as soon as they

see the sun. We’ll see in autumn. Some of them are almost 1 m. Enormous. I had the recommended planting depth. Then I’m excited about those coming on
I’m disposed really positively. I’m going to continue and then happy to share my experiences. In autumn, I’m going to make a new order. Thanks a lot. So long, Ingo M.


Thomas B., Bavaria, Germany, on July 12, 2015

Outstanding support, great business partner, thank you!

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