Originally posted April 2011
After we celebrate a late Easter holiday this weekend, we can begin to think about what we’d like to plant for summer color in our landscapes. By May 1st, most of our perennials should be showing at least a few sprouts above ground whereby we can avoid planting on top of them.
If you have a full sun area that you’d like to fill with color all season, lantana would be my recommendation to you. Lantana is natively a tropical plant, but it is also considered a tender perennial. This means if you are located in US Zones 8 -10, you may be blessed with your lantana returning year after year except in times of severe winters. Zones 7 and northward should consider lantana an annual; however it is a long-lasting one. Here in North Texas, I have gold lantana planted along the southern perimeter of my house and it has loyally returned for several years. I make a point to cut it back and cover it with plenty of mulch during the winter and I believe those actions, coupled with the southern exposure, assists with its successful return in the spring.
Lantana is a woody relative of Verbena and is available in several colors, among them; gold, orange-red, white, and purple. Lantana can also be found in several striking, bi-colored floret varieties including pink and gold, and orange and red. In North Texas, the ornamental will bloom spring through the first frost with a few periodic (one week) blooming breaks. I’ve noticed some websites mention deadheading these plants, but I do not find it necessary at all. In fact, once lantana is established, there isn’t much you need to do other than water it from time to time. It is quite drought tolerant and if its limbs get out of bounds, you simply trim them to the size you like. -And trimming the plant will not harm or stunt its flower power!
I often trim my lantana simply by mowing over it toward the end of summer, as by then, it has grown far over the border of my beds. When I do this, the air is filled with a powerful aroma. Some folks like it and others don’t. I find it exhilarating and lemony.
With regard to disease and pests, I have personally found lantana to be almost care-free. Unfortunately, I usually have an outbreak of spider mites in my front beds during the heat of the summer (sure is hard to get rid of those critters as they like to overwinter in mulch too!) A little maintenance spraying of horticultural oil at dusk usually gets them under control. I have also read that there exists a lantana lace bug that specifically attacks lantanas, although I have not experienced them in the many years I have grown the plant. Apparently the lace bug can affect flowering most of all. If you happen to get an outbreak of these small gray bugs usually found on the underside of the leaves, horticultural oil is an environmentally gentle remedy for them too. Lantana is tough and even the toughest of bugs, such as spider mites and lace bugs, will not take it down – especially if the bugs are treated early.
Lantana bedding transplants will do well planted directly into the soil, in containers and in hanging baskets. While lantana spreads very quickly, new dwarf varieties can be found if you prefer that your plants stay somewhat contained. On the contrary, you can find trailing types that will look beautiful cascading over tall containers and hanging baskets. In my experience, I have found the trailing types are usually of the purple hues.
While I definitely relish the fact every year lantana brings forth an instant bed of non-stop color for my front lawn, the most enjoyable part of the plant is the many butterflies it brings to my home. Lantana is like a magnet to butterflies and moths. If you take a really close look at its flowers, you will find a lantana flower head is actually made up of many tiny florets (some bi-colored as I mentioned earlier), so butterflies and moths have a smorgasbord of nectar to drink at each station!
If you chose to add a little lantana to your landscape, not only will you enjoy an almost care-free, beautiful blooming plant that will likely return year after year, you will also love the many multicolored flying jewels it brings your way!
Until next time,