Text by Michele Le Strange, UCCE Master Gardener Adviser, Emeritus
ooking for a drought-tolerant plant with plenty of summer color for your yard? Look no further than lantanas!
Lantanas thrive in the full sun and heat of our summers in the valley. Their roots prefer warm soils and light watering, which is uncharacteristic of so many plants.
When planting lantanas for the first time in the garden, it is best to wait until late spring. They will grow rapidly all summer and fall, then usually die back to woody stems with the first frost in winter. But don’t despair; most will survive even a sudden frost and resume their growth in spring.
Many lantanas, members of the verbena family, are native to tropical areas in North, Central and South America. They have dark green simple leaves, often with toothed edges and born in opposite pairs along a stem. The crushed foliage has a pungent odor that some people find objectionable, but it is also easy to grow accustomed to. If grown in dense shade, the foliage can get mildew, but this is rarely a problem here. Lantana flowers are attractive to butterflies, moths and birds. However, the blackberry-like fruit is toxic.
Another reason why we like lantanas is the profusion of color they provide throughout the entire growing season. They produce tiny flowers in tight clusters that look like miniature nosegays. Both “old-fashioned” and newer hybrid lantanas come in vibrant multicolors, which
are perfect for summer pizzazz in the landscape. Several varieties are available as one solid color. Most nurseries carry several different cultivars.
The first big decision you need to make is which growth habit best fits your garden design or patio planter. Lantanas grow in four forms: large, loose and informal shrub; round mound and more formal shrub habit; low, spreading, groundcover, and a dwarf compact habit. Shrubby kinds are used as low hedges or foundation plants. Spreading kinds are excellent groundcovers that are effective, spilling over raised beds, planter boxes or hanging baskets.
After you determine which growth habit best suits the location where you want to plant, all you need to do is select which color best fits your landscape decorating theme. The multicolor “confetti”-like colors instantly create a festive mood in your garden or patio decor.
Lantana montevidensis is known as the trailing lantana. Lantana camara is the taller shrub. In today’s market, we buy hybrids or selections of the two species. Here are a few that are commonly seen:
- “Confetti” blossoms are a mix of yellow, pink and purple.
- “Cream Carpet” blossoms are cream with a bright yellow throat.
- “Gold Rush” blossoms are a rich golden yellow.
- “Spreading Sunset” blossoms are vivid yellow-orange red.
- “American Red” blossoms are bright red with yellow, 4-6 feet tall and wide.
- “Radiation” blossoms are rich orange-red, 3-5 feet tall and wide.
- “Irene” blossoms are magenta and lemon yellow, compact 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide.
- “Dwarf yellow” blossoms are yellow, 2-4 feet tall and wide
- The “Patriot” series offers a variety of lantanas in heights (tallest to shortest) that are marketed as pillars, classics, ponies, petites and weepers.
Lantanas tolerate pruning well — during winter, they can be cut back heavily to limit size the following spring. During their growing season, only an occasional snip here and there is needed to keep plants in check.
After planting, sit back and watch the butterflies come to visit the flowers.