Lantanas provide color from spring 'til frost
By By Steve Strong / horticulture agent
June 4, 2003
Few summer flowering perennials have gained favor with Mississippi gardeners like the heat-loving lantanas. Offered in a variety of forms from upright shrubs to trailing mounds, lantanas come in almost every color of the rainbow and will bloom for six entire months in the right growing conditions.
Lantana is native to South America and the tropics, and over the years has become naturalized in parts of Mexico and the southwestern United States. As members of the Verbena family, lantanas are adapted to hot dry climates and thrive in sandy or rocky soils in full sunlight.
Similar to verbena, lantana has toothed leaves that grow opposite from one another on square stems, with an aromatic fragrance to the foliage. The showy flowers are what everyone is after. They are available in mixed color combinations or in single shades of yellow, orange, pink, red, white and lavender.
Tiny individual blooms are borne in umbrella-shaped clusters 2 inches across, and their tubular shape makes them a favorite choice for butterflies. Whether it's the nectar the flowers make or the insects they attract, lantanas seem to draw hummingbirds on a regular basis too.
Lantanas have been an heirloom in southern gardens for generations, passed along as cuttings from one backyard to the next. One particular variety is known to many as "Ham and Eggs" with its bright pink, yellow, white, and orange flowers opening together in the same flower cluster.
Another variety at the top of my list for tall upright growth habit and perpetual blooming is "Miss Huff." This plant produces striking purple and orange flowers throughout the summer and can easily reach a height of 6 feet before frost kills it to the ground.
Trailing forms of the plant have become some of the most popular varieties, with the Mississippi medallion winner "New Gold" leading the pack. This sunny yellow bloomer forms a 3-foot mound that cascades in a trailing habit, and like "Miss Huff" has an added advantage of not producing seed (Lantana berries are poisonous and should not be eaten many of the older varieties do produce the toxic fruit).
Pruning off the dead blooms after flowering prevents fruit formation, and enhances repeat flowering. Lantanas also respond well to periodic fertilizing that encourages new stem growth and prolonged blooming (either liquid or granular plant food can be applied every four to six weeks during the growing season).
Lantana pest problems include red spider mite and leaf miner, which appear more often during hot dry summers. Lacebugs can be a real headache, too, but they seem to attack the newer trailing varieties the worst (many of the low growers are also less cold hardy and may require replanting each year as an annual).
Do not let a few occasional insect pests prevent you from trying lantanas in your flower garden, especially the newcomers in the "Son" series "Sonset," "Sonrise" and "Samson." Each sports bold summer color combinations of red, orange, and yellow, with a medium height of 4 to 5 feet, and little or no fruit production.
Plant them with other sun-loving butterfly companions such as bee balm, coneflower, and rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan), and don't forget to add a few host plants for larva food like wormwood, hibiscus, and fennel.
Zinnia, cosmos, and pentas are just a few annual choices to complement a perennial border that is just not quite complete without the ever-blooming lantana.