I’ve often found that visiting relatives in other areas of the country is a great way to discover and learn about new plants. The first time I came across Lantana was on a visit to my parents in coastal North Carolina during the summer. While visiting one of the attractions in the area I was drawn to a plant with a colorful yellow flower that was grown in all of the island beds in the parking lot. Despite the heat of a low country summer, these plants were loaded with pretty flowers. I got closer to investigate the plant further and found that the leaves had a scratchy texture to them but had a pleasant smell, not unlike a lemon. I just had to find out more about the plant so the next day I took a trip to a local garden center and that is how I discovered Lantana.
The flower reminds me of verbena and that shouldn’t be a surprise as Lantana is often called Shrub Verbena. It turns out that in particularly warm areas of the country it is a shrub and can get very woody stems and grow 4 to 6 feet tall. For most of us, however, this is a plant that we would grow as an annual flower and it comes in a variety of colors including the aforementioned yellow, orange, red, white, pink and purple. Often the flowers have multiple shades of color and they are equally spectacular in containers as they are as a bedding plant.
Lantana is very sensitive to cold and should be planted in the spring after the threat of frost has passed in your area. They may appear to grow slowly at first but once the heat of late spring and summer arrives look out! This plant loves the heat and once established they are tolerant of dry soil conditions. You may only have to water than once a week if you plant them in a flower bed but they may require more frequent irrigation if grown in containers which have a tendency to dry out quickly. The soil does not have to be particularly rich and too much fertilization will actually curtail flower production.
Since these plants grow quickly they sometimes need to be pruned. Just cut the plant back by about 1/3rd and they will bounce back quickly. You’ll notice that once a flower finishes it grows a cluster of green pods. These pods contain seeds and removing the pods will encourage flower production. Lantana is also resistant to diseases and most insects. Try not to water the leaves if possible but the biggest concern you’re likely to run into is overwatering them which can cause the roots to rot.
If all of these favorable characteristics are not enough Lantana are also attractive to bees and hummingbirds. If you have hot and sunny spots in your yard and need a plant that can stand up to those conditions then you should give Lantana a try. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!