Blackwelder column: Lantana easy to care for

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 29, 2011

SALISBURY — Home gardeners often inquire about a flowering annual that can take sunny locations without the burden of irrigation and constant care.
Lantana is a flowering plant that easily adapts to locations that are both sunny and dry. Once established, these plants flourish as bedding plants in the landscape with very little care. However, these plants also adapt well to containers, serving as a focal point for decks and patios.
Lantana is actually a perennial of about 150 species of flowering plants in the verbena family.
Rowan County is on the border of which some cultivars can be half-hardy depending on the severity of our winters, so most of the cultivars sold are actually sold as annuals.
Lantana’s flowers are aromatic. providing gardens with a citrus-like fragrance. The flowers are borne as florets and can be solid colors of yellow or gold or a mix of red, orange, yellow, or blue and white. Other colors are being developed as new varieties are released each year.
One of the interesting characteristics of this flower is the flowers often change color as they mature, resulting in dazzling blooms that contain three separate colors. Masses of blooms of yellows and other pastel colors attract many different types of insects, birds and butterflies.
Lantana cultivars sold in our area are bred to be sterile producing abundant flowers and no fruit. Native non-sterile plants found in the Southwest produce fruit and less showy flowers. The leaves themselves are poisonous, but the fruit is a favorite with birds and other wildlife.
In the Western states, wild lantana is actually an invasive. It is such a weed in Australia that scientists tried to reduce populations by releasing an insect to help control the plant.
Keep newly planted lantanas moist for the first few weeks until the roots have spread into the surrounding soil. During their blooming period, irrigate about an inch of water a week, avoiding the foliage.
These plants may need to be pruned periodically during summer, tipping the new growth to encourage repeat blooming. A light fertilization in spring will usually be sufficient for this plant. Fertilize again in mid-summer and maintain irrigation to prevent stress and produce new flowers.
There are numerous cultivars available for all situations, some reaching a height of 6 feet, while others spread and trail only 12 inches tall. Miss Huff is a reliable cultivar that often comes back here each year. Check the tags for information about size, color and growth habit.
Go to http://www.clemson. edu/extension/hgic/plants/landscape/flowers/hgic1177. html for more complete information about this remarkable landscape flower.
Darrell Blackwelder is County Extension Director for Rowan County North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Reach him at 704-216-8970.