To see lantana in all its glory, visit Palm Springs on an average 110-degree summer’s day. Mounds of them in public landscaping are still intense when the mercury nudges 120. This tells you that no matter how hot it is where you live, lantana can take it and keeps on blooming. In fact, it does even better in blast furnace conditions.
There’s been a lot of lantana breeding, particularly in Texas where they are essential plants for that buggy climate. It’s because lantana is so soil-rich in pungent oils that virtually nothing will eat it. That’s a big benefit for those with rabbits and deer too. Their chief enemy is frost, so they are considered annuals in temperate climates. Where frost is minimal, they become long-lived perennials.
Here are some basics before you buy a bunch of them to brighten up your dry garden for the summer:
EXPLORE AVAILABLE COLOR
Bush lantana produces flower clusters that are unique. If you’ve never studied them closely, perhaps it’s time to get out the glasses and take a look. This is one of the few plants on earth that produces flowers of vastly different colors on the same stem. As a result, breeding has produced some really amazing combinations.
Bright reds and rich oranges are the original hot colors of old bush lantanas. While intense and floriferous, hot hues aren’t for every garden. Lots of hot color isn’t always beloved in the heat of summer. It also doesn’t fit into every garden’s palette.
Varieties that feature hot or soft pinks are among the loveliest up close. They blend into a cottage garden scheme better than the common red/orange group. These pastel hues are at home with drought-resistant perennials without overwhelming them both literally and visually.
Solid flower color lantanas are subtler, which matters a lot when you’re seeking a certain look. A good example is yellow lantana. Some are bright lemon yellow while others are creamier looking, and still more a much darker gold hue. Although all yellows may appear identical to the untrained eye, when blended with other colors they are distinctly different. The yellow-flowered variety you choose can make or break that planting composition.
GET THE RIGHT HABIT
A big old lantana, usually the upright bush type, can take over much space and seed itself into an invader. These are all too often shorn down to size because they get so huge without frost. Creeping lantana tends to produce solid color flowers. The most well known are a canary yellow. A spreading lavender with smaller foliage offers the flattest habit of all. They work beautifully when combined because yellow and purple are nearly complementary colors, which together produce a vivid dynamic.
SEEK STERILE HYBRIDS
The latest innovation in lantana breeding is sterile flowers. It’s well known that seedlings often pop up around mature plants wherever black fruits form after flowers fade. These future volunteers are highly variable in color and habit, with some of them quite weedy-looking. This is why sterile flowers are important to gardens in mild climates where every seed will sprout and flourish.
The best way to peruse all the varieties available is to go online where breeders show off their most important new introductions. These plants are available in small containers through most local garden centers. Purchase in quart-sized containers or one gallon for quicker color. Choose in bloom to know exactly what you are getting. Plants with a detailed tag or pots from a branded grower are sure to be reliable.
In a hot, dry year, reconsider lantanas and all their new forms and colors to fill gaps where drought has taken older plants. Use them to fill in between succulents and cacti until they reach larger sizes. Plant them in pots on your patio, porch or balcony. Then sit back and watch butterflies and hummingbirds pollinate up close and personal all summer long.