Plant of the Month
Lantana (Lantana camara)
Lantana loves summer sun. I have a shade garden but I love Lantana, so I use it in pots placed in a few precious sun spots. It’s a happy container plant, but it absolutely thrives in sunny beds and can be spectacular planted in mass.
Lantana is an all-time favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds. Its flowers are some of the brightest in the garden. Cheerful, heat- resistant, easy to grow, and flowering all summer long, Lantana has many cultivars, blooming in solid colors and bi- or tri-color combinations. It may be upright, mounded, or trailing, so be sure and check the nursery tag. I try different ones every year. My favorite (so far) is ‘Dallas Red’. It grows upright, as much as six feet high (in part sun!) and blooms solid red, then each blossom cluster re- blooms in yellow and pink.
All cultivars are undemanding, pest free, and low maintenance. Ordinary soil, even East Tennessee red clay, is just fine. Because Lantana likes hot weather, you probably won’t find it at nurseries until late spring, and it doesn’t take off until mid-June. It requires a small to moderate amount of water, adds brilliant color, attracts beautiful pollinators – what more could one ask?
Well, one could ask it to live through the winter, which it has done here but, more often, doesn't. The cultivar ‘Miss Huff’ is your best bet for wintering over, and chances are improved if it's in the ground, not a container, with a heap of mulch on top of it. Cut the plant stem a few inches from the ground in late fall, and do not bother the root. Next spring it will look well and truly dead, but it may surprise you with green shoots after you have given up on it. Farther south, it winters over routinely and can become invasive, but that is not a problem in East Tennessee.
One cautionary note: the fruit (clusters of BB-size green beads) can make you, your child, or your dog sick, if ingested. I deadhead the flagging blossoms for aesthetic reasons, before the green BBs form. It’s not necessary, and if you don't, just remember: Please don’t eat the Lantana. - by J. Worley
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