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October 1, 2008 > Pat Kite's Garden: Lantana

Pat Kite's Garden: Lantana

By Pat Kite

I have developed an amazing liking for Lantana. The more I see how it survives prettily without a lot of water, enjoys ample sun, yucky soil, and occasional neglect, the more I respect this hardy evergreen shrub. Lantana is all over the place in the Tri-City, often in parking strips. In case you don't put the name and the plant together, Lantana is the low-growing shrub with the many flower bunches that look like little bi-colored bouquets. It's most often seen festooned with lavender shades or orange with yellow center. However there is a pink and yellow centered, and red with orange center. There is even an all white version. Lantana leaves are medium green, wrinkly and somewhat hairy. They have a somewhat spicy-musk aroma, evident after picking, which doesn't make them ideal for indoor dˇcor, although it's doable. In the past, the quasi-unpleasant scent made it a favorite remedy for snakebites in some areas, and as a tonic for assorted miasmas.

Lantana varieties come from tropical areas, probably arriving in North America in the 15th or 16th century via ships carrying assorted cargo. If you check it out on the Internet, you may find it classified as a "weed," especially in Australia. But that was before French hybridizers got a hold of more subtle varieties. What happened in the past was Lantana tiny blue-black seeds dropping on the ground, getting excited about their new birthplace, and doing a takeover job. But today's garden-center versions, the ornamentals, have no such problem. There are completely sterile types now available; definitely seek them out. Among them are Lemon Swirl, Weeping Lavender, Patriot Deen Day Smith, Dwarf Pinkie and New Gold.

If you have been putting in butterfly and hummingbird plants, Lantana is a good item for your collection. There is shrub Lantana, about 4-feet tall, alternately called Lantana camara or shrub verbena, and the trailing version, Lantana montevidensis. The latter looks nice in hanging pots, but I find it takes a little bit more water than the shrub kind. But even the shrubs have to get occasional water to be heartily encouraged, especially for a month or so after planting. Fertilizer is generally unnecessary.

Lantana blooms from spring until frost. If the shrubs get too lively for you, just clip away in the spring and water afterward. Again, this is a full sun plant. If you put it in a shady area, it will get powdery mildew. If you water too much, you might get root rot.

Once it gets going, "hot and dry" is Lantana's motto.

Fellow gardeners, winter is wandering in. I am trimming and tidying, and, once again looking for empty spaces and garden catalogues. Caio.

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