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Gardener's Dirt: Lantana - tough like nettles; dainty in blooms

By By Jean Wofford - Victoria County Master Gardeners
July 19, 2013 at 2:19 a.m.

This trailing white lantana is the one mentioned in this article that came back from small remaining roots after the rest of it was removed due to a house leveling project at Master Gardener Jean Wofford's home.  It is a prime example of tough, but dainty.

Reasons to PLANT LANTANA

• Drought/heat resistant

• Salt resistant

• Deer resistant

• Fast grower

• Easy to care for

• Few, if any, pests

• Dies back in winter; comes back in spring

• Blooms profusely colorful, dainty flowers

• Nectar is food source for butterflies

• Berries attract birds that spread its seeds

PRECAUTIONS:

• Poignant odor

• Sticky leaves

• Thorny stems

• Purple-black berries poisonous to livestock and humans

• Insecticidal soaps kill it

• Some varieties can be invasive

SUGGESTED LANDSCAPING VARIETIES

• "Anne Marie" - pink with yellow and gold

One of shortest varieties (12-14 inch tall/wide)

• "Cup of Gold" - yellow gold

Compact alternative to "New Gold"

• "Fireworks" - orange with yellow and red

Compact alternative to "Texas Lantana"

• "Red Spread" - true red with orange

• Half hardy - needs winter protection

• Trailing - white and lavender

• Cold hardy in our area

Source: Local landscapers

Every summer, I look around my yard to see what is flourishing in our hot, humid weather. I have several plants that really seem to love the heat and bloom steadily. One of these is lantana, so I decided to see what I could find out about it.

Determined to survive

Lantanas are very tough plants. I know that to be true because a few years ago, we had to have part of our house leveled. There were several white lantanas by the driveway that were dug up and given away. When I replanted, after the work was finished, I decided not to replant them.

Well, summertime came and guess what came with it - my white lantanas. Apparently, some of the small roots were left, and they came back up. Showing such determination to survive, I decided to leave them - and I am glad I did.

Origins

In my research, one source said lantanas originated in the West Indies, and another indicated South America. Very little was written about this plant, but I did read that the wood is very tough and durable and has been used for wickerwork in some parts of the world.

With its survival characteristics, some varieties have become invasive in parts of Australia and Israel. I also read it has become an invasive problem in parts of Texas and Hawaii as well.

Its names

The original scientific name of lantana was Lantana horrida and refers to the tough characteristics of the plant, i.e., sticky leaves, frequent thorns on stems and, specifically, its very strong odor. Botanist August von Hayek renamed it Lantana urticoides because of its resemblance to nettles. I agree that lantana has a strong odor to those that are sensitive to it, but I see its beauty as a Texas native rather than it resembling a nettle.

Lantana urticoides is also known as Texas lantana (native to the Rio Grande Plains and Southern Edwards Plateau) and "Calico Bush" due to its dainty, patchwork flowers.

Propagation

Lantanas are easy to propagate by cuttings, by root or by seeds. I have only tried root propagation. Wait until the plant is dormant and dig up the plant. Just cut the roots apart and replant where you want them. Next spring, you should have a new plant.

You may want to take cuttings - and this can be done in the fall. Cut about 5-6 inch pieces, dip into rooting medium and plant in a pot with a good planting medium. I read you can also dry the black seeds that form in the fall and plant them.

Require little care

Once established, lantanas are very easy to care for. They are very drought resistant, deer resistant and good for coastal planting in being salt resistant.

I feed mine when I feed other plants, but I have some that never get water or plant food and seem to be as vigorous as the others. So I think they are very self-sufficient.

Pests

Once in a while, usually later in the summer, white flies may appear. I spray them with an insecticide, taking care not to treat with insecticidal soaps as I have read lantanas actually can die if treated with them.

Native lantanas

Lantanas grow wild on the ranch. They are the old-fashioned ones that are orange with yellow centers (and, occasionally, some are red). The botanical name for this kind is Lantana camara and is referred to as "bacon 'n' eggs" because of the colors. (Note: A non-native Lantana camara variety exists with pink and yellow flowers, giving it the nickname "ham 'n' eggs.")

Needless to say, "bacon 'n' eggs" are Texas tough because they never receive any care, and you know what our rainfall has been that requires them to be very drought resistant.

Colors

Lantanas can either be upright and bushy or make a sprawling plant. I have some trailing white lantanas that are upright and trail, and some yellow ones that make more of a sprawling, bushy plant. They are both very welcome during the heat of the summer when other plants are struggling.

Some lantanas are the old-fashioned kind with the orange circling the yellow center, pink with yellow center, very light lavender and white, and I recently saw some in a large pot that were dark red. I probably will look for and buy one of these. It was trained into tree form and made a very attractive plant.

Whichever kind and color, the lantana in your landscape can certainly be around for a long time in the toughest of Texas conditions.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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