By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider, Master Gardeners
Lantana! My favorite plant (Debbie, not Emmy). I’ve had these plants and kept them alive even before 2013. That is when I became a Master Gardener and learned what it takes to make things grow in West Texas.
This genus contains 150 species and may be known to you as verbena. They can grow low to the ground or resemble a shrub.
Our native lantana, just like native Texans, is tough, durable and nearly indestructible. Lantanas belong in the Verbenaceae family which includes verbenas and two other natives, beebrush and frogfruit. Native Texas lantana, Lantana urticoides, provides color in those hot, sunny, problem areas from May to November and seems to bloom more the hotter it gets! It is deciduous so summer color gives way to gray stems in winter.
Flowers appear on new wood so to keep it manageable cut back aggressively after the last frost.
Lantanas are planted in the spring when the last frost is over. I find that new growth is slow to appear the next year, so don’t give up and grab your shovel! Once the weather starts to stabilize and get warm, they really start growing. Mine are planted in a 4’ wide bed and grow over the sidewalk on both sides. I use an electric hedge trimmer to cut them back once during the summer. This promotes more flowers for the remainder of the season.
This plant grows in full sun with well-drained soil and can survive in dry conditions. They don’t like wet roots so is a great addition for the Permian Basin. Fertilizer is not required.
In areas that receive more rain, Lantana can be considered invasive. I find that new plants come up nearby but are easily pulled or given to friends as a pass along plant.
Lantanas, including Texas lantana are poisonous to mammals including dogs and humans. The beautiful, dark purple berries can be especially attractive, so plant lantana where small children and dogs will not be tempted. Birds, however, will readily eat the berries and spread the seeds. For bees and butterflies, lantana is a nectar magnet. If you want to native butterflies from the showy swallowtails and monarchs to the smaller hair streaks and skippers, plant lantana!
AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700 for more gardening information. Additional information is available at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu and westtexasgardening.org.