Every year, I have a plethora of annual flower container gardens because I like to try new plants and color combinations. This year will be no exception.
For the past several years I have been planting lantana. Native to South America, lantana is a shrubby annual in our region but can be grown as a woody perennial in warmer zones (USDA Zone 9). Lantana blooms all summer long, producing clusters of little flowers that look like bouquets. Many of the newer cultivars offer flowers in two to three bright colors within the same cluster, with the older individual flowers in the center of the cluster turning to a different color than the younger outer flowers.
What I like about lantana is that it is drought tolerant, blooms well in the heat of summer, attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, and has few pests. Plus, it is not a high-maintenance plant and does not require deadheading to keep flowering. You pretty much plant it and ignore it, other than admiring the pretty flowers.
Plant breeders have been working on developing a wider selection of lantana cultivars for gardeners. When selecting a lantana for your garden, check the plant tag. Lantana cultivars come in a variety of shapes, sizes and growth habits.
My recent favorites have been in the Bandana series because of their extraordinary flower colors. The cultivars include Bandana Cherry, Cherry Sunrise, Pink, Lemon Zest, Light Yellow, Peach, Red, Rose, White and Trailing Gold. I like Bandana Cherry Sunrise, Peach and Pink the best because of the spectacular contrast between the center and the outer flowers. Except for Trailing Gold, these Bandana cultivars generally grow about 20 inches tall and 24 inches wide. Trailing Gold is lower and wider in habit.
There are two other new notable lantana series you might encounter. One is the Bandito series, closely related to the Bandana series except these cultivars are more compact and bloom more freely. The series includes Bandito Orange Sunrise, Red and Rose.
The Lucky series of lantana are heavy bloomers and compact, growing only about a foot tall and wide. This series includes Lucky Lemon Glow, Pot of Gold, Pure Gold, Flame, Rose Sunrise, Peach, Lavender and White.
Extraordinary bloom color is one reason that I am gravitating toward lantana, but the other reason is the tobacco budworm. This dastardly little caterpillar feeds voraciously on my petunia and geranium flower petals and buds, destroying many flowers by late summer. The budworm leaves the lantana flowers alone.
One of the pyrethroid insecticides would provide fairly good control, but it would also be harmful to most of the beneficial insects that visit the flowers. A safer option would be one of the organic garden insecticides, containing either Spinosad or Bacillus thuringiensis, but it would require repeated spray applications for satisfactory results.
So because of this nasty green worm, I am trying different "spiller" options in my planters. Lantana is just one of them.
-- Garden Note
-- An important thing to know about lantana is that the green, unripe berries are toxic. Many of the new lantana that are prolific, continuous bloomers set fewer fruit than older cultivars.
-- Lantana leaves are also toxic to livestock. When brushing the skin, the leaves may also cause a minor skin irritation or rash in some people.
-- Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.