Lantana —Summer Color That’s Tough as Nails
With recent improvements to this crop, there are many options to choose from; here are a few.
Lantana has undergone many improvements in the past few years, which is good because it was already a phenomenal plant to begin with. Depending on where you live in the United States, it is either an annual, perennial or woody shrub. In all parts of the United States though, these plants are disease resistant, drought tolerant, low fertility tolerant, insect attractants, bird attractants and constant full sun color throughout the spring, summer and fall. Forms are available with upright mounding growth habits (Lantana camara), trailing habits (L. montevidensis) and some intermediate habits.
Most of the varieties make great mixed container additions, but the more vigorous the cultivar the more likely it is to dominate other component plants. Also, as consumers forget to water throughout the summer, lantana will survive while other plants give up.
It is really hard to go wrong with lantana, but you can do it if you try. There are three things you can’t do with lantana: grow them in low light, grow them with wet feet and chill them with low production temperatures and cold, wet soil. Lantana cuttings and liners can even be damaged or delayed if they are chilled in shipment, so don’t put them in a cooler if you are ordering unrooted cuttings, keep them at room temperature until planting. Cuttings are also ethylene sensitive so expect some leaf curling when you take them out of the shipping container.
Ball FloraPlant’s two new series, Landmark and Lucky, look like a great step forward in disease-free uniform cultivars. These series are broken out by size and vigor. The Landmark series is the larger, more vigorous series and comes in a good mix of colors (Flame opens yellow and deepens to a dark rusty red, Gold is a traditional solid bright golden yellow, Lemon Frost opens pale yellow and fades to white, Peach Sunrise opens in yellow tones and deepens to a salmon peach, Pink Dawn opens pale pink yellow and darkens with age to a pale pink and Rose Glow [I think the most unique in the series] opens pink yellow and darkens to a uniform deep pink-rose). All the colors are matched for similar vigor and scheduling, but they will be large.
So if you have grown large varieties before and find they get away from you, try the Lucky series, which has a dwarf habit with less vigor. These plants may work better for you if you find lantana, in general, too vigorous. The series contains four shades of yellow (see Figure 1, page 16), and White (actually opens pale yellow and fades to clear white) was new in 2004.
Bodger Botanicals has released the MorningGlo series of lantana with a mounding habit, medium vigor and five colors. This series originated from American Daylilies, the same source as Patriot lantanas. With good breeding and names reflective of the colors they contain, it is a nice series for baskets and mixed containers.
Patriot lantanas are the result of breeding efforts from Jack Roberson and were released originally in the early 1990s. The different series are grouped by size and habit, from the Pillars with large upright growth to Petites and Weepers (trailing types); it is an impressive and pretty comprehensive series of patented hybrids. The whole line includes lots of great strong colors and multicolored forms as well.
There are also many unpatented forms on the market that can be a lower cost alternative for some growers.
As with any crop that performs this well over such a large area and provides wildlife with food or nectar, lantana has come under fire for invasivity. In the South it has become a disturbance species, filling in abandoned agricultural fields and other disturbed areas and spreading along fence rows. The form of lantana that has proven so aggressive is a L. camara — large, woody and thorned with profuse flowering and seed.
Bijan Dehgan, a University of Florida Environmental Horticulture professor, has been studying lantana seed production to give us a better understanding of which cultivars are prone to reseed into the wild. Dehgan found that seed production was always higher when there were many cultivars planted together and that less seed was produced when plantings were a monoculture of one cultivar. Kind of interesting. It appears that lantana likes to mix it up, and Florida ecologists already question how much genetic pollution has occurred between cultivated and native forms. However, Dehgan has also seen big differences between species, cultivars and forms of lantana in terms of the amount of seed they produce. ‘Gold Mound’ lantana (or any of the 20 other trade names this form is sold under) seems to produce very little seed, while the truly upright L. camara cultivars like ‘Miss Muffett’, ‘Radiation’ and the larger forms produce the most seed.
All this aside, lantana hybrids are still one of the strongest, heat- and drought-tolerant, summer-flowering crops we have. If you are looking for ways to stretch your season into summer this is a great option to look into. If you really want to do something different try growing some lantana standards. They would make a killer signature item for small market areas. Just use the larger lantana cultivars, and if you have a lot of free time, you can practice your grafting skills by getting one of the trailing forms grafted on the top.