Lantana, ‘Sunny Side Up’

August 29, 2015 garden at dusk 004~

I was given a pot of Lantana, ‘Sunny Side Up’ last week to trial in our garden by friend and horticulturalist Joel Patton, who owns our local Homestead Garden Center.  Joel knows that I love trying new plants.  Joel also knows that I especially love Lantana for its butterfly magnet blooms. We have steered several friends his way to find Lantana plants for their own gardens.

Joel told me this plant is a new introduction in the series of hardy, perennial Lantana developed by plantsman Mike Dirr of Plant Introductions, Inc.  Mike found the Lantana cultivar now known as ‘Chapel Hill Yellow’ growing in his daughter’s garden in Chapel Hill, NC in 2005, and took notice when it returned, covered in golden yellow blooms in 2006.  After finding L. ‘Chapel Hill Yellow,’ he has been working with hybrid crosses using the cold hardy L. ‘Miss Huff,’ maternal parent of ‘Chapel Hill Yellow’, to develop even more cold hardy Lantana hybrids.  It is a good story, especially for those of us interested in how new plants come to the trade.

Mike’s story is a good story, too.  You can read about his work to develop better ornamental plants at an abandoned hog farm, now converted to a nursery, in Watkinsville, Georgia.  His company  now offers seven new Lantana cultivars, all of which prove drought tolerant, cold hardy, and offer a superior number of blooms with attractive foliage.

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Newly planted Lantana, 'Sunny Side Up' near our new Crepe Myrtle, 'Delta Jazz.' It has been a busy weekend in the garden.

Newly planted Lantana, ‘Sunny Side Up’ near our new Crepe Myrtle, ‘Delta Jazz.’ It has been a busy weekend in the garden.

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I am excited to grow out this gift of L. ‘Sunny Side Up’ to see how it performs in our garden.  This is considered a ground cover Lantana, growing to only  about 18″ but forming a wide, 3′ clump each year.  After debating for a day whether to plant it in a large pot or in the ground, I opted to plant it in a new bed I constructed yesterday for some Iris starts.  As pretty as I know it would look in a pot, I wanted to give the Lantana the best possible chance to establish and survive our coming winter.

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We began this area in the spring with the additional of a new Magnolia shrub, surrounded with perennials. I've just extended the bed another 15' or so to accept some new Iris, perennials picked up at the Heath's nursery in Gloucester two weeks ago, and now the beautiful Lantana. The shrub in the middle is an Afghan fig transplanted a month ago for failure to thrive in its original spot. It likes the soil here better is now growing well.

We began this area in the spring with the addition of a new Magnolia shrub, surrounded with perennials. I’ve just extended the bed another 15′ or so to accept some new Iris, perennials picked up at the Heath’s nursery in Gloucester two weeks ago, and now the beautiful Lantana. The shrub in the middle is an Afghan fig transplanted a month ago for failure to thrive in its original spot. It likes the soil here better, and  now is growing well.

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We have had such great performance from most of the Lantana plants we’ve planted in this garden.  Although they don’t all return, those planted in the warmer, sunnier front garden have come back faithfully now over several growing seasons.

Deciduous, the leaves and flowers soon shrivel and drop after a hard frost.  We leave the woody plants in place over winter, waiting until early spring to prune back the old wood to less than a foot.  It may be that we could just leave last year’s structure to leaf out anew.  I may experiment with that this coming season.  The woody skeleton provides shelter for the birds all winter long as they play among the branches and search for those few remaining seeds.

The plants leaf out a little late; it is sometimes late April or early May before you can see the life still in the branches beginning to push out new leaves.  We have flowers by June and the plants grow prolifically on through frost.

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I stood by a single Lantana shrub earlier today which has already topped 6′ with another month or so left to grow.  It was covered in butterflies, with more coming and flying off continually as I took photos.  I don’t remember this one’s cultivar name, but I know it has returned faithfully each year since at least 2011.

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L. 'Sunny Side Up'

L. ‘Sunny Side Up’ has very deeply green leaves to set off it cream and yellow flowers.

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L. ‘Chapel Hill Yellow’ and L. ‘Sunny Side Up’ are only rated to Zone 7.  If you want to grow these beautiful plants as perennials further north give them a favorable micro-climate.  Plant them on the southern side of a wall or near slates, stones, or concrete paths; which will trap and reflect heat during the winter.

We appreciate that our Lantana have never been grazed by deer or affected by any insect pests or fungal disease.  In fact, we’ve planted a line of L. ‘Miss Huff’ at the front edge of our garden along the street.  They have survived several winters now, and are shoulder high this year.  We love watching the butterflies hovering around them as we come and go.

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'Miss Huff' Lantana growing along the street at the front of our garden in mid-August. 'Miss Huff' was one of the parents of 'Chapel Hill Yellow' and passsed on her cold hardiness to this new line of plants.

Miss Huff’ Lantana growing along the street at the front of our garden in mid-August. ‘Miss Huff’ was one of the parents of ‘Chapel Hill Yellow’ and passed on her cold hardiness to this new Lantana series.

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This plant addresses several needs of gardeners in our area, while also attracting butterflies and hummingbirds, and feeding birds from late summer through early spring with its abundant seeds.  It prefers full sun, though it will grow and flower with some partial shade.

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So please keep an eye out for Lantana as you shop your local garden center.

This is a very good plant to pot up now as you revive your planters for fall.  The rich reds, oranges, yellows and golds of its flowers combine well with fall color schemes.  It will flower non-stop until a hard frost, then continue to give your planter structure through the winter months.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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Our Lantana and rose bed last January after an ice storm.

Our Lantana and rose bed last January after an ice storm.  Even after a long harsh winter, nearly all of the Lantana plants survived to bloom this summer.

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“Miss Huff” Perennial Lantana

Perennial Lantana, 'Miss Huff'

Perennial Lantana, ‘Miss Huff’

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One morning last week my neighbor called to ask about the plants blooming along the street at the very front of the garden.  My neighbor is an artist and a gardener.  He and his wife have filled their bit of forest with Daffodils, Rhododendron, Azaleas, Magnolias, and lovely tall trees.

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September 8 2013 lantana 002

“Miss Huff” growing below Wax Myrtle, Myrica cerifera.  The Wax Myrtle branches are covered in berries, nearly ripe for the birds.

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He had noticed our bright orange and yellow flowers, and wanted to inquire about them since they were untouched by our shared herd of deer.

As you might imagine, few things make me happier than someone inquiring about beautiful plants.  I was happy to tell him all about our “Miss Huff” Lantana, and invite him to stroll about the garden to see the rest of our Lantana shrubs.

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"Miss Huff", growing along the street beneath the Japanese Box and Wax Myrtle are mostly left to take care of themselves. The walkers in our neighborhood enjoy watching the butterflies visiting the Lantana.

“Miss Huff”, growing along the street beneath the Japanese Box and Wax Myrtle are mostly left to take care of themselves. The walkers in our neighborhood enjoy watching the butterflies visiting the Lantana.

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We ended up going to Homestead Garden Center the next day and filling the car with nearly a dozen gallon pots of blooming Lantana for his garden.  The Pattons had all of their Lantana on the “end of season sale”, and so for a small investment my neighbor bought all the Lantana camara he could plant.  I’m looking forward to next summer when the beautiful golden orange flowers extend across the front of both of our properties.

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Bandana White Lantana.

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Most Lantana plants are treated like tender perennials in Virginia, and the tags generally say they are hardy in Zones 9-12.  “Miss Huff” is a cultivar reliably hardy here in Zone 7B.

Now, Lantana would be well worth the price and effort if they were only annuals.  They form dense, woody shrubs absolutely covered in flowers from mid-summer late into the fall.  They are the hubs of activity in our garden, attracting a constant stream of butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, bees, and song birds.  The birds find secure cover inside them and love the little berries which form once the flowers fade.

Even better, Lantana thrive in full, hot sun.  They require very little water, even in their first year.  Once established, their roots grow very deep into the Earth, keeping them well-supplied, even in drought.

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September 8 2013 lantana 004

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Nothing seems to faze them.  I’ve never seen one with any fungus or disease.  It is rare to even see a tiny hole in a leaf.  In fact, the leaves are toxic to most animals.  This has created a problem in tropical areas where Lantana camara has naturalized, as livestock who graze on them frequently grow ill and die.  South Americans have found ways to use the leaves medicinally to treat ulcers, and extracts made from the leaves are antibacterial and are used to treat other conditions as well.

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Bandana "Cherry Sunrise" Lantana

Bandana “Cherry Sunrise” Lantana

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I learned about Lantana many years ago when I first planted them in my Virginia Beach garden, on a bank at the front of the yard in full sun.  Once the leaves finally fall off in early winter, the woody skeleton of the plant is left. The birds dart in and out of the branches and peck at the remaining seeds throughout the winter. That first winter I didn’t know what to expect from them, but left them in place.  I trimmed them back to a few inches when the daffodils bloomed, planted some sort of other annual around their stumps, and didn’t give them much thought…. Until, one day I realized there was new growth coming from the stump and branches.

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Several years old now, these "Bandana" series Lantana grew to over 6' last summer. They definitely exceed the 24" of growth promised on their label. This mound is covered in butterflies from sunrise until after sunset.

Several years old now, these “Bandana” series Lantana grew to over 6′ last summer. They definitely exceed the 24″ of growth promised on their label. This mound is covered in butterflies from sunrise until after sunset.

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Within a few weeks the stumps had disappeared beneath vigorous new branches, and by mid-June they were blooming again.  Lantana are actually grown as shrubs further south, and grow larger and more vigorous each year.  In some tropical areas of the world, Lantana camara are considered an invasive species.  Their seeds are spread far and wide by the birds who feast on them.  This has not become a problem in the United States, although they have naturalized along the Southeast and Gulf coasts.

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Lantana in the butterfly garden get regular trimming back, and still fill the path.

Lantana in the butterfly garden get regular trimming back, and still fill the path.

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Moving to Williamsburg, one USDA Zone colder than Virginia Beach, I was concerned that I’d lost the joy of perennial Lantana.  When I talked to Andrew Patton out at Homestead, he assured me that “Miss Huff” had proven reliably hardy here in Williamsburg.

The front edge of our property is a very tough spot to garden.  The dirt is hard packed and poor.  The deer graze freely.  There is only a narrow patch of dirt between the road and a thick hedge of Japanese Boxwood and Wax Myrtle, Myrica cerifera, with established roots which soak up what water and nutrients nature might provide.  It is a long hike with a watering can, and too far for the hose.  Whatever grows in this strip must be mostly self-reliant.

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Lantana, "Confetti"

Lantana, “Confetti”

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So I bought enough “Miss Huff” plants, in little 4” pots, to plant in all of the open spaces between the shrubs along the street.  It was more an attempt to protect the little Camellia bushes I’d planted the year before from the deer’s grazing than a serious effort at flower gardening.  It took quite a bit of digging to break up the soil enough to even plant them, but I did, gave them a little mulch of compost, watered them, and waited to see what would happen.

That first year, the answer is, “Honestly, not much.”  They did bloom, but didn’t put on much growth.  Every year since, the “Miss Huff” Lantana have gotten bigger and more colorful.  All they get from me is a little topdressing of compost from time to time, a sprinkle of Osmocote or Plant Tone in the spring, and a little water in drought.  I cut them back hard when the daffodils come up and then wait for the show.

Our first spring in this garden, I ordered starts of Lantana from The Garden Harvest Supply Company for our new butterfly garden and the main flowerbed in the front yard.  I ordered for color and size, not for hardiness, and frankly I expected them to die over the winter.  I just wanted something drought tolerant that would fill the bed, attract some butterflies and require very little care during the season.  That first year I ordered some of the Carolina Series and some of the Bandana series plants.  At a little less than $3 per plant, they were a huge bargain.

The following spring, I tried to “pull out” some of the dead looking plants in the front bed to replace them.  Well, that was a huge problem.  You see, in just one summer, the roots had gone deep and wide.  It was like trying to dig up a tree with a trowel.  I got one or two out, then gave up.  In just a few weeks… You guessed it… there was new growth on the remaining plants.  They weren’t supposed to survive here, but they did.

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This Lantana, planted in June, has made good growth for its first year.

This Lantana, planted in June, has made good growth for its first year.

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Lantana leaf out relatively late in the season.  Patience is required.  The woody stumps aren’t beautiful in a springtime garden.  I’ve learned to plant bulbs around them, and to fill in with Violas, snapdragons, and other spring flowers and with perennial herbs like sage or thyme.  About the time it gets too hot for the spring flowers, the Lantana will green up and begin to take off.  Eventually you realize they have taken over the bed.  I tried to establish lavender in the bed with the Lantana, but have consistently lost the lavender by late summer because they can’t compete with the Lantana for light and air.

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Lantana, 'Sunny Side Up' is a new hybrid expected to be as hardy as 'Miss Huff,' one of its parents.

Lantana, ‘Sunny Side Up’ is a new hybrid expected to be as hardy as ‘Miss Huff,’ one of its parents.

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Since then I’ve planted Lantana of different varieties all over the garden.  Anywhere there is full sun, and I need something big and bright, in goes another Lantana.  I’ve stopped even reading the tag for hardiness.

There is a trailing lavender Lantana good for hanging baskets or ground cover that is especially pretty.  It is more reliable in the ground than overwintering in a basket.  There is also a lovely creamy white Lantana I like in pots.  I’ve even discarded a seemingly dead white Lantana from its pot, only to find it blooming a few weeks later where the root ball was “planted” to fill a whole in the yard somewhere.  That plant has come back consistently for two years now.

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"Carolina Cream" Lantana in a large pot with Persian Shield, petunias, and Plectranths.

“Carolina Cream” Lantana in a large pot with Persian Shield, petunias, and Plectranths.

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If you decide to plant Lantana, just keep in mind that you might not get a huge amount of growth the first year.  The tags predict growth of about 18-24”, with usually more spread than height.  You need to water regularly until the roots have a chance to grow; and fertilize, whether with compost, Osmocote, Plant Tone, or Neptune’s Harvest.  Plenty of food and water in the first year gives you the best display of flowers.

If your Lantana over winters, its roots have established and it will be much more drought tolerant in the second and subsequent years.  Cut back hard and feed in spring.  Lantana bloom on new growth, so it is fine to cut them back to 6-10” and then let them grow new branches.  Give the plants a few inches of fresh compost, and maybe a sprinkle of Plant Tone or Rose Tone.  After that, they’re on their own.  If you need to prune them during the season to give a nearby plant a chance at survival, you won’t hurt the Lantana.

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Last August we marveled at how high our Lantana grew in the front.  We could stand beside the bed with Lantana branches towering over our heads.  We are both tall, so the Lantana grew to more than 6’ in one season.  Our blissed out butterflies don’t even mind when we come close to enjoy them.  The hummingbirds gather to share the feast throughout the day, but fly off if we approach.  Lantana brings so much life to the garden, I’m happy to introduce them to my friends.

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All photos by Woodland Gnome

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