The summer garden can be a challenge to even the most experienced gardener. But no matter what the weather conditions are, we still expect our gardens to be lush and colorful, which is why one of my favorite summertime annual plants is Lantana camara.
LANTANA IS A SUMMER FLOWERING ANNUAL IN OUR AREA, but will overwinter in Zone 8 or warmer. Also called shrub verbena, it has a reputation for being one of the toughest annuals and can be grown in the ground or in containers. The plants can grow from 1 foot to 3 feet tall, depending on the variety and growing environment. Some types have a low-growing habit, while others are almost shrub-like. Lantana can even be trained into a tree shape.
THE FLOWER CLUSTERS ARE SOMEWHAT FLAT and cover the stems all summer long. Lantana flowers include white, yellow, orange, red, pink, and purple, and many varieties have multiple colors on each flower cluster. Lantana attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Important note: the small berries the plant produces after flowering are considered poisonous.
GROW LANTANA IN FULL SUN, though it performs acceptably well in part sun. Wait until the weather is consistently warm before planting. Even the hottest and driest location will not reduce lantana’s vigor. Fertilization will help fill in the plant, but it also performs well in poor soil. Lantana foliage is thick, and a bright, grassy-green color. Leaves and stems are covered with hairs and small spines that can irritate the skin.
IF YOU WANT SUMMER COLOR in an area of your garden where you have never planted anything before, give lantana a try. This is one annual flower you can plant and almost forget, yet still be rewarded with lush growth and summer-long flowers.
SHELLY NOLD is a horticulturist and owner of The Plant Kingdom. Send stories and ideas to her at The Plant Kingdom, 4101 Westport Road, Louisville, KY 40207.
ASK THE GARDENER
By Angie McManus
Q I have a lilac tree and a branch just broke off. After I saw it off, should I brush an ointment or spray on the cut to prevent the tree from getting diseased?
A Before you prune out the branch that broke, make sure your cutting tools are sharp and clean so they produce a clean cut and prevent any potential disease spread. Make your cut as close to the next intersecting branch or main trunk as possible, but avoid cutting into the healthy wood.
It is not recommended to cover or apply anything to the end of the cut. It is better for the tree to heal over on its own. Annual maintenance will help the vigor and overall appearance of lilac. Spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs should be pruned immediately after they have finished blooming. Pruning too early will remove potential flowers, and pruning too late can make them more susceptible to winter injury. Dead or diseased branches should be removed as soon as you notice them.
Lilacs will benefit from being thinned, which means removing some of the older, woodier branches. This is especially true for the center of the plant; if it has not been thinned recently, it can become dense, which does not allow for good air circulation or filtered sunlight. Both can lead to disease problems.
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