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Skaggs: Brighten a parched landscape with lantanas
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If your lawn and landscape are like mine, things are looking rough right now. The plentiful rains of May and early June have given way to a mostly parched July. However, all is not lost. If you'd like to add a splash of drought-tolerant color to your yard, plant lantana.

Lantana is commonly grown as a sun-loving flowering annual in much of the Southeast. A few cultivars are reliably perennial throughout much of the state. All are tough, resilient plants that thrive in hot weather and bloom profusely from spring until frost.

Some cultivars grow to as much as 5 to 6 feet tall, forming large, bushy mounds while others stay low and spreading, reaching up to 4 feet wide but only 1 to 2 feet in height.

A heat-lover, lantana thrives in full sun. While tolerant of poor soil, lantana prefers well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Lantana is a rapid grower and some cultivars, such as Miss Huff, are extremely vigorous. If plants outgrow their assigned space, they tolerate trimming back well during the growing season.

Lantana is valued for its long season of reliable bloom. Many cultivars display multiple colors within each 2-inch-wide, disc-shaped flower head. The flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Lantana works well in flower beds or large containers. Spreading cultivars are attractive as groundcovers or trailing over retaining walls.

As for maintenance, newly planted lantanas will need to be watered two to three times a week for the first few weeks until the roots have spread into the surrounding soil. Once established, lantana is very drought tolerant. During their blooming period, a thorough watering just once a week will keep them looking good. Be sure to avoid over watering as the plant will be more susceptible to diseases and root rot.

Lantana can be pruned periodically during summer by lightly shearing the tip growth to encourage repeat blooming. Plants that have become too large for their allotted space may be pruned back by up to a third of their height and spread. Water and lightly fertilize newly cut back plants and they will return to bloom quickly.

Prune perennial lantanas back hard in spring to remove old growth and prevent woodiness. Cut back to about 6 to 12 inches from ground level. Avoid hard pruning in fall as this can cause reduced cold hardiness.

Lantana requires little fertilizer. A light fertilization in spring will usually be sufficient. Vigorously growing plants may be fertilized again in midsummer, provided plants are not water stressed. Excessive fertilizer may reduce flowering and make plants more susceptible to disease.

Some cultivars produce small blue-black fleshy fruit. The fruit can be poisonous. Fruiting can be avoided by growing sterile cultivars. Sterile cultivars, which are available, include new gold, lemon swirl, miss huff, mozelle, patriot, weeping lavender and weeping white.

Poor blooming is usually caused by too much shade or excessive fertilization. Plants that set berries may decline in bloom. Plants may be pruned back to encourage new growth and flowering.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.

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