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Lantanas are great for troubled garden spots

Brilliant colors adorn lantana from early summer through the first killing frost of autumn, as seen in May in Palm Springs, California. John Zvirovski / The Sun

Everyone has troubled growing spots in their yards and gardens and at the beginning of each summer, these challenges rear their ugly heads. Often it is an area of poor soil conditions and moisture retention. I call these dead zones or hot spots. Often we think planting cactus will be the solution to our problems. Although that is one option, it is not the only option.

One of the best plants I have found for these hot and dry areas is the series of lantana plants. Not only can they tolerate these conditions and sometimes even thrive, but they have good deep foliar color and bloom nonstop from early summer through the first killing frost during of autumn.

Commonly sold in the mass market, they are rarely sold in cell packs, but more as single plants. If covering large areas, these can get expensive; however, the plant itself will cover a good amount of space by the end of the season, so fewer are required for a nice effect.

Lantanas have small serrated leaves, with numerous branches that fan out to create a small bush-like form. As they grow, small clusters of flowers form at the ends of each growing tip, containing up to 30 blooms per head. These blooms come in colors of lavender, yellow, pink, red, blue, white and orange. As the flowers begin to bloom the older flowers will fade and contrast with the newer rich colors, giving each cluster a multi-hue appearance. Many of these can be quite eye-catching.

Grown as annuals in our region, these plants can reach heights of 8 to 12 inches tall by up to 3 feet across. As you can see, they will quickly fill a space in no time. Lovers of hot and dry locations in poor soils, they can also thrive in moist soils with fertile soil as long as they are well drained. I have hot spots that these fit the bill for color and size perfectly.

Native to the tropical areas of the Americas and Africa, they also thrive in Pacific locations and Australia, where some conditions can become very dry. In these places, some of the species of lantana can reach heights of up to 8 feet tall. Of course, these are areas that do not receive frost, and the plant can grow throughout the year without much rest. With trimming and pruning, these can be shaped into compact shrubs enhancing more blooms.

Many locations where these are native thrive without issue as they have few pests. Some areas call them noxious weeds as even herbivores shy away from eating them due to their leaves toxicity levels and the ill-effects they get from consuming them. In our northern world of annuals, these are all pluses as they are easy to care for and are pretty maintenance free.

Some other positive things they bring into the garden are a nice fragrance that seems to attract numerous butterflies and the ruby-throated hummingbird. Who doesn’t like to see a variety of activity such as that??

If you are looking for specific colors of lantanas, one of my favorites is the canary yellow blooms of “Lucky Pot of Gold.” “Luscious Grape” will produce clusters of beautiful lavender flowers, “Lucky Peach” will produce an orange-peach flower that fades to a peachy-pink color, and “Bandana Pink” creates blush pink flowers that age to a rich, pink hue. For an eye-catching hue, try the “Luscious Citrus Blend” with its rich orange and red flowers accented by bright yellow. These are just a few of the selections available in the market today in which to select the perfect specimen for your garden.

Lantanas are also a great choice for containers that may tend to dry out from time to time due to the owner forgetting to water. It is a great plant that is very forgiving in our times of absence and neglect. Plus, you only need one to fill a container to brimming full in a short time once the temperatures heat up.

Don’t give up on those troubled spots in the garden, as there is a solution for every dilemma in the plant world. Sometimes it just takes a little research and some good old-fashioned trial and error to know what works best for each individual situation. Gardening is always a work in progress and a learning experience for all of us. Never be defeated by things that work one year and don’t the following year as conditions change and as gardeners, we adapt to those changes.

Try a few lantanas in the garden this year to see how they perform in your troubled garden areas. I can almost guarantee that you will enjoy how they thrive and the color that they bring to the picture. Not only are those great features, but attracting the right kind of wildlife into the garden is always an added bonus for all to enjoy.

Lantanas may just be the answer you were looking for to resolve some challenging garden issues.