If you’re looking for a beautiful flowering ground cover to spruce up your drought prone landscape, lantana (genus Lantana) may be just the ticket. This low shrub can be used as a ground cover. Its bright, ever altering colors and its sweet aroma make it a pleasant addition to any drought garden.
Other common names include yellow sage, weeping lantana, Spanish flag, trailing lantana, shrub verbena, and polecat geranium.
Quick Facts about Lantana
Height: 3 to 10 feet
Lifespan: Frost tender perennial; annual in colder climates
Flowers: Umbels; clusters of variegated orange, red, pink, and purple florets
Seeds: Encapsulated in poisonous black berries.
Leaves: Ridged and dark green. Some are evergreen.
Regions: Can be grown in all zones.
Species: L. camara, L. montevidensis
The lantana is a low-growing shrub, typically reaching three feet in height. It has dark green leaves, and clusters of small flowers form from late spring to late autumn. Flowers may be solid colored or bi-color, in shades of red, pink, yellow, orange, white, and purple. The color changes as the flower matures, producing the multi colored effect. Green seed pods or black berries are produced after flowering.
In the temperate zones, where the plant must go dormant for the winter, it rarely exceeds three feet in height. In tropical regions, however, it may reach a height of ten feet.
The lantana is indigenous to Africa and the Americas. It grows rapidly in warm weather and can withstand some drought. Lantana dies back when temperatures cool. In the southern United States, it will fade in winter and return perennially. Extremely cold temperatures kill the plant, and it must be replaced in spring.
The genus Lantana includes more than 150 species. The L. camara hybrid, or common lantana, is the most readily available lantana variety. Popular cultivars include “Irene,” “Christine,” and “Dallas Red.”
The trailing lantana, L. montevidensis, grows only 15 inches in height and is ideal as a creeping ground cover. Common cultivars include “Alba,” “Lavender Swirl,” “White Lightnin,” and “Spreading White.” A hybrid of of L. camara and L. montevidensis, called “New Gold,” can be used as a mounding ground cover, growing two to three feet tall and spreading six to eight feet in diameter.
Lantana prefers full sun and moist, well drained soil. They are typically planted in spring, at least 24 inches apart; in colder areas, lantana must be treated as an annual, replanted each year. Water frequently after planting, until the plant’s roots can become established. Lantana do well in containers and even hanging baskets as well. They are drought tolerant, but may need to be watered once a week during extended periods of drought. Lantanas prefer slightly acidic soil, and this can be easily achieved by mulching with pine needles.
Prune in spring. You may fertilize at this time, but use low doses, as too much fertilizer will inhibit flowering. Revitalize overgrown plants when needed by cutting back one third of the plant. Deadhead flowers before the berries ripen to encourage further flowering and prevent unwanted spread.
While the berries are poisonous to most mammals, they provide a food source for some bird species. The plants also attract a wide range of butterflies, and host the caterpillars of some species. Swallowtails and monarchs are among the garden favorites that lantana may attract.
Lantana is also considered a good “honey plant,” a plant that provides ample nectar from which bees can produce honey. This is especially beneficial in areas that have been hard hit by colony collapse disorder. The lantana can provide ample food for recovering honeybee populations, as well as fostering alternate pollinators, such as butterflies, moths, and other bee species.
The leaves and berries of the lantana are poisonous if ingested. Exercise caution when the plants are accessible to children, pets, or livestock. You may also deadhead spent flowers before the berries form.
The common lantana can also become an invasive species. Plantings should be well maintained to to prevent spreading to pasture, grasslands, or protected areas. In the southeast, however, lantana is considered a naturalized species.