Beauty, they say, is in the eyes of the beholder but we cannot deny that a well-taken-care-of garden will appeal to every eye, even those who would not dream of gardening. Nature is beautiful, and flowers especially can transform any dull space into a cheerful look with their bright colors. Among nature’s gifts is the lantana plant and if you are thinking of introducing it to your garden, here is everything you need to know about it.
According to Wikipedia, the lantana plant has more than 150 species that comprise perennial flowering plants of the verbena family, Verbenaceae. It is native to tropical regions of Africa and America, but it can still be found in other areas such as the Australian-Pacific region where it exists as an introduced species. Today’s homeowner enlightens us while some varieties bear beautiful purple berries, others do not produce berries but instead, have more flowers. However, all types have leaves that are course, with a pungent smell. Lantana grows either as a shrub or as a plant trailing variety making it possible to have it in your garden or indoors on hanging baskets.
Best conditions for growing Lantanas
One of the main things to consider is the type of soil in your garden because although the lantana can tolerate almost any type of soil, for it to do well, it needs well-drained and slightly acidic soil. Consequently if for instance, your garden has heavy clay or sand, you should add some composted manure. Other things you should consider according to GrowVeg is the sun position since the Lantanas thrive best under full sun. However, it can still survive in cold climate with some varieties being more tolerant of the cold than others such that while some die in winter, others will keep a few stems above the ground.
Planting the lantana
Before planting the lantana, you will need to apply well-rotted compost manure to the soil to add nutrients. Lantanas do not do well in heavily fertilized soil since it inhibits the blooming therefore add only a small amount of fertilizer in spring. The good thing about lantanas is that they do not require too much water making them ideal for those areas that experience drought. Matter of fact is a proper watering per week is enough. If you fear that the soil is not acidic enough, you can do some mulching with pine needles to increase the soil acidity.
As for the seeds, only a few lantana varieties are readily available as seeds meaning you will have to buy or make your own vegetatively propagated plants. The advantage of the vegetatively propagated position is that since they do not have seeds, you will not have to worry about excessive weeding. According to Nature & Garden, if you choose to propagate through cuttings, you will have to wait until spring when the plant blooms so that you can gather young stems measuring between 8 and 10 cm long. You should then get rid of the lower leaves and transplant the cuttings to the soil and put them under shelter, away from direct sunlight
Spacing crops is essential to give them room for growth, and the lantana requires at least 30 cm around a single plant but if planting in rows, each plant should be at least 25 cm from the other and rows should be 35 cm apart, at least. If you are growing the plants in containers, then the larger varieties well need big containers of at least 35 cm in diameter.
Pruning lantana plants
Pruning plants is necessary to ensure that sunlight reaches every plant in your garden by preventing overcrowding. However, regarding lantana plants, as much as they can grow to a height of 6 feet when to prune is a debatable topic with different sources giving varying opinions. For instance, some experts advise pruning to be done in either spring or winter with spring being the most preferable, but Nature & Garden begs to differ advising that pruning should be done in winter. The bottom line is that pruning will have to occur at one time or the other and maybe the timing all depends on the gardener’s preference.
By pruning you will ensure that your plant will survive in winter, therefore, pruning in the fall will only make them susceptible to the cold and moisture accompanied by winter conditions, and some experts think that rotting of leaves is faster when the plant is exposed to lots of moisture. You can trim the large plants to about a foot at most from the ground or generally a third of the height and width of the plant. However, you do not have to wait until spring or winter to do it; you can regularly prune to stimulate growth and flowering by cutting the lantana tips back to about three inches. Plants also experience some stress following the pruning. Therefore after cutting down some branches; you should apply a little fertilizer to encourage new growth.
Caring for lantanas during winter
According to Hunker, the lantanas can stay evergreen depending on the areas they are planted, usually in frost-free regions such as USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) zones 9 to 11. Plants in other zones such as zones 7 and eight will die but if you had mulched them heavily, the hardy types like “Miss Huff” will re-sprout in spring. Therefore caring for the lantanas all depends on the zone areas:
- In zones 7 to 11 – Zones 9 to 11 are frost-free meaning that the plants will not need too much care during winter. However when leaves get affected by frost in the much colder climates, you should not cut the foliage immediately; instead, you should allow it to remain for the entire winter period so that it protects the rest of the plant. Once the winter is over, you will have to prune all the foliage whether it was affected or not. You will notice that the plant is being affected by frost if the leaves start turning purple or dying. If the foliage dies, leave it in place and cover it with a non-compaction mulch like straw or dead leaves of at least 6 inches. You should only cut the dead foliage when you see new growth sprouting from the ground once you have removed the mulch.
- In zones below 7 – When night temperatures start falling to below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, it is time to prepare your plant for the indoors. Transfer it to a pot filled with well-drained and slightly acidic soil and move it to a shaded place for it to adapt to the dimmer light conditions of the indoor environment. Immediately taking it indoors, spray it thoroughly with an insecticide which you can make by mixing five tablespoons of insecticidal soap with a gallon of water; this prevents spread of pests to other houseplants.
How to care lantanas as houseplants
Once you take your potted plant indoors, place it in an area where it will receive indirect sunlight, preferably in a window sill facing North or East as Home Guides advises. If it drops its leaves or berries, clean them up immediately to prevent pets and children from feeding on them since they are toxic. Lantanas do not need too much water therefore only water if the plant is dry; you can check by dipping your finger in the soil, and if up to 2 inches feel dry, you should water it. If you notice that the plant appears overcrowded, you should re-pot it to a bigger pot and take it outdoors when the temperatures are warm again.
Lantana is poisonous
While the beautiful flowers and delicious-looking berries are eye-catching, many have fallen victim to the lantana plant which they do not know to be poisonous. According to Standard Media, in Kenya, many herders have lost their cattle to this plant whose chemicals destroy the liver causing animals to be sensitive to light. Photosensitivity usually affects parts of the body with little or no hair cover such as the udder, mouth, nose, and ears. Animals develop lesions, and skin becomes irritated causing them to scratch themselves against surfaces and the skin gets wounds. Early detection can save the lives of the animals but once it progresses, the poison affects kidneys, and the results may be fatal.
Lantanas can also affect dogs, cats and humans as Pet Poison Helpline reveal. One of the symptoms is itchy skin once you get in contact with the leaves. The other poisonous part is unripened berries and once ingested, they cause vomiting, dilated pupils, diarrhea, depression, difficulty in breathing, general body weakness and liver failure in severe cases of farm animals. You should, however, note the liver toxins are found in all parts of the plant.
Pests that affect lantanas
Garden Guides lists several pests which affect lantanas, and they include:
- Whiteflies – Whiteflies get their name from their white color. They have four wings and are only 1/16 inch long in adulthood, but in their immaturity, they are oval and smaller than a pinhead. The whiteflies feed on lantanas both in their adulthood and immature stages and leave yellow spots on the leaves. They also secrete honeydew that causes the plants to be sticky, and if there is a large infestation, your lantanas will experience defoliation.
- Mealybugs – Mealybugs get their name from the waxy or mealy secretions covering their bodies. They have soft bodies and grow to a ¼ inch long. They lay their eggs in clusters covered by a white and cottony substance. You can find them crawling on the stems or underside of leaves, along the veins where they suck the sap out of your plant causing it to die slowly or stunting its growth.
- Lace bugs – The lace bugs are black or brown insects with broad and rectangular bodies that grow to between an eighth and quarter inch long. They get their name from the lace-like wings which they develop in adulthood and their immaturity, they have multiple tiny pines projecting from their bodies. They lay their eggs along the midriff of the leaf on the underside and secure them to the leaf by secreting a brownish substance. Heavy infestation manifests itself as dark spots on the leaves while the damage leads to yellow, brown or white specks at the top of the leaves. The leaves then die from the tip and proceed to the base and eventually fall off prematurely.
- Aphids – Aphids can become a problem in your garden due to their high speed of maturity; while some lay eggs, others give birth to young ones that become adults in a week. They stunt the growth of your plant by sucking its sap and covering it with honeydew which reduces its ability to photosynthesize. Aphids can cause wilting or yellowing of leaves.
Pest management in Lantanas
AgriLife Extension explains that to manage pests, you can use an insecticide that indicates it is effective in ornamental plants or flowering plants, however, you should familiarize with the pesticide before use by first reading the instructions as to the correct amount to use and the right equipment you need. Besides chemicals, other pest management methods include keeping the plant healthy by applying enough compost and mulching. It is, however, important to note that too much nitrogen will attract pests such as aphids.
Diseases affecting lantanas
Home Guides points out a few diseases that might affect your lantana plants, and they are:
- Powdery mildew – While moist fungi prefer moist conditions, powdery mildew thrives well in dry and warm conditions. It starts by infecting the leaves with white powdery mildew which then moves to the flowers. Early treatment will prevent your plant from stunted growth, leaf loss, and discolored leaves. You should, therefore, control its infestation by rinsing the plants and applying neem oil after every few weeks.
- Botrytis blight – Also called gray mold, botrytis blight is a fungal disease which thrives in moist conditions. You can detect it by the spots and discolored leaves and flowers. You can treat the disease with a fungicide containing chlorothalonil.
Now that you are equipped with all the necessary information regarding lantanas, there is no reason why you should not have it in your garden. If you prefer to plant in spring, this is the right time to propagate your lantana plant and transform your garden with beautiful flowers by the time winter comes knocking.