Lantana consists of around 150 species of plants and the genus belongs in the verbena (Verbenaceae) family. They are endemic to tropical zones of Africa and the Americas but have been introduced in several areas, particularly in the South and Northeastern parts of India and the Australian-Pacific area. They are commonly called lantanas or shrub verbenas.
The species include both shrubs and herbaceous plants that grow to 2–6 feet tall and 3-10 feet wide when grown as perennials. However, when they are cultivated as annuals, they grow 3-4 feet high and 1-3 feet wide a year. They have green or variegated rough-textured oval-shaped leaves and grow about 4 inches long. The stems of young annuals are fleshy, while the stems of older perennials become woody.
The clusters of flowers (umbels) are 1-2 inches in diameter and are single or multicolored, often changing as they mature. Colors include orange, yellow, peach, white, red, purple, and coral. Frequently, the flower colors are combined in one cluster, creating a bi-colored or multicolored effect. Fertile varieties produce small green berries after flowering that turn black when ripe.
A few species have become invasive in places like South Asia, Australia, and Southern Africa. Their spread is helped by many species of birds who eat the fruit and disperse their seeds. The species is naturalized in the US, particularly in coastal areas of the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia, including the Gulf Coast.
These plants are cultivated as honey plants and many species are widely grown as perennials in the warm climates of the tropics and subtropics and as annuals in temperate climates. Several species of butterflies are attracted to their flowers.
Tribal people in the hills of South India use these plants to produce handicrafts. Lantana wood furniture is resistant to termite damage as well as sun and rain.
These plants need 6-8 hours of bright, direct sunlight every day but they can also tolerate partial shade in the afternoon but tend to flower less if growing in a shaded spot.
Water them frequently until the plants get established mature plants prefer less watering and are rather drought-tolerant. Water the plants once or twice weekly in drier climates or very hot conditions, particularly if grown in containers.
These plants are fine with humid climates and can even tolerate salt spray.
These plants thrive in temperatures above 55°F. In temperate zones of 1-8, these plants are annual growers and are cultivated as perennials in zones of 9-11 but they will die if the temperature falls below 28°F or if the climate remains cold for long periods.
They are tolerant of most types of soil but prefer rich, well-drained, and slightly acidic soil. Using pine needles for mulch will increase soil acidity.
Repot these plants in just slightly larger containers as they like to grow in slightly confined spaces. Prepare the new container by first adding a few small chunks of stone to cover the drainage holes to help with drainage and cover that with a layer of fresh soil. Next, carefully grasp the stems close to the soil and ease them out from the previous container.
Gently plant it inside its new container and top up the spaces around the roots with more soil. Water the plant well to get the soil to compact and add more soil if needed. While spring is usually best for repotting, they can be repotted at times during their growing season.
Seeds for planting these plants as annuals in temperate zones can be easily purchased but you can harvest seeds from perennial varieties in warmer zones and grow more of them, making use of their aggressive growth to cultivate them as hedges or borders in your garden. Collect the seeds when their blackberries turn ripe, clean and dry them out under the sun. They can be germinated for 6-8 weeks and can be transplanted outdoors.
Soak them in warm water for a day, prepare small pots with peat, place 1 or 2 seeds in each pot and cover with peat. Keep the soil damp and under consistent temperatures between 70-75°F. Seedlings should emerge in about a month. Transfer them to the garden or into bigger containers.
Established plants don’t need to be fertilized, but a small dose of slow-release fertilizer can be added to the soil in spring, too much fertilizing will increase foliage growth and reduce flowering.
Where they are grown as perennials, they will turn into woody shrubs. Prune any dead branches and cut them back by 1/3 to kindle new growth. Lightly prune annuals as needed or when they outgrow their space. Pinch off stem tips to boost branching and flowering. Some plants need deadheading to help produce new flowers and to prevent berries from growing.
In colder weather, keep potted plants indoors in a warmer room or basement. In regions where winters are not extremely cold (above 30°F), some plants can overwinter outdoors in the garden.
Upright varieties can be grown as attractive hedges or borders along pathways and prune them to keep them under control. The groundcover varieties can be used to quickly fill in garden beds.
Smaller upright varieties can be grown as attractive showpieces indoors or on patios in combination with other flowering annuals in summer. Trailing varieties can be cultivated in hanging baskets or window boxes.
These plants are relatively low maintenance when growing under proper conditions, although they can still have issues occasionally in less than ideal conditions. Too much shade or over-fertilization will result in fewer blooms, while poor air circulation or very high humidity can attract powdery mildew and botrytis. Waterlogging along with poor drainage can end in root rot.
They can also survive most pests but aphids, mealybugs, lace bugs, whiteflies, and spider mites can attack the plants on occasion. Use insecticidal soap to eliminate these pests or use a suitable insecticide specifically meant for the type of insect to save your plants.