Kathy Van Mullekom
9:32 PM EDT, June 16, 2010
I apologize if I led you down the wrong garden path last year, telling you that Chapel Hill lantana is reliably cold hardy in our Zone 7 area.
It's what the grower Monrovia said in its initial information about the wonderful yellow-flowering butterfly magnet and I accepted their information without first growing the new variety in my own yard.
But, as Dave Bankes used to say in the horticulture classes I took at Christopher Newport University, plants don't read the books and they don't always behave as people expect.
Especially when Hampton Roads suffers the cold, ice and snow winter that it did this past winter. Chapel Hill lantanas in many area gardens just didn't make it, a sad tale I've heard from local garden centers who have heard it from their customers.
For years, I grew and knew to tell local gardeners that Miss Huff is the only perennial lantana and I'm returning to that claim. Miss Huff is magnificent, quickly growing four to five feet tall and attracting more nectar-feeding butterflies than you can count on a lazy June afternoon. The orange-flowering shrub produces verbena-looking flowers all summer, dying back in winter, only to return with vigor the next season. It looks good with other butterfly-attracting perennials, as well as ornamental grasses. Miss Huff thrives nicely in a large pot or along a sandy seashore.
Once Miss Huff dies back for the winter, leave the dead stalks intact because early pruning allows winter rains to enter the hollow stems and potentially rot the entire plant. Lantanas need good drainage any time of the year. Prune it late winter, taking it back to about 12 inches above ground.
One word of caution: Lantana's green berries are poisonous when eaten so keep them away from curious kids and pets.
I can, however, happily tell you that one of my three Chapel Hill lantanas is returning, slowly but surely. In my haste to make my butterfly garden as pretty as possible as quickly as possible, I dug up the other two and replaced them with new Blue Chip butterfly bushes.
"We always tell customers to leave all their lantanas until mid-May," says Jeff Williamson at Smithfield Gardens in Suffolk. "Some years, most will come back. Of course, Miss Huff is still Miss Reliable."
After mild winters, all lantanas, even tropical ones, tend to return, particularly if they are planted in a spot where plants or a structure provide added protection.
If you want to try another supposedly cold hardy lantana, garden centers say customers are happier with Mary Ann, a variety introduced at the same time as Chapel Hill. Mary Ann, discovered in a Zone 7 in Georgia, grows a nice compact 30 inches wide and tall, and bears multi-color orange, yellow and pink clusters of flowers from spring to late fall. It is not evergreen. Lantanas are rated as deer-resistant plants, but experiments prove deer eat anything and everything if they are hungry enough.
THANK A BEE
The next time you see bees on your flowers, say a silent thank you and watch in wonder.
With one out of every third bite of food we consume dependent on bees and other animals for reproduction, our future truly flies on the wings of pollinators, according to the North American Pollinators Protection Campaign, which honors June 21-27 as National Pollinator Week.
To help honey and bumble bees survive, the campaign encourages homeowners to plant for pollinators. Plant so that you have flowers spring through fall, and use food for insect larvae, such as milkweed for monarchs. Select old-fashioned varieties as much as possible. Install houses, such as small blocks of wood with holes, for native bees. Avoid pesticides, and provide a water source such as a suspended milk carton with a pinhole in the bottom. Learn more at http://www.pollinator.org
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