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August 01, 2006


If you're looking for plants that flower in the desert during the hottest summer, Angela O'Callaghan finds Lantana and loves it.

Lantana Lantana


In the high heat of the summer, there really are very few plants with any flowers to speak of. I think that psychologically, it's so important for us to have flowers around us. Well now, since many of us have made the switch from high water using plants to more stark desert landscaping, we need to be creative about getting our flower requirements met. We love the spring, when all the cacti and so many other plants put on a terrific display of colors, but who talks about summer flowers in the desert southwest?

Sure, you'll find flowers on your Palo Verde, and desert willows might still have a few, but those are trees. Even if the red yucca blossoms aren't completely past, they soon will be. There's a fair number of attractive plants that you can select for dry land, or water smart landscaping, or xeriscape (whatever you choose to call it), but among my favorites is lantana. This is a relatively low growing, kind of sprawling, shrubby plant. I believe that it's a terrific addition to gardens here. In some parts of the country, it's planted in the spring and it grows vigorously until the temperatures drop in the winter. Lantana's sensitive to a hard frost, but it's not extremely delicate. It's rarely bothered by our winter temperatures, so you can plant it as a perennial.

Here's a shrub that will not only withstand our terrible salty soil, and lack of rain, and blistering sunny temperatures, but it thrives in our conditions with only a little help! The plant doesn't merely survive, but it produces flowers through the summer and fall as well. Butterflies like the flowers, so if you're interested in a butterfly garden, lantana and vitex should give you a terrific display.

The flowers are interesting, ranging from bright orange yellow, to yellow rimmed with red. Some even have lavender flowers - very attractive, since so many desert plants produce flowers only in yellow.

All told, there're about 150 different species of lantana, not to mention all the hybrids and cultivars. We only see a few of them, so I don't know what some of the more exotic ones look like. I do know that the species we usually get is Lantana camara. I did find a Texas website that mentioned a Lantana horrida, which refers to the smell of the leaves when crushed. I decided I wasn't going to check it out personally.

In Florida, Hawaii, Texas, the Galapagos Islands - and other areas where the temperatures are high, the soil is fertile, and water is available - common lantana's become a horticultural escapee from gardens into other areas, and it's now considered an 'invasive exotic species'. That means it's a bad weed in those places.

Many of the plants we grow produce dark, almost black, berries when the flowers are past. These berries contain seeds, which is the way that many of the invaders became established. The berries are also known to be quite poisonous, although quite a few birds appear to like them. Plant breeders have developed a number of sterile cultivars, which bloom longer, and don't contribute to the weed problem. They flower in a wider range of colors than the old lantana does - including white and pink.

I said before that this is a drought tolerant plant, that it can survive a lack of rain. Of course, that doesn't mean no water. Infrequent, deep irrigation will help it grow more luxuriantly.

You might notice that here at Cooperative Extension, we often recommend infrequent deep irrigation. That encourages the roots to grow thick and deep, giving the plant better support and a better chance of finding water and nutrients in the soil - this isn't just for lantana, but for many other landscape and garden plants. And while lantana does grow in our problematic soils, it will benefit from fertilization - try watering it in the spring with compost tea, or putting compost around the base early in the season. Don't go overboard with nitrogen during the summer, though, since that could interfere with flowering.

Lantana's a tough bird. It's not bothered by many insects, and there aren't very many pathogens that affect it, either. What it doesn't like are cool shady spots. When it's placed in deep shade, that's when it's more likely to develop diseases. You can save those places for the more delicate low light plants that you'd like to try.

Finally, the best time to cut it back is in late winter, before it starts to produce new leaves. At the end of January, you can cut it down to eight inches or so. Yes, it will look very dramatically shorn. It will grow back. And be even more lovely.

For KNPR's Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O'Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

See discussion rules.


AngelaFeb 19, 2015 | Tricky Spring
If you're thinking that our warm weather means your plants are safe from a late frost, you're probably right. But then again, you never know. It only seems that Jack Frost has skipped a visit to Southern Nevada this year. Here's Angela O'Callaghan with Desert Bloom.

NormFeb 14, 2015 | Selective Pruning
Norm Schilling guides gardeners to keep up as Spring approaches. Selective pruning will keep things on track in the yard.

NormJan 21, 2015 | Prepare for Spring Now
Don't look at the calendar. Look at your plants to tell you what do to in the yard right now. Your plants think Spring is near, so use this time to transplant and prune. Desert Gardener Norm Schilling tells us what to look for.

NormDec 30, 2014 | Winter and Citrus
Citrus can thrive in Southern Nevada - even in our cold - when you choose the right varieties. Norm Schilling tells us how.

AngelaDec 13, 2014 | To Prune or Not to Prune
As winter draws near, leaves begin to fall. And the bare view may prompt some excessive pruning. It's tempting, but your plants may appreciate a little restraint. Here's Angela O'Callaghan with Desert Bloom.

NormDec 6, 2014 | Prepare Your Plants for Cold Weather
It's not cold . . . yet, but Norm says be ready and your yard will appreciate it. Don't let a cold snap cost you your investment in plants in your yard. Norm Schilling has some ideas to get ready.

AngelaNov 25, 2014 | Evergreens
As we head into the holiday season, more attention is given to 'evergreens.' Too many cones on a pine tree might be a sign of weakness. Angela O'Callaghan tells us all about evergreens on Desert Bloom.

NormNov 14, 2014 | Fall Colors
Even in the desert, Fall colors can brighten your landscape. Here's Norm Schilling with Desert Bloom.

NormOct 28, 2014 | Fall Colors - Web Only Edition
With glorious weather for our yards to fall back into bloom, Norm has some additional suggestions for color to add to the profusion of blooms for this time of year. (Web-only content)

NormOct 7, 2014 | Second Spring
The call it a "second spring" Norm Schilling has some plan ideas to make Fall colorful in your yard. He has a checklist of plants looking their best, because now is the time to plant in Southern Nevada.

AngelaSep 30, 2014 | Fountain Grass
A weed by any other name is still a weed even if it doesn't look like one. If only everything in our gardens thrived as well as weeds. Here is Angela O'Callaghan.

NormSep 15, 2014 | Desert Heat
Norm describes a significant casualty of the desert heat. There's going to be a big gap in Norm's Yard and a lesson on the reality of our desert landscape.

AngelaAug 12, 2014 | Organic Pesticides
Choosing a method for ridding your garden of an unwanted guest, be it bug or weed, is not always a simple choice. But the more you know, the better it goes. Here's Angela O'Callaghan

NormJul 28, 2014 | Lose that Lawn
We know, it's a desert out there including every place there's a lawn. Norm Schilling reminds us all the ways he wants you to consider losing the lawn... permanently.

AngelaJul 14, 2014 | Protect Fruit Trees from Birds
If you put a good deal of care into growing fruit trees, there are likely some birds who will take advantage of your effort. Here's Angela O'Callaghan.

NormJul 10, 2014 | Palm Care, Part 2
To keep, or not to keep. Norm Schilling ponders his palm trees, on this edition of Desert Bloom.

NormJun 10, 2014 | Palm Care
Norm Schilling has mixed feelings about how we use Palms in our yards. Full grown palm trees transplanted into the entry way of a mall is a common sight that tells Southern Nevadan's "something" is nearly open for business. He reminds us that those palms come with challenges.

AngelaJun 3, 2014 | Hot Weather Plants
As temperatures across the Valley begin to climb, you might be wondering what will survive in your garden in the months ahead and what probably won't. There are some 'sweet' options. Here's Angela O'Callaghan

NormMay 20, 2014 | Desert Color
Norm Schilling just got back from Belize and has some ideas for lush leaves in your desert yard. He reflects on some well suited plants to provide color and variety in this edition of Desert Bloom.

AngelaMay 6, 2014 | Emerald Ash Borer
Raising a healthy shade tree in the Mojave is not always easy. And if one particular insect makes its way here, it could get even harder. Here's Angela O'Callaghan with Desert Bloom.

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