HOT LOVERS -- FIREBUSH AND LANTANA
by Jerry Parsons, Ph.D.
Horticulture Specialist, Texas Agricultural Extension Service
in San Antonio
How would you like to have a hot lover around
this summer? Most of us are looking for that sort of excitement,
especially when the sultry days of summer arrive. One of the
most magnificent hot lover plants for this area of Texas was
introduced by me in 1987 called Firebush (Hamelia patens).
It's really nothing new; it was a favorite plant over 40 years
ago and people just "forgot" about it.
The new plant named Firebush possesses the
desirable characteristics which most modern-day folks want
in a plant but which few plants can provide. First of all,
it will grow in stone. The plant can thrive in the rocky,
caliche, high pH soil, or more appropriately, rock with which
Texas growers have to contend. The Firebush, because it is
native to a dry climate, can withstand drought; once it is
established, so it is a water-conserving plant as well. This
plant can accomplish these feats of stone-survival and drought-tolerance
while exposed to the hot summer sun. In fact, Firebush grows
and blooms (That's right - - BLOOMS!) best when grown in a
hot, full sun condition. The blooms of Firebush are red, which
makes it a red, hot lover, and attracts hummingbirds from
miles away -- you can throw the hummingbird feeder away.
People want an everlasting plant. Well, Firebush
is everlasting or perennial, as we plant persons like to say.
It is not like every other perennial - - it has a very beneficial
characteristic which "makes you do right". Most
growers of perennial plants cannot bring themselves to cut
their darling plants back periodically to insure new growth
and a more attractive specimen. The Firebush plant top is
killed to the ground by the first hard freeze of winter. This
phenomenon MAKES people do what they SHOULD do anyway - -
cut the plant to the ground and let it regrow every year.
However, some folks don't want to wait for the hotter days
of summer to cause plants to resprout and for the impatient
types, I recommended that Firebush be used as an annually
planted plant. Firebush requires warm soil in which to sprout
so sprouting may not occur until May or June. A new planting
of Firebush will be as spectacular as most beds of annuals.
The foliage of Firebush will turn red in the fall so now you
have a plant which will give the reddish colors of a copper
plant yet will produce hummingbird-attracting blooms all summer.
Firebush IS NOT deer resistant! Some folks
need a beautiful blooming plant that the deer won't eat. This
is a major problem because during drought deer eat everything
that even resembles green and living. One lady even indicated
that the deer eat her yucca plants!
Another tough, somewhat deer-resistant hot
lover is lantana. Lantana, of the vervain family Verbenaceae,
consists of more than 150 species of shrubs and herbaceous
perennials. Lantanas are hairy and often prickly-stemmed.
If rubbed and bruised their leaves usually have a disagreeable
odor. Verbena-like flowers are formed in stalked clusters
or spikes from the leaf axils or at the ends of branches.
The juicy, berry-like fruits contain two nutlets, often called
seeds. In some regions, Texas included, lantanas are troublesome
weeds, chiefly spread by birds that are very fond of their
juicy fruits. The species name, horrida, refers to the pungent,
unpleasant odor of the crushed leaves and the "out-of-control"
weed potential of the plant.
In recent years, strains of dwarf varieties
have become popular as border plants. Lantana has been improved
in its usefulness as a bedding-plant largely through the efforts
of French hybridizers. The older varieties are tall and lanky,
later in coming into bloom, and drop their flowers after rains
but are showy in hot, dry weather. The new varieties are dwarf,
spreading and bushy in habit, early blooming and free-flowering
with blooms which are much larger and do not drop from the
plants as did the old varieties in bad weather.
The ABSOLUTELY BEST improvement which has been
made is sterilization. A variety named 'New Gold' blooms profusely
but NEVER forms berries which have to be removed before more
bloom will be produced. This revolutionary new development
in lantanas insures that this plant will be a continuous beauty
rather than a virulent pest with its pesky seedling offspring.
But you MUST insist on the 'New Gold' variety; all other lantana
varieties exhibit the characteristics which lead botanists
to label them with the highly unfavorable specie name of horrida.
The lantana is a plant which is very adapted
to this area provided they are grown in a sunny location.
When well established the plants are very drought tolerant,
and continue to produce bright and attractive blooms in the
hottest of weather. Now that this variety named 'New Gold'
is available and won't contaminate local landscapes, the lantana
can take its place as a useful, colorful native plant which
everyone will want to plant and enjoy.
So there are some hot lovers to try in your landscape this
summer which will keep you panting with joy.
PLANNING A PLANTING OF ANNUALS
FOR SUMMER BEAUTY
Flower borders should be located at the sides
of the property in front of a fence or shrubbery which provides
a suitable background. If your border is in front of shrubs,
you will need to apply extra water during dry periods to replace
the moisture used by the shrubs.
Tall flowers should be selected for the back
part of the bed, with medium height species in the middle
and dwarf varieties along the front as edging plants. This
is very easily done because the height of all varieties is
stated in the seed catalog or on labels which are in transplants.
The only other important principle of design
to remember is to have your plants in groups large enough
to form masses of color or texture. As a rule, it takes at
least 5 to 7 plants of a variety to create the desired effect
in small areas and greater numbers in larger areas (check
with local nurserymen who sell transplants by the flat for
a reduced cost). A random collection of individual, small
to medium-sized plants will present a disorganized, checker
Plant your flowers in groupings with irregular
shapes. These masses of color and texture should blend into
a pleasing pattern of color harmony. Dwarf flowers may be
used as a continuous edging or border along the front of the
bed to tie the entire planting together.
Flower beds and borders are intended to provide
beauty as a part of the landscape design. The blooms are to
be enjoyed where they are produced and should be cut only
sparingly for arrangements in the home. Flowers for this purpose
should be grown in a separate area, for instance as an attractive
front portion of the vegetable garden. This way they won't
detract from the landscape if you cut them frequently.
And last, but certainly not least, choose the
right plant for the right place -- pay close attention to
ultimate size and light requirements. DO NOT try to "make"
a plant function in an area to which it is unadapted, i.e.,
a shade-loving plant in sun or vice versa. Here are some to
Begonia - Height 12-18 inches; bronze or green
foliage; red, pink or white flowers; shade or partial shade
(morning sun only); 12- to 18-inch spacing. Choose one of
the Cocktail series.
Celosia (cockscomb) - Height 10-40 inches;
red or yellow flowers; sun; 12- to 24-inch spacing.
Coleus - Height 10-20 inches; green-red-orange-blue-yellow
foliage; partial shade or full sun if the Sun-Coleus such
as Burgundy Sun, Eclipse or Plum Parfait are used; 12-inch
Copper plants - Height 12-48 inches; green-red-orange
foliage; sun; 12- to 24-inch spacing. Plants will survive
in partial shade but will not develop intense color.
Marigold - Height 8-26 inches; orange or yellow
flowers; sun; 12- to 18-inch spacing. It is best to plant
the large-flowered, Mari-Mum types (Antigua is an American-type,
large flowered marigold ) in early August for maximum bloom
and minimum spider mite problem.
Petunia - Height 8-18 inches; many colors;
sun or partial shade; 8- to 12-inch spacing. The Carpet series
and 'Laura Bush' are by far the best heat tolerant petunias.
The Carpet series is more compact and requires less frequent
Periwinkle (vinca) - Height 12-18 inches; white
or pink flowers; sun; 12-inch spacing. These need to be planted
in a well-drained planting bed and watered infrequently. DO
NOT plant where automatic watering systems are used.
If you've had a hard time trying to find an
annual flower that can tolerate our hot Texas sun AND THE
DEER HERD, you might want to try Vinca rosea or periwinkle.
This is one of the most colorful and reliable
summer flowering plants for Texas conditions. This shrubby
plant produces an abundance of 1 - to 1 ½-inch phlox-like
flowers that seem to cover the glossy, deep green leaves.
The flowers can vary in color from pure white to pink or lavender
rose. The newer dwarfs or spreading varieties grow from 8
to 10 inches high and may spread as much as 2 feet. Some of
the best varieties of the dwarf, compact types include Coquette
(Little Pinkie) having rosy pink flowers, Bright-Eyes having
lustrous white flowers with a red center, Little Blanche which
is an all white flower, Little Delicata (pink with a rose
center) or Little Mixture which is a mixture of all colors
and combinations mentioned. These varieties make excellent
edging for flower and shrub borders. If you want a trailing
or ground cover type vinca try Carpet vinca. Dawn (white trailing
vinca with a red eye), Carpet Vinca Pink (pink flower), Carpet
Snow White (white flower) and Carpet Vinca Mix, which is a
mixture of all colors and combinations mentioned, are the
color choices available for the trailing types.
Plant periwinkle in full sun or partial shade.
They thrive in well-drained soils where liberal amounts of
organic material have been added. DO NOT plant where automatic
watering systems are used and mulch IMMEDIATELY after planting
to prevent soil splashing during watering or rainfall. The
plants will bloom continuously if the soil is not allowed
to get too dry. An application of a slow-release fertilizer
(three pounds per 100 square feet) should be made as the bed
is prepared for planting and additional applications should
be made every four weeks throughout the growing season. If
the foliage turns yellow, reduce the watering interval and
treat plants and soil with iron chelate or iron sulfate.
There are few pests that will attack periwinkle,
and, once established, it will be a delight throughout the
summer. The bright flowers and attractive foliage provide
color during a period when few other plans will bloom.
Portulaca (rose moss) - Height 6-18 inches;
many colors; sun; 12-inch spacing. Try the Sundial series
for larger blooms which are open longer.
Purslane - Height 6-18 inches; many colors;
sun; 12-inch spacing. These only bloom from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
and will NEVER bloom profusely in a shaded area. The largest
flowered series is named 'Yubi'.
Salvia - Height 12-30 inches; red spike flowers,
sun or partial shade; 12-inch spacing. Spent or bloomed-out
flower spikes must be removed to keep plants attractive and
stimulate rebloom. Firebush might be a better choice for a
Verbena - Height 8-15 inches; white, purple,
or red; sun; 12- to 18-inch spacing. Use ONLY the 'Princess'
varieties and trim periodically to insure continuous bloom.
Zinnia - Height 8-15 inches; white, purple,
or red, sun; 12- to 18-inch spacing. Beware of the powdery
white substance on leaves called powdery mildew fungus. It
can be controlled with benomyl (Systemic Fungicide), Funginex,
or bayleton (Greenlight Fung-Away) sprays every 10-14 days.
After selecting the best varieties for your
location, give some attention to soil preparation, fertilizer
and watering techniques.
Soil Preparation - Till the soil to a depth
of 6-8 inches, working in large quantities of peat moss or
other organic matter.
Fertilizer - When preparing the soil, incorporate
3 pounds of a slow-release fertilizer such as 19-5-9 per 100
square feet. Then, follow this with supplemental light (one
pound per 100 square feet) applications every 3 to 4 weeks.
Watering - Young plants should be watered thoroughly
at transplanting. Then, water thoroughly and regularly (except
during rainy periods) throughout the summer (No more than
once a week unless the bed dries quickly). Check for soil
moisture EVERY time BEFORE watering. REMEMBER, far more plants
are killed (ruined) by too much watering than by too little.
So dress up your landscape this year with some
of these annual bloomers and come off a winner in the color