Lantana is a lovely perennial that is a staple of Central Texas gardens. It comes in many shapes, including trailing and shrubby. It also comes in many colors, from white to purple to red and yellow. Most varieties need full sun and will thrive in most Central Texas soils. Do not overwater this drought-tolerant plant.
Caring for Lantana is fairly simple, but it depends mostly on the weather and your preferences as a gardener. I recommend wearing long sleeves when you prune Lantana because the stems and leaves are scratchy and some people get rashes from them. In November through March you can cut the plant’s woody stems back to 3″ from the ground when the plant first shows signs of cold damage. Most trailing Lantanas’ leaves will turn purple when they go through a light frost, and you can prune them anytime after that. The larger shrubby types will typically loose their leaves after a hard freeze and they can be pruned back anytime after that.
No matter what variety, Lantanas are notoriously fast growing and can surprisingly climb up through the center of the plants near them. Winter pruning can solve problems with them sprawling or climbing on their neighbors. Often the bottom branches of trailing Lantanas will get shaded out and die off, and winter is a good time to remove those dead branches. Sometimes entire branches will die during very cold weather, rather than just the leaves getting damaged. These dead branches are easiest to remove in winter rather than in the spring after the plant starts growing back from the bottom. New growth will emerge soon after pruning from the ground and from the short stems left after pruning.
Perennials that die back to the ground in the winter and re-emerge in the spring do so by drawing on energy that they have stored in their roots. This store of energy is limited, especially in young plants with smaller root systems.
Some gardeners feel that if you prune your lantanas back too early in the winter, and then we have warm weather, the plants may start growing back, mistakenly thinking it’s spring. This tender, new growth is more susceptible to freezes and if we get a hard freeze following warm, spring-like weather, it can kill off that new growth and threaten the life of the whole plant since it taxes the store of energy in their roots. So, prune at your own risk. Remember that if a plant dies, it will be easy to find at a local nursery and inexpensive to replace.
Many gardeners opt to leave their Lantanas untouched during the winter, and this has some advantages. The leaves will grow back sooner and the plant will bloom earlier than ones that were pruned in winter. The plant will also grow much larger in size if you are interested in having a larger plant. The leafless branches provide habitat for wildlife during the winter. However, it is still important in March to remove any dead branches from the plant when it starts to grow new leaves. This can be kind of tricky and time consuming, but sometimes works out great.
You should also try to rake out any leaves that fell on the ground over the winter after you finish pruning out the dead branches to prevent diseases and harmful insects from festering in those leaves.
If we have weather that is warm all winter and your lantanas do not die back or show any cold damage, I still recommend cutting them down to 3” from the ground in February or early March. This will control their size. If you have plenty of room for them you can let them continue growing unpruned.
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