This buckeye butterfly is finding the Red Spread lantana to be a tasty treat. (MCT)
If you are looking for something constructive to do while under winter's frigid grip, then search out a source for Red Spread lantana. Lantana is one of the surefire bets to bloom all summer, offering months of riotous color and all the while attracting butterflies and hummingbirds like there is no tomorrow.
The riotous descriptor is perfect for the award-winning red lantana called Red Spread. You may not have heard of this one, but it has quickly become my favorite red selection for its propensity to grow, spread and produce few seeds or fruit. It serves well as a ground cover, reaching 18 to 24 inches in height with a 36-inch spread.
It seems all summer that butterflies — like the buckeye, Eastern tiger swallowtail, long tailed skipper and sulphur — are feeding on the flowers, along with the ruby throated hummingbirds. The flowers are really fiery in color. The individual flowers in the cluster start off a bright orange and quickly mature to the glowing red.
Last season I planted them in a number of combinations and I was pleased in every situation. In one area I used Electric Lime coleus as a colorful backdrop. It quickly reached 3 feet tall and the lime green provided a wonderful, if not a little gaudy, contrast to the lantana flowers.
In another area, I planted them in what might be considered a monochromatic scheme. The companion here was the orange and red selection scarlet milkweed. It, too, reached 36-inches plus but served a dual purpose in bringing in its share of butterflies and hummingbirds.
Then lastly I used them with Blue Fortune agastache. The bottle brush-like spikes of blue flowers was a great complementary companion to the both the orange and the fiery red in Red Spread. The Blue Fortune brought in not only the butterflies but also a host of bees creating a stunning garden of pollenating activity.
In all areas the soil was prepared by bringing in a small truckload of a good fertile organic planting mix. Raised beds were created to provide superior drainage and provide a good home for the quickly expanding root ball.
Red Spread is considered a cold hardy perennial in zones 9 and higher and reliably root-hardy in zone 8. Don't let those zones throw you in the least as you could not purchase a better plant for annual color in colder areas. A 6-inch or gallon-sized lantana is not much different in price when compared to the same sized begonia or petunia.
Your choice of companions are numerous. Consider using blue salvias like Mystic Spires blue, the great compact indigo spires variety, or Victoria Blue, the award-winning mealy cup sage selection. Incorporate rudbeckias like Tiger Eye Gold and you'll have a bed that will dazzle all summer.
When you are locked in winter's grip, it is a great time to do a little thoughtful planning to what flowers you will be using in the long summer landscape. The Red Spread lantana will catch the eye of all your visitors, including those that will be flying in to feed on the nectar.