On Gardening: Verbena on a stick offers rare beauty and summer-long performance

June 13, 2016
Verbena on a Stick brings in butterflies like this American Lady.

I could see activity all around as I approached the bed and the plant looked like it was a butterfly magnet. I am always impressed when I see multiples of one species hitting on flowers and such was the case when I witnessed American Lady Butterflies feeding on a plant we call, Verbena on a Stick.

Botanically speaking this is Verbena bonariensis. There is nothing quite like it giving the garden a cloud-like appearance of blue flowers about 3 feet tall and borne on a stiff stick rising out of the soil. It is native to South America and is normally a reliable perennial in zones 6-9. Even if you live outside the range you may get lucky with a few volunteers in the spring from seeds.

A recent introduction named Meteor Shower is a little more on the violet side and produces few if any seeds, lessening the chances of the plants becoming invasive or problematic. Two dwarf selections Little One and Lollipop that reach 18 to 24 inches tall are-receiving equally good reviews.

Youíll find the Verbena on a Stick brings in pollinators of all sorts including bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. One other thing that makes them especially appealing in our area is the roving deer population has them on the do not eat list. The trait that I like most about them is that they seem virtually indestructible blooming until frost.

You will find the best success by choosing a site in full sun. This verbena needs good drainage but copious amounts of rich organic matter is not needed unless you have severely tight clay. If you find yourself with this predicament however, spread 3 to 4 inches of fine pine bark or compost and work it into the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.

This plant used to be for sale, only as healthy green transplants, which is the best way to buy perennials, forsaking the need of instant gratification. Growers however have master the production now where you can buy them blooming.

The choice of companions is almost limitless. The key to the showiest display will be to aggressively plant boldly in mass. It is the quintessential cottage garden plant and works extremely well in the modern perennial garden. Wherever you use it automatically gives you a butterfly garden.

In the landscape youíll find the tall height and the fact that it is kind of naked at the bottom makes it ideal for the back of the border or filling in vertical space. In the large sweeping bed where my American Lady butterflies were feasting they were partnered with Miss Huff lantana and Qis Orange gomphrena. They also excel as the tall plant in mixed containers.

Maintenance is easy. Cut back frost-damaged foliage in the fall. In the early spring thin or remove unwanted seedlings or pot some up for other parts of the garden. The plant is packed with vigor so you will not need a lot of fertilizer. A little pinching in late spring will help the plant develop a shrub-like form.

The summer will be long and hot and youíll be-wanting tough flowers that donít need babysitting. Put the Verbena on a Stick on your list and you will be glad you did.



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