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On Gardening: Hardy verbena varieties are blooming all-stars

August 3, 2015
 
Even on a deeply overcast day, the Little Ruby alternanthera shows out in the landscape.

If you love garden fragrance and non-stop bee and butterfly activity, then the sweet almond verbena or tree verbena is a must for your landscape. Those traits, coupled with drought tolerance and ease of growing, were just some of the reasons it was chosen as the Florida Plant of the Year in 2008.

Botanically speaking it known as Aloysia virgata and is in the verbena family. It is native to Argentina but is truly at home in much of the United States. Despite the fact the plant received the Plant-of-the-Year designation after experiencing Florida winters, consider this: In March ours, at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, in Savannah, Ga., was just emerging with growth after having been frozen to the ground. Today it is topping out at 12 feet in height with an 8-foot spread just outside my office. We are letting it grow to its true potential, but you can choose to prune as desired.

Those glorious spikes of white blooms have been produced with reckless abandon since early May and will continue well into November. In late afternoon, when you are ready to relax on the deck or patio, the fragrance intensifies, making the experience one that the whole family will treasure and remember.

It is cold hardy from zone 7-10 and is grown like a woody perennial in zones 7 and 8, where it almost always freezes to the ground, and like a wood shrub or small tree in zones 9-11. The sweet almond verbena, however, has so much going for it that gardeners in colder regions grow it as an annual or large container plant.

It is quite at home in the back of the perennial or cottage garden. My favorite use however would be the backyard wildlife habitat or pollinator garden. With its nonstop glistening white blooms, it attracts a near-unlimited choice of companions. Add blue boa agastache, Little Red Joe Pye weed, Golden lace patrinia and Chapel Hill yellow lantana, and you would create a pollinator heaven that would be tough, beautiful, and unsurpassed with activity.

Choose a well-drained site in full sun. Luxurious soil fertility is not needed nor recommended. Dig the planting hole two to three times as wide as the rootball, but no deeper. This wide hole allows for easy root expansion and acclimation in the landscape. The top of the rootball should be even with the soil profile.

As mentioned above, the sweet almond verbena is drought tolerant, easy to grow and has virtually no pests or diseases, making it an environmentally friendly plant. It is fairly easy to find at garden centers and countless reputable mail-order sites. Donít forget, a four inch container version grows like it is rocket propelled.

As you do your-shopping, keep your eyes open for another great choice to put in your collection: the white-brush known botanically as Aloysia gratissima. It is just as intensely fragrant and flushes with blooms off and on all summer. It is native to Texas, New Mexico and Arizona and is about as tough a native shrub as there is. Iíve seen it blooming in areas where your first thought would be that plant life could not possibly exist. When in bloom, however, the butterflies magically appear for a feeding frenzy. It will be 3 to 10 feet in height and is only cold-hardy in zones 8-10.

These members of the verbena family have so many award-winning traits: drought tolerance, fragrance, bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and a beauty all their own. I hope you will search them out.

 

 


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