Louisiana gardeners have long been familiar with verbenas. These generally low-growing plants produce clusters of showy flowers in a wide variety of colors. Homestead Purple verbena is considered one of the very best, and it has been selected as a Louisiana Super Plant for fall 2015.
Garden verbenas are divided into two basic categories – annual verbenas and perennial verbenas. Annual verbenas (Verbena x hybrida) are used as cool-season bedding plants grown from March to May. They produce compact plants about 6 to 10 inches tall and 12 inches wide. They come in a number of bright colors. They are short-lived and have little heat tolerance, fading quickly with the arrival of summer.
Perennial verbenas include some you may see growing in the wild along highways, such as Verbena tenuisecta and Verbena rigida. These species were introduced from South America and are widely naturalized across the Southeast. They produce showy flowers and are suitable for planting in gardens.
Most of the perennial verbenas in the nurseries, however, are derived from trailing verbena (Verbena canadensis), a species native to the southeastern U.S. The trailing verbena is a short-lived perennial that generally lasts two to four years in the garden.
Early to midfall and late winter into early spring are the best times of the year to plant trailing verbenas into your flower gardens. Many varieties and series of trailing verbena are available these days, and they come in a wide variety of colors, including scarlet, burgundy, rose, pink, white, purple, lavender and blue. But the trailing verbena most highly recommended is Louisiana Super Plant Homestead Purple.
Why select Homestead Purple as a Louisiana Super Plant when there are many cultivars of trailing verbena available these days? Because after many years of side-by-side trials with other verbena cultivars, Homestead Purple has consistently been the best performer.
This trailing verbena is the first to begin flowering in late winter or early spring. It is the most cold-hardy (mid-teens). It is the perennial verbena that looks best in the hot, stressful summer months. Homestead Purple is also the longest-lived trailing verbena, often persisting for three or four years in the garden.
The flowering habit is better than other cultivars. Homestead Purple has more abundant flowers when in peak bloom. The clusters of deep purple flowers literally cover the dark green, low-spreading foliage. Although other verbena cultivars may be promoted as more winter tolerant and more summer tolerant, they are not. Homestead Purple is still better than the new perennial verbenas being sold today. It remains the most popular and most readily available verbena in Louisiana nurseries.
With all of the new trailing verbenas available today in a variety of bright colors, gardeners maybe forgetting that Homestead Purple remains the standard to which all other verbenas are compared with for performance. The LSU AgCenter felt the need to re-introduce the gardening public to this great variety.
When planting Homestead Purple perennial verbenas, place plants about 2 feet apart. This may sound like a considerable distance, but once growth begins, this will be an ideal spacing. These plants need a well-drained site, and full sun is preferred. Plants will do OK in part sun, but excessive shade will reduce flowering. Soil pH is not critical – plants will do fine in slightly acid, neutral and even slightly alkaline soil. Mulch them with pine straw after planting, and fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer for best results.
Trailing verbenas like Homestead Purple are very drought tolerant. Irrigate during the first few weeks to aid the plants in establishment and during excessively dry periods in summer. Watering too often and too generously can cause powdery mildew and root or stem rot problems, which may also occur during extended periods of heavy rainfall, so make sure beds are well-drained.
Trailing verbenas flower best from late winter through early summer and then in late summer through fall. Some flowers also are present in midsummer. But during the hottest part of the summer these verbenas tend to take a break.
Cutting back plants after each flowering cycle is completed encourages new growth that will produce flowers when the next ideal time comes. Stem cuttings from pruning will root easily. Butterflies love perennial verbenas and will swarm the plant canopies in summer and fall.
When gardening this fall or when planting bedding plants early next spring, add Homestead Purple verbena to your flower beds or containers. It’s an outstanding Louisiana Super Plant that you will be glad you chose.
You can see more about work being done in landscape horticulture by viewing the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station website at www.lsuagcenter.com/hammond. In addition to information on Louisiana Super Plants, you can find an abundance of landscape information for both home gardeners and industry professionals.
Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter. He can be reached at DGill@agcenter.lsu.edu