With so much strife in the world, we can use good news. The good news is that the number of monarch butterflies over-wintering in Mexico has increased.
This is due in part to the increase in monarch waystations (private and public) along their migratory flight, including many in western and central Kentucky. The waystations include plants for a variety of pollinators including milkweed, the monarchs' only larval food. It is appropriate that the National Garden Bureau (NGB) has named lantana its Plant of the Year, for its beauty and ease of growing. It is is one of our best pollinator-attracting plants.
According to NGB, since the 1700s, when the American tropical native was introduced to Europe, lantana camara has been a popular bedding and container plant. NGB adds that lantana is a must-have for creating a pollinator haven. These plants are REALLY attractive to butterflies, bees and hummingbirds on so many levels: sweet nectar for food, attractive scent, bright color and the overall flower form (it's a literal landing pad!).
Color choices are a rainbow, including all colors -- except blue -- and all combinations. As the flower matures, the tubular blooms change color from the center to the outer edges.
Lantana is easy to grow, loves sun (8 hours), heat and soil on the dry side. Wet and cool weather will produce powdery mildew and root rot if in wet soil. Deer and rabbits avoid it, as they do not like its foliage odor.
Grow as a compact bedding plant (4 feet tall by 1-2 feet wide) or trailing in a container or hanging basket (2 feet tall by 4 feet wide). Fertilize once in the spring and then twice a month using 10-10-10 or 20-20-20. Deadhead to keep it compact. It is relatively insect-free.
Popular series to plant mid-February are Bloomify (Ball Seed) and Landmark (Burpee) and later in garden centers Bonnie Plants (species) and Lemon Swirl Series 'Samantha' from Monrovia.
Things to do
• 15 Minute Gardening - Start a new gardening journal, or continue a current one, and make notations about weather (60 degrees the first weekend!) or new foliage on plants and spring bulb foliage (up an inch two weeks early). Don't give up if you do not make daily entries, as often there is no activity in the garden.
• Lawn - Avoid any heavy equipment on the yard, as it compresses the soil making it harder for roots to spread. While the ground is soft, rake, fill in and level ruts; and tamp down mole runs.
• Trees and Shrubs - Deciduous trees may be pruned until new leaf buds appear in the spring. Nor do they need fertilizing until leaf buds appear. With the exception of new and container grown plants, they do not need watering during the winter if we have adequate rain. Prune to shape crape myrtles removing no more than 50%. "Crape murder" is the term used to describe 75-90% removal that leaves an ugly tree, does not produce more flowers but does leave the tree susceptible to disease and dehydration.
The National Garden Clubs urges each of us to "Plant America with Trees: Each ONE Plant ONE" "to help fight climate change … (and) to offset the loss of flora due to natural disaster and intentional deforestation."
• Vegetables - Plan what to plant and to add structures to make gardening easier. Start a list of plants and seeds to order. Do not apply wood ashes to acid-loving fruits such as blueberries. Are your cranberries too ripe? If they bounce at least 4 inches, they are just right according to Amanda Sears, Marshall County Extension Horticulture Agent. Cranberries do not grow well here; for fruits that do, request UK Extension HortFact3003.
• Jan. 14 - Beekeeping Series - Introduction, Marshall County Extension Office, 1933 Mayfield Highway, Benton, 6-7:30 p.m. For reservations, phone 270-527-3285. Parts 2 and 3 will be Feb. 11 and March 10.
• Jan. 31-Feb. 2, Antiques and Garden Show, Nashville, Tennessee.
• January Eagle Weekends -- Jan. 19-21, Lake Barkley, 270-924-1131; and Jan. 26-28, Kentucky Dam Village, 270-361-4271.
Carolyn Roof, the Sun's gardening columnist, at firstname.lastname@example.org