I’ve written about zombie plants before, bee balm and German thyme being the main culprits. But now, I’ll have to add a new name to the list, lantana. Yes, the lantana whose label said it was an annual. Bee balm and thyme are perennials, so one could reasonably expect to find a stray sprig here or there. But, lantana is an annual in Atlanta, or at least it is supposed to be. When my wife spotted lantana happily blooming two weeks ago, I was shocked. So much for plant labels…

Lantana and I go back to the second year of the garden. I wanted a yellow flower to go with the deep indigo of the black and blue salvia. Since I wanted to experiment, I looked for an annual. The label claimed that the cheery yellow lantana with citrusy scented foliage was a mounding annual that would grow to be 18 or so inches high. Since the space I had in mind bordered the sidewalk and driveway, those growth characteristics seemed perfect. I rejoiced too quickly. 

I planted three quart-container plants in the corner of the space. The lantana grew as expected until about August. The hotter it got, the happier it seemed to be. When I skipped watering for a week, every other plant wilted slightly while the lantana was better than ever. That should have been the tip-off. Over the next two months, I watched that lantana send up four-foot-tall shoots and spread a foot out onto the sidewalk and driveway. I had to prune it back at least twice that season. I didn’t learn my lesson. 

I’m back!!!!

None of those plants made past winter. So, the next summer, knowing what to expect, I planted three more. They overgrew again, but this time, I had planned for it, so all was well. The frost came the lantana died. By that time, I had decided that even though I liked the foliage and flowers, it was too much work. So, I went looking for a replacement, but the lantana was not quite done with me. 

The next spring, while digging out the dead annuals, I went to pull up the dead-looking lantana remnants, but they were still firmly in the ground! In previous years, they had come up easily. I took out my trowel, moved the debris out of the way, and to my surprise, the dead lantana had tiny green leaves! Right then, I should have dug out the entire space. But like the guy who finds a meteorite in a newly formed crater, curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to see what would happen. I know, it’s ridiculous—what could happen other than it growing? Because of this lantana, I no longer yell at people in movies who go looking in the woods to investigate a noise, or into old, abandoned houses to see what moved, or who take a viable dinosaur egg. 

Of course, my annual lantana came back in full force. Impressed by its tenacity, I let it grow. Why??? By the fourth season, I knew it was NOT an annual, so I did what I had to. I took the digging shovel in hand and dug up the space. I then pulled all the roots out by hand, in the process discovering that the roots from the lantana had spread over the entire half of the space and far from where the mother plants had been placed. Following this discovery, I carefully sifted until all roots were gone—that was TWO YEARS AGO!!! 

After digging and ripping out the lantana, I planted other annuals, digging up the space each time. So, it was jarring when I realized that not only had the lantana been planning its return for two years, but it had also spread. It’s using the Gerber daisies as a human shield (ok, plant shield), so I can’t even dig it out as I had before.  

It’s quiet now—the frost killed it. As I write this post, I am comforted by the gentle rustle of stiffened leaves tossed about by frigid winter wind. But, I know it’s still out there; I can feel it. What is it doing to my daises? Where will it strike next? Will I dream about it? 

I don’t have any answers. What I do know for certain is that spring is coming. And just between you and me, I’m hoping for a long winter. I doubt that plants can hold grudges, but if anything unusual happens to me, you know who did it…


  1. Garden thugs are usually discovered the hard way. 😉 If one is diligent by removing every rootlet, MAYBE one can be rid of it. But there are always mistakes we have to live with. Mine are Bamboo and Houttuynia. I curse the day I put them in. Live and learn!

    1. The first year of my garden, a neighbor was having backyard landscaping done, and the landscaper parked in front of my yard. At the time, I was planting canna lilies. He walked over, looked at everything, and complimented my choice of plants and colors. He paused by the cannas and said, “One day you will be out here with a pick cursing the day you planted these.” I have to dig up those cannas two or three times each season to keep them under control. I’m learning…

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