Q: Last year we planted lantana around our mailbox. My wife heard that if you don’t cut them down at the end of the season they will come back in spring. It is her understanding that cutting them exposes openings for rain, etc. We didn’t cut them back but my question is whether there is some point at which we CAN cut the dead stalks? Or do we just wait until they rot away?
A: The mechanism of lantana winter hardiness is not well studied. Some varieties, like ‘New Gold’, ‘Irene’ and ‘Confetti’ rarely survive an Atlanta winter. ‘Miss Huff’, selected by Goodness Grows Nursery in Lexington, usually freezes to the ground but springs back to life in April. Pruning a lantana in fall interferes with its hormonal controls, which govern how the plant goes dormant. My general feeling is that since it is so marginally hardy, letting a lantana deal with cold on its own is better than pruning in fall thru early winter.
However, by this time of year the stalks appear dead all the way to the ground. However, I suppose it is possible that water entering a severely cut stalk could trickle into the crown interior. I think you’d be safe reducing a ‘Miss Huff’ lantana to eighteen inches in January. The remaining stems would be long enough to prevent water entry and there are no hormones present in the branches. All other lantana varieties should be consigned to the compost pile each year in November.