How to Grow and Care for Verbena

The Verbena genus contains more than 250 species of perennial and annual plants, but the pure species are not commonly grown except by fairly specialized gardeners or heirloom plant enthusiasts. Most of the Verbenas widely used as bedding plants or low trailers in containers are named cultivars derived from hybrid crosses of various verbena species. You often will see these labeled as "Verbena x hybrida", "Verbena x" or "annual verbena" to distinguish them from the native species forms. These hybrid verbenas may perform as hardy perennials in zones 9 to 10, but they are more commonly grown as annuals in all zones. They are usually low-growing, trailing plants with dark green elongated leaves with toothed edges. They produce clusters of colorful flowers that bloom continuously from spring to fall.

Verbena hybrids are usually planted as potted nursery plants in the spring, or started indoors from seeds in late winter. They are moderately fast-growing plants that will bloom by mid-summer from seeds started indoors in winter; potted plants will grow to full size in a matter of a few weeks.

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Common Name Verbena, annual verbena
Botanical Name Verbena x hybrida
Family Verbenaceae
Plant Type Annual, perennial
Mature Size 9–12 in. tall, 12–18-in. wide
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral
Bloom Time Spring, summer, fall
Flower Color White, red, purple, pink, peach
Hardiness Zones 9–10 (USDA)
Native Area Europe

Verbena Care

Verbenas need full sun throughout the day and they must have well-drained soil. They very much resent overcrowded conditions and soggy soil. But provided their ideal conditions are met, they need little additional care, other than well-timed watering. Space the plants well apart so they have plenty of air circulation—exact spacing will depend on the variety.

Pruning the plants back a couple of times during the growing season will help prompt new blooms and extend the blooming season.

butterfly on tall verbena
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida  
Tall Verbena
AYImages / Getty Images
Verbena flowers

 

AtWaG / Getty Images

Verbena Flowers
© Marie iannotti

Light

Plant verbena in full sun. Flowering will be much reduced in shady locations. This is a plant that requires at least six hours of sun daily, and eight to 10 hours is much better.

Soil

These plants like fairly dry soil with slightly acidic to neutral pH (5.8 to 7.2). Verbena is not too particular about soil, except that it must be well-draining. Heavy clay can lead to root rot, so dig in several shovelfuls of compost or leaf mold to lighten dense soils.

Water

Many of the parent species of these hybrids are native to Mediterranean regions or dry prairies, and their water needs resemble the conditions of those regions. Keep plants evenly moist until established. Once mature, these plants have average water needs (1/2 to 1 inch per week) but will tolerate short periods of drought. Soggy plants will succumb to botrytis blight, but drought-stressed plants may attract spider mites.

Temperature and Humidity

Planted as annuals, hybrid verbenas perform suitably in virtually any climate but may decline in the hottest period of the summer. When grown as short-lived garden perennials, most hybrids are hardy in zones 9 to 10, but some are hardy up to zone 7.

Fertilizer

Verbenas are not heavy feeders, but they do appreciate a monthly application of balanced, slow-release flower fertilizer to help them keep up the flower show, which can last from spring until frost. For the amount of fertilizer to use, follow the product label instructions.

Types of Verbena

The varieties of hybrid verbena are identified by their unique flower colors. Here are some notable selections:

  • 'Homestead Purple' is one of the most popular trailing verbenas. It is a vigorous plant with large dark purple flower clusters. It is often considered a cultivar of V. canadensa.
  • 'Lanai Royal Purple with Eye' is a cultivar with bright purple flowers and contrasting white eyes.
  • 'Lanai Twister Pink' has dual-tone light pink and dark pink flowers on low trailing plants.
  • 'Summer Blaze' has cherry red flower clusters from late spring through frost.
  • 'Abbeville' is a vigorous variety with light lavender flowers, originally discovered growing near Abbeville, S.C.
  • 'Appleblossom' is a vigorous, long-flowering verbena with large flowers of cotton candy-pink with a contrasting white eye.
  • 'Superbina' series is bred to resist powdery mildew and it sometimes becomes a short-lived perennial as far north as zone 7. Flowers are white or shades of lavender.

Species Types

In addition to the Verbena hybrids that are so common as annual bedding and container plants, there are a number of pure Verbena species that you can try as garden perennials, though finding them can be a challenge. These species are welcome in the butterfly garden. Tall varieties belong in the cottage garden, naturalized meadow, or back of the border. Many of these plants are more upright in growth habit and may look quite different from the hybrid trailers.

  • V. hastata (blue vervain) is a North American native that grows to 6 feet tall with purplish-blue flowers. It is hardy in zones 3 to 8.
  • Glandularia pulchella (moss verbena) was once categorized as Verbena tenuisecta. It has finely cut leaves and a very low growing habit. Several cultivars are available, including the Tapien Series which includes a range of colors; ‘Edith’, with fragrant lavender-pink flowers; ‘Imagination’ a well-known purple variety; and ‘Sissinghurst’, a prolific bloomer with coral-pink flowers.
  • V. bonariensis is a native of Brazil that grows to 4 feet with lavender flowers. It is hardy in zones 7 to 11. It is sometimes known as purple-top vervain.
  • Glandularia canadensis was once considered a member of the verbena genus but has now been recategorized. The 'Greystone Daphne' cultivar has lavender-pink flowers and grows to 8 inches with a sprawling habit. It is hardy in zones 5 to 8.
  • V. tenuisecta (moss verbena) has delicate, lace-like foliage and grows to 5 or 6 inches. It blooms during late summer and early fall and is hardy in zones 7 to 9.
  • V. rigida (rigid verbena) is a spreading variety that makes a good ground cover. Notable cultivars include 'Polaris' and 'Stantos'. It is hardy in zones 7 to 9.

Pruning

Shear back verbena plants once or twice per season to stimulate new blossoms and keep the plants full and tidy-looking. Deadheading spent flowers will also prompt additional blossoming.

Propagating Verbena

The best way to propagate hybrid garden verbenas is a traditional vegetative method—clipping off stem segments and rooting them. This is the tried-and-true method that works for many herbaceous plants. With verbenas, taking stem cuttings in the fall can be a good way to keep plants alive through the winter, rooting them indoors and then potting them up to prepare for transplanting outdoor in the spring. Here's how to do it:

  1. Use sharp, sterilized pruners to cut 4- to 6-inch clippings from the ends of healthy stems. Remove the leaves from the bottom one-third of the cutting, then dip the cut end into rooting hormone.
  2. Fill small pots with a porous rooting medium, such as peat moss (or a commercial peat-based potting mix) blended with an equal amount of sand or perlite. Plant the cutting in the potting mix, burying the bare part of the stem. Carefully water the pots so the potting mix is fully moistened.
  3. Cover the pot with a plastic cover (or place it in a loose plastic bag) and set it in a location that is bright but out of the direct sun. Periodically inspect the cutting and moisten the potting mix when necessary.
  4. After several weeks, begin testing the cutting by tugging gently on the stem. You'll know that roots have developed once you begin to feel resistance. When new growth is evident, the plant is ready to transplant into the garden or into larger pots filled with commercial potting mix.

How to Grow Verbena From Seed

Most verbenas are hybrids that don't "come true" from the seeds you collect from garden plants, so seed propagation should be done from purchased commercial seeds, which are bred under carefully controlled greenhouse conditions. They should be started indoors 12 to 14 weeks before your average last frost date to ensure flowers by early summer.

Wrap the seeds in a moist paper towel and place them in a plastic bag. Refrigerate them for seven days, then plant in cell trays filled with a commercial seed-starter mix. Press the seed into the soil and barely cover with additional seed-starter mix. Mist the starter mix to moisten it, then cover the tray and place in a dark location out of direct sunlight, at a temperature of about 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

When the seeds begin to sprout (21 to 30 days) remove the cover and bring the tray out into direct light. The seedlings can be transplanted into their own pots filled with commercial potting mix—or directly into the garden—when they have several sets of true leaves.

Potting and Repotting Verbena

Verbena is commonly found in hanging baskets with a mix of flowers, where they make good "spillers" trailing over the sides of the container. For container planting, use any general-purpose peat-based potting mix, in any well-draining container (any material will do) You can also pot up verbena growing in the ground for overwintering indoors.

Because they are normally grown as annuals, potted verbenas normally do not require repotting; they are simply discarded at the end of the growing season. But potted verbenas are technically warm-climate perennials, so it is possible to bring pots indoors and keep them growing through the winter. If you do so, cut back the foliage by one-third before moving them, and give them an indoor location with as much sunlight as possible. But be aware that verbenas have a short lifespan as perennials; they do not make good permanent houseplants.

Overwintering

Potted verbena can be overwintered. Unpotted verbena will likely be killed off by the first hard frost (when temperatures dip well under freezing) unless you pot it by digging up the entire plant. Here's what to do:

  1. Cut back the plant to less than half of its size. Carefully dig it up, then trim the roots by half, as well.
  2. Find a container that leaves a couple of inches around the root ball and fill it with potting soil. Plant the verbena at the same depth it was growing in the ground.
  3. Put the newly potted plant in the sunniest indoor spot you can find. Spray with a mist of water for the first few weeks indoors, then inspect frequently and water as needed. Also check for pests, as indoor plants can be prone to aphids and other common houseplant pests.
  4. As the last frost of spring approaches, prune back the plant to stimulate new growth. After the last frost of spring has passed and nighttime temperatures are reliably above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, you can move the container outdoors or replant the verbena in the garden.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

These plants are susceptible to powdery mildew, and they may be visited by common insect pests that can be treated with insecticidal soaps or chemical sprays. Such problems are rarely fatal to the plants, however.

Powdery mildew can be minimized if you make a point to water at ground level rather than through overhead spraying. And giving the plants plenty of space to improve air circulation will help reduce these fungal infections.

How to Get Verbena to Bloom

Hybrid verbenas almost always bloom profusely if their basic cultural needs are met: lots of sun, well-draining soil with moderate moisture, and light regular feeding. When a plant fails to bloom, the solution is often to give it good "haircut" by pruning it back fairly severely, combined with a healthy dose of balanced fertilizer.

Common Problems With Verbena

Gardners often have trouble getting the watering routine right when growing hybrid verbenas. Too much water and the plant can develop root rot; too little water and the plant can dry up and die back. While this plant tends to like dryish soils and tolerates short drought, extended drought that lasts more than a couple of weeks in hot weather can kill the plants. Perfecting the timing for watering these plants can be tricky.

Usually, the standard 1 inch of water applied weekly is adequate—but this can be too much for plants planted in poorly draining dense soils. Successful growers often find that the best strategy is to carefully watch the plant and withhold water just until the leaves start to show signs of curling—then water it thoroughly. This approach requires daily observation.

Verbenas sometimes become overly leggy and sparse. The course of action here is to severely prune back and feed the plant, which will quickly stimulate thick new growth and a flush of flowering.

FAQ
  • What is the difference between verbena and lemon verbena?

    There is often confusion between hybrid verbena and another plant called lemon verbena. Lemon verbena is a member of a different genus within the Verbenaceae family, classified as Aloysia triphylla. Lemon verbena, which is grown mostly as an herbal used in aromatherapy and home remedies, has a distinct citrus fragrance, whereas most verbena plants do not.

  • How long do verbena plants live?

    When grown as perennials, verbenas are fairly short-lived plants, rarely living beyond two or three years. If you happen to be growing a species type rather than a hybrid, however, the plants freely self-seed and you may find it colonizing in a manner that makes it everlasting.

  • How is this plant used in landscaping?

    Hybrid annual verbenas are consistent bloomers often potted or used as garden bedding plants, planted in masses, or as front edging plants where the sprawling habit is put to good use. Many hybrids have a trailing habit that works well in hanging baskets, in rock gardens. or cascading over short retaining walls. Some varieties are sprawling, spreading plants that can make a good ground cover in sunny areas.

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Article Sources
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  1. Verbena. Clemson Cooperative Extension.

  2. Verbena. Clemson University Cooperative Extension.

  3. Plant Propagation by Stem Cuttings. North Carolina State Extension.

  4. Success With Seeds–Verbena. Park Seed Company.

  5. Verbena Seeds. Swallowtail Garden Seeds.

  6. Verbena - Powdery Mildew. University of Massachusetts Amherst Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment.