Annuals Year of

2022: Year of the Verbena

Verbena can rock any spot in the garden during the hottest days of summer!

From the National Garden Bureau

Every year, the National Garden Bureau, a non-profit organization promoting the pleasures of home gardening, selects one annual, one perennial, one vegetable, one shrub, one bulb and, for the first time this year, one houseplant to celebrate. It’s a great way to discover a new plant or to learn a bit more about a plant you may already be growing.

Let’s look at the annual chosen for 2022, the verbena.

Overview and History

Verbena Obsession Eye Mixture of various colors with a white eye.
Verbena Obsession Eye Mixture is a popular garden verbena and one that is easy to grow from seed. Photo: Harris Seeds

Gardeners know verbenas for their ability to withstand the pressure of hot, dry conditions. Luckily for all of us, there are many new hybrids that have been bred just for this job!

The verbena belongs to the Verbenaceae family, which contains some 800 species in 32 genera. Many of them are native to the Americas and Asia. This family is characterized by clumps or spikes of flowers on heat-loving herbs, shrubs, trees, or vines. Other notable members of this family include common verveine (Verbena officinalis), lemon verbena (Aloysia spp.), lantana (Lantana spp.), porterweed (Stachytarpheta spp.), tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis) and sandpaper vine (Petrea volubilis). For purposes of this article, we are focusing only on the annual types commonly called garden verbenas (Verbena × hybrida, now Glandularia × hybrida).

While common verbena served as a medicinal herb and holy plant in ancient Egyptian, Roman, and Greek civilizations, we prize the verbenas we grow today for their ornamental value. There are many varied types and habits, including upright and tall, as well as mounded and trailing. Some verbenas make great ground covers as well.

Basic Types and Variety Names

Verbena Trixi Little Liberty red, white and blue flowers.
Verbena Trixi Little Liberty is the perfect choice for the American 1st of July! Photo: Selecta

Most verbenas on the market are hybrid cultivars bred to have a winning combination of traits coming from many different verbena species. These hybrid varieties generally have larger flowers, brighter and more saturated colors, and larger, more weather-tolerant leaves than their species relatives. Hybridizers also bred into them more heat, water-stress, and disease tolerance. Especially tolerance against powdery mildew, a real problem with older varieties. These modern cultivars are often available in series. Each series includes verbenas with similar characteristics, but different flower colors.

Their leaves are often dense and hairy. Their flowers are small with five petals and set in dense clusters. Typical colors include shades of blue and purple, but they can also be found in white and pink shades. Environmental factors can determine the flowering time and size of a verbena plant. As temperatures rise, some plants may go out of color and stay a bit green until a cool-off. Others are bred to withstand heat and humidity with flowers and bulky growth that carry on non-stop through the growing season.

Pollinators love verbenas! Hummingbirds, butterflies, and moths are all frequent visitors. Bees of all types love verbena, too.

Verbena Varieties to Look For:

  • The Aztec Series has big clusters of vibrant flowers that provide an eye-catching display in containers, beds, and hanging baskets. Free-flowering through heat and humidity on a mounding trailing plant.
  • The Empress Series includes both trailing and semi-trailing types of verbena with eye-catching flower colors that stay a compact 8–10 in (20–25 cm) tall but can spread up to 18 in (45 cm) wide.
Verbena EnduraScape™ Pink Bicolor: dark pink flowers with a pale pink outside.
Verbena EnduraScape™ Pink Bicolor
  • EnduraScape™ Pink Bicolor is a 2017 All-America Selections winner. This vigorous and spreading, long-flowering plant can be considered a hardy annual (zone 7) since it thrives in the heat and can take some chilling temperatures as well.
Verbena Firehouse Purple Fizz Improved with charming purple and white flowers.
Verbena Firehouse Purple Fizz Improved. Photo: Selecta
  • Firehouse™ Purple Fizz is a top performer at many university flower trials. This medium-vigor purple and white bicolor verbena has a beautiful mounded habit perfect for hanging baskets and landscapes. This variety, and the others in the Firehouse series, have superior powdery mildew tolerance and prolonged summer flowering.
  • The Twister series is popular because of its unique tricolor blooms and long-flowering periods.
Verbena Lanai Vintage with pink and cream flowers.
Verbena Lanai Vintage. Photo: Syngenta
  • Lanai is a series with distinct color patterns that remain strong and stable (and powdery mildew resistant) throughout the growing season. Lanais come in three types: regular, compact, and upright.
  • Look to the Obsession series for bold colors and a twister pattern. They’re one of the few verbenas still available from seed.
  • Superbena® Imperial Blue™ is a new-to-market variety with an attractive and truly unique blue color on large flowers. This Superbena boasts exceptional branching on a tidy, manageable habit. It’s tough as nails and will continue blooming late through the summer.
Verbena Beats Purple+White forms halos of color.
Verbena Beats Purple+White. Photo: Selecta
  • The Beats™ series is a fun new compact size of verbena. Purple+White is a bicolor bloomer that is a great option for small patio pots and tabletop bowls, as it will keep its eye-catching mound of color all summer long.
Temari Trailing Candy Stripe has bonbon pink flowers with white stripes.
Temari Trailing Candy Stripe. Photo: Suntory Flowers
  • Temari® Trailing is a range of broad-leaved verbenas which produce vigorous branches that quickly form mounds of color via large bold blooms.
  • Tapien® is a fine leaved series of verbenas known for their spreading habit. They offer good cold and heat tolerance and mildew resistance. Tapien makes an excellent ground cover plant and is constantly in bloom.
Verbena Tuscany Burgundy with Eye has deep burgundy flowers with a white eye.
Verbena Tuscany Burgundy with Eye. Photo: Syngenta
  • Tuscany, also from seed, has an upright habit perfect for small or medium-sized containers. Big blooms and sunny colors add a bright interest to the garden.
  • Cake Pops™ is fun and functional. These verbenas have a cute globular flower shape and will not flush. Cake Pops are available in two pleasing soft colors: Pink and Purple.
  • Homestead Purple has been around for over two decades. It’s known best for its determination to continuously flower through summer, and it’s hardy enough to grow as a perennial in USDA hardiness zones 7–11. It makes an excellent drought-tolerant groundcover. Homestead Hot Pink is a new color and promises to deliver the same performance in a bright, new hue.

Verbena Home Gardening Tips

While verbena seed is available, many of the newer varieties that have the desirable traits are vegetatively propagated. They can be found as young plants at your local garden retailer in the spring.

Verbena looks their best when their soil is kept moist, but not wet as they don’t like soggy feet. If the growing medium dries out too much, it can cause “flushing.” Flushing is commonly known as cycling out of color. It occurs when the plant loses blooms, but remains green and leafy.

Verbena Obsession Twister Purple with purple topped flowers, white with purple bottom.
Verbena Obsession Twister Purple. Photo: Syngenta

Verbena plants should be placed in sunny locations, aiming for 6+ hours of direct light. Most species perform well in the ground or landscape. They can also be displayed in hanging baskets and patio containers. The compact-growing verbena work best in pots. They don’t have the root vigor necessary for garden bed applications. For prolonged flowering, deadhead verbena by cutting or pulling off spent flower heads.

Powdery Mildew (PM) is an unfortunate occurrence on some verbenas. The best practice is to look for newer varieties that have a built-in resistance. If PM does appear (it will present as white patches of fluffy fungus on leaves or stem) treat with a neem spray or your favorite fungicide. Catching PM early is the best solution, as this disease can spread quickly. Also, its fungus blocks sunlight to the plant’s nutrition system, making the plant unable to produce food. That will ultimately cause the plant to perish.

Gardening with verbenas can elevate your landscape design and add texture and color to your patio containers. You’ll appreciate their colorful branches and how well they play with other flowers in your garden. Whether you live in northern climates and enjoy them for a single summer, or watch them return year after year in warm, southern climes, verbena is an excellent choice for plant lovers of all levels of garden abilities.

This article was adapted from a fact sheet written for the National Garden Bureau and provided as an educational service. Unless otherwise mentioned, photos are courtesy of the National Garden Bureau. Purchase verbenas at NGB Member Online Stores and at your local garden retailer. Please consider NGB member companies as authoritative sources for information.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

7 comments on “2022: Year of the Verbena

  1. Pingback: 2022: Year of the Phlox - Laidback Gardener

  2. “Pollinators love verbenas! Hummingbirds, butterflies, and moths are all frequent visitors. Bees of all types love verbena, too.”

    Rhetorical question: Do the pollinators necessarily recognize hybridized flowers as nectar sources? it’s all well and good for humans to hybridize the heck out of plants for our visual pleasure, but pollinators need food sources they recognize, too.

    • If you’ve watched hummingbirds zooming in and out of verbena flowers, and coming back day after day, I think you have an answer to your question. Some double flowers are attractive to human eyes, but offer no access to pollinators. But I know of no verbenas in that category.

  3. Sandra Garrett

    I have a garden full of tall,Lollipop verbena and it has become my new favorite ? and the butterflies absolutely love it.

  4. Great review of verbena. Thanks for the update in the name change too.

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