If you love garden fragrance and nonstop bee and butterfly activity, then the sweet almond verbena or tree verbena is a must for your landscape. Those traits, coupled with drought tolerance and ease of growing, were just some of the reasons it was chosen as the Florida Plant of the Year in 2008.
Botanically speaking it is known as Aloysia virgata and is in the verbena family. It is native to Argentina but is truly at home in much of the United States. It produces glorious spikes of white blooms with reckless abandon. In late afternoon, when you are ready to relax on the deck or patio, the fragrance intensifies, making the experience one that the whole family will treasure and remember.
It is cold hardy from zone 7-10 and is grown like a wood shrub or small tree in zones 9-11. The sweet almond verbena, however, has so much going for it that gardeners in colder regions grow it as an annual or large container plant.
It is quite at home in the back of the perennial or cottage garden. My favorite use however would be the backyard wildlife habitat or pollinator garden. With its nonstop glistening white blooms, it attracts a near-unlimited choice of companions.
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Choose a well-drained site in full sun. Luxurious soil fertility is not needed nor recommended. Dig the planting hole two to three times as wide as the rootball, but no deeper. This wide hole allows for easy root expansion and acclimation in the landscape. The top of the rootball should be even with the soil profile.
As mentioned above, the sweet almond verbena is drought tolerant, easy to grow and has virtually no pests or diseases, making it an environmentally friendly plant. It is fairly easy to find at garden centers and countless reputable mail-order sites. A four-inch container version grows like it is rocket propelled.
These members of the verbena family have so many award-winning traits: drought tolerance, fragrance, bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and a beauty all their own. I hope you will search them out.
Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South.”