What Is Verbena?
Verbena is a flowering plant that is a perennial (comes back every year), with some annual varieties. It is native to the Americas, with some species native to Asia. Most varieties of verbena have a trailing habit and only grow a few inches tall. Some varieties are taller, sometimes growing up to 5 feet. Flowers can be purple, blue, white, or pink.
One species of verbena, known as vervain, is commonly used for its supposed medicinal benefits. Taken in a tincture or powder form, vervain is purported to have anti-cancer, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-anxiety properties. These benefits have not yet been thoroughly studied, however. This medicinal variety is commonly referred to as “herb of the cross,” because it was supposedly used to treat Jesus’s wounds when he was crucified. It looks different from the more common trailing varieties, growing up to three feet tall with small purple flowers growing in groups or spikes.
Verbena Is an Ideal Ground Cover Plant
The trailing habit of most varieties of verbena make it ideal to use as a ground cover plant. Ground cover plants are those that spread outward instead of growing upward, and will fill in the space between plants much like grass would. Most verbena are quite low lying and have dense flowers when in full bloom. It prefers full sun, so it works best when paired with other plants that won’t cause too much shade overhead. Good plants to pair it with include ornamental grasses and compact shrubs that won’t block out the sunlight.
Planting and Care
Perennial verbena will grow well as a perennial in U.S. hardiness zones 7–11. Although it can’t survive very harsh, cold winters, it may be grown in colder areas as an annual plant, since it flowers quickly after planting. Verbena flourishes when planted in an area that will receive 8–10 hours of sun per day.
Verbena can grow in a variety of soil conditions, even in soil that is dry or not particularly nutrient-dense. It is important, however, that verbena isn’t in an area of your garden that becomes soggy or waterlogged. Verbena requires more dry, well-draining soil. If perennial verbena remains too wet over time, it may die or not come back the next year. Although verbena is not picky about nutrients, adding some compost to the soil where it is planted can help the soil drain better, and maintain the drier conditions that verbena thrives in.
Verbena will flower not too long after planting. It should ideally be planted when the risk of frost (for their first season) is past, which depending on the zone could be late April to mid-May. In areas of the U.S. with a milder warmer year-round climate, they can be planted in summer or fall with success. For areas of the country with very hot summers, it is best not to plant in the hotter summer months, as this creates stressful conditions for the plant to get established. When planted, the individual verbena plants should be spaced about six inches apart to give them room to fill in and fulfill its trailing habit.
One of the best things about verbena plants is its long blooming season, and that it will bloom the first season it is planted, unlike many perennial plants. Depending on the growing zone, verbena starts blooming in mid May to early June, and with proper care, can bloom several more times throughout the summer. As those early blooms fade, if the plant is trimmed back by about one quarter and lightly fertilized, blooms will return again in the next three to four weeks.
Fertilizer and Maintenance
Verbena is not extremely picky about soil nutrients, but will do well when planted in soil that has plenty of organic material mixed in. Once established, it can be treated with a general liquid fertilizer once every two weeks. This flower is generally pretty low maintenance, but as noted above, will benefit from being trimmed back after it's done blooming to encourage more rounds of flowers.
There are a lot of varieties of verbena, and some look very different from each other. This article mainly focuses on trailing varieties, but not all verbena is trailing and low lying. Some varieties of flowers are dense and ground-cover-like, much like creeping phlox or creeping thyme. Others are more vertical, and grow upward in spikes. Below are some of the more common types of verbena:
Trailing verbena are those that “creep” or spread, and can be used as ground cover. Their stems will grow new roots when touching the soil, or they spread via underground rhizomes. Popular varieties include ‘Homestead’ and ‘Sweet Thing’ which have purple flowers, ‘Summer Red’ which has red flowers, and ‘Snowflurry’ which has white flowers.
Upright varieties grow taller, up to five feet, instead of spreading out and taking root in nearby soil. Popular varieties include ‘Purple Top Vervain’, ‘Brazilian Verbena’, and ‘Cadet Upright’ (red).
Also called rose verbena, these rose-pink varieties grow best in dry soil, and do well on rocky ledges. At their tallest they grow to 18 inches, and spread by stems touching the ground and forming nodes or roots there.
This type is named so because of the rough texture of its leaves. This type maxes out at about 12 inches tall, and can grow several feet wide. It has dark purple flowers. This type, like many types of verbena, is native to South America.
Moss verbena varieties resemble moss and grow extremely low to the ground. They have dense, thick leaves and flowers. These types work well in rocky areas, as a filler or groundcover, or as a “spiller” from potted plants. Tapien moss verbena comes in different shades of blue, purple, pink, and white.
Annual varieties won’t come back the following year. Because of this, they do well in garden beds or potted arrangements with other annuals like petunias. Some popular annual types include ‘Peaches and Cream’ and ‘Lanai Royal Purple.’
Verbena can be grown from seed, either planted directly outside in fall or early spring, or it can be propagated or reproduced from parts of an existing verbena plant to create a new one. When planting verbena seeds outside, make sure they are planted at least a few inches down and completely covered with dirt, as they require total darkness to sprout. Sees can be started indoors approximately three months before you plan to transplant the seedlings outdoors. Keep seedling trays covered with a dark material such as black paper until they germinate. Once germinated, they can be moved to an area with sunlight until ready to plant outside.
To propagate verbena, you can either cut off a semi-woody stem of the existing verbena plant, dip that edge in rooting hormone, and stick it into potting soil until it grows roots and becomes its own plant, or you can “layer” by stretching out a little branch of the plant and burying it with soil. The stem will eventually grow its own roots and can be separated from the original plant, and moved elsewhere in the garden.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on May 26, 2021:
I absolutely love verbena.
I plant them in pots with other flowers.
They add that special flare and they keep bloomimg all summer.
I use the little tiny ones that don't get very tall.
Thanks for sharing.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 26, 2021:
I have grown verbena in the past, and you have reminded me of how easy it is to care for it.