Each spring, dazzling clusters of lavender-colored flowers show up along the edges of our roadways. If pre-emergence sprays or hula-hoe weeding tools have not been used in the yard, these beauties will also pop up throughout your landscape and garden. Several members of the Verbena family add soft hues of lavender, pink, purple, and occasionally white to the desert.
The variety seen most frequently along area roadsides is the native Goodding Verbena (Verbena gooddingii), a non-edible herb. It grows at a moderate pace, maturing into an 18-inch-high by 3-foot-wide mound covered with small lavender flowers from spring into summer, or as long as moisture is present.
You may notice that in the garden when other newly planted specimens are getting extra water, suddenly from out of nowhere Goodding Verbena appear close by.
At the Arid Garden, these verbenas recently emerged from the bases of a regularly watered new Elderica Pine and a young Mexican Redbud tree. This adds a soft color to the garden and the verbena do not seem to be a competitive threat to other plants.
A good choice for winter residents, Moss Verbena (Verbena pulchella) is a fern-leaf, fast-growing ground cover that grows anywhere, including in compacted soil or gravel. Only a few inches high, it will easily spread horizontally from 2 to 5 feet. Scattered along its green lacy carpet, prolific purple flowers appear from late fall through early summer.
The intermittent bloom of Moss Verbena continues through the hot summer only when regularly watered every 10 to 14 days. It is a vigorous self-seeder, root hardy to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, and not susceptible to pests or disease.
A native of South America, Sandpaper Verbena (Verbena rigida) is easily identified by its rough-surfaced leaves. Maturing at approximately 10 inches high, this plant has underground rhizomes and can easily spread to 4 feet. It blooms continuously from February to November. In drifts or mass plantings, the dark green foliage and deep purple flowers of this verbena add bold color to the desert scene.
A favorite of butterflies, bees, and birds, Sandpaper Verbena is cold hardy to 15 degrees F. After established, it is drought tolerant but blooms better when watered every 1 to 2 weeks during the growing season. Shearing old top growth in late winter will encourage springtime vigor, and cutting back after each flowering cycle promotes more blossoms.
Easily fitting into a xeriscape landscape, all members of the verbena family can add punches of bright purples among cactus and succulents. Other than occasionally trimming, verbenas are low maintenance and a good choice for beginning desert gardeners.
Mary Kidnocker is a University of Arizona Master Gardener who lives in the Green Valley area. Her articles are featured weekly.