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These plants require little work and will brighten landscape

These surefire plants will dazzle and delight your landscape with brilliant colors, creating a feeling of warmth you want friends to remember when visiting your garden. And they won't demand much work to keep them happy. Even the "brown thumbers" can grow them with ease.

Trailing lantana: I love trailing lantana. It will produce lavender flowers just about year-round. It is the hardiest lantana and covers its territory fast. In fact, it may crowd out other plants. It is also self-cleaning -- that is why it's a lazy-Linn plant -- so it always looks nice. In winter when flower production cuts back, this ground cover foliage turns a deep purple, almost hiding flowers. The trailing growth habit makes this plant useful in raised planters, slopes and containers, and it tolerates full sun. The tiny black berries that follow are poisonous, so remove them.

Red fairy duster: This California native is a highly ornamental shrub for much of the season. When in full bloom, the brilliant red stamens are a knockout and attract butterflies and hummingbirds. To catch the real meaning of fairy duster, look through its blossom into the sun to catch the little fairies glowing as they dust plants. If blooming slows, they need more water. It thrives in full or reflective sun, as well as filtered shade. Its moderate-to-thick density becomes a low-growing, informal screen and blends with succulents, groundcovers, low or upright shrubs and small trees. About the only maintenance involved is pruning after a hard freeze and removing seedpods as they develop.

Brittlebush: This bush grows naturally along Lake Mead and throughout the Southwest. Large, lance-shaped, gray leaves become an excellent backdrop for bright, striking, yellow daisylike flowers that are about ready to pop. It is a must for those hot spots in your yard. Plants get up to 3-feet tall and spread as wide. It is extremely drought-tolerant. When irrigated, it becomes quite lush and large, but don't over water it or it will rot. To rejuvenate this plant from year to year, cut it back hard.

Verbenas: They are excellent choices for the laid-back gardener, spreading up five feet in a single season. Plants are stunning when in color with the main thrust of blooms in spring and fall. Blooms appear at the end of stems to give the impression of continuously unfolding flowers. They are really clusters of small flowers that are self-cleaning; definitely lazy-Linn plants. The flowers are tubular, so they attract butterflies and hummingbirds. If you relax too much between waterings, they stop blooming, so keep soil moist. Place these trailing vines in containers to spill over. For those planting verbenas in flowerbeds, stems root at all nods. This self-expanding plant will give your friends the impression you're working hard. If they freeze, they will bounce right back.

White primrose: Don't let this primrose become confused with the Mexican evening primrose. It is a clumping primrose that is perfect for moonlit gardens. From spring into winter, it produces huge white flowers that open in late afternoon and close the next day as temperatures heat up. The fragrant flowers stand out against the large dark green leaves. It handles our summer, providing it has excellent drainage, and gets by on a low tank of water.

Desert marigold: What an impressive sight desert marigolds are when you see patches growing in desert. Back in your yard, even a small planting of this hardy perennial will provide a splash of spring into summer color. It mixes beautifully with other perennials, such as penstemons and native plantings. It takes full sun and still dishes out blossoms. At the Springs Preserve, we have them tucked between large rocks, which provides a natural setting to show them off even more. It tends to "migrate" around landscape. It is a heavy seed producer and will fill in blank spaces. After a couple of seasons, mother plants die, but seedlings pop up nearby, perpetuating itself in a natural way.

Woolly butterfly bush: Where has this plant been all of my working days? Its soft, silvery foliage livens up winter landscapes, especially when combined with green-leafed shrubs for an interesting contrast. It gets shoulder-high and 5-feet wide, maintaining a dense form with little or no maintenance. Now for the bonus: Orange, marble-sized flowers produce through the season, with the heaviest from now into summer. Plant explorers found it in canyons, arroyos and on slopes at elevations similar to our valley in Texas and New Mexico. It takes intense sun, but needs a well-drained soil to thrive.

Penstemons: These plants have really jumped out and grabbed my attention this winter at the Springs Preserve. If you make the right selection, you'll have color year-round, and they are so conspicuous. Penstemons have an upright growing habit, causing blooms to stand out even more. Tubular flowers are about an inch long, varying in color, and become a hangout for hummingbirds. The foliage is leathery and gets about 2-inches long. Don't expect any problems unless you overwater them. Most varieties get about knee-high and spread out about two feet and then the blooms rise above the foliage. About the only thing they demand is removing the old spikes that fade.

Here are two penstemons that caught my eye: Hill Country and Firecracker. Hill Country has an especially long blooming period, starting now. Its glossy leaves, bushy stature, and spikes of large, deep pink flowers make it an outstanding addition to any perennial palette. Firecracker penstemons heralded the arrival of spring at the preserve with its splashes of color after experiencing a dreary winter.

UNLV GARDEN LECTURE SERIES

Do you wonder how to landscape your yard to be the envy of the neighborhood? Look what University of Nevada, Las Vegas and associates have lined up for you. A lecture series, beginning at 8:30 a.m. and continuing until 3:30 p.m., will be Saturday and March 16 at Barrick Museum, located on the UNLV campus. At 8:30 a.m., Learn Important Principles of Successful Gardening; 11 a.m., Tough Palms for Tough Places; 1 p.m., Landscape Designing Out of the Box; 2 p.m., Bullet Proof Landscape Trees and 3 p.m., Caring of Landscape Plants. Then, on March 16 at 9:30 a.m., Tour of Landscape Plants of the UNLV Arboretum; 11 a.m., Tough Palms for Tough Places; 1 p.m., Great Gardening Tips and at 2:30 p.m., Designing With the Desert in Mind. For more information, call Paula Garrett at UNLV at 895-1421. The lecture series continues on March 29-30 at the same location.

Linn Mills writes a garden column every Sunday. You can reach him at linn.mills@springspreserve.org or at the Gardens at the Springs Preserve at 822-7754.

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