How to grow verbena – the flowering plant that is popular with pollinators

If you are looking for a plant that will perform in your yard all summer long, look no further than verbena

Verbena with purple flowers in bloom
(Image credit: Jacky Parker Photography via Getty Images)

Verbena plants pack a powerful punch. Their colorful flowers bloom profusely from spring through to the first frost, making them an ideal addition to flower beds and landscaped backyards

Native to the Americas, verbena has been cultivated and grown in various regions across the world. Today, many species and varieties of verbena are readily available and are popular with gardeners, famed as a plant that performs well and is easy to grow from seed

One such species is Verbena bonariensis, seen in the images here. This tall and slender species can grow up to 6 feet tall, towering upwards with fountains of purple flowers that are pollen-rich, going on to produce seed for birds in the fall.

These plants thrive in bright, sunny conditions and prefer a well-draining and moderately fertile soil. By following a few simple rules, your verbena plants will reward you with a prolific display of vibrant flowers that attract birds, butterflies and pollinators, making it a delightful addition to any garden or backyard. 

Verbena blooms in flower

(Image credit: By Eve Livesey via Getty Images)

How to grow verbena

Most verbena species and varieties are easy-to-grow, and by following a few simple rules, this low-maintenance flowering plant will reward you with blooms that last from spring through to fall. 

Verbena species and varieties to consider

Verbena flower in purple with bee

(Image credit: Reinhard Bode / 500px via Getty Images)

Most verbena species and varieties are hardy in US hardiness zones 8 - 11. Outside of this, many gardeners treat verbena as an annual, in the knowledge that the plant will not survive the cold of winter. This will be specific to your location and the plant that you select. 

'There are over two hundred species of verbena,' says Ali McEnhill, plant expert and owner of the Old Dairy Nursery in the Hudson Valley. 

'As a New York grower, I’m delighted by our native Verbena hastata, common name blue vervain,' Ali says. 'The foliage is coarse, but the tall spikes of purple-blue flowers are graceful and are adored by pollinators. This North American native can be found growing in moist meadows, along streambanks and in fields.' 

'This tough, native perennial is super cold hardy, tolerating temperatures down to -40°F,' Ali continues, so it does just fine growing in a cold climate, like zone 5, where Ali gardens. This species is popular for its hardiness and readily available from garden stores, such as this Blue Vervain from Nature Hills.

Verbena bonariensis, seen above, is not quite so hardy, growing best in US hardiness zones 7-10. 'Deep lilac flowers are held on tall wiry stems,' Ali says, 'and it is a real treat to watch the purple flowers swaying gracefully in the breeze while covered in pollinators.'  

Always pick the right plant for the right place. By following this simple mantra your planting selections are far more likely to succeed. Your plants will be happier for it and so will you, as you watch your backyard thrive. 

 Ali McEnhill headshot
Ali McEnhill

Ali is a self confessed plant geek, gardener, and propagator, owning and operating a plant nursery on an old dairy farm in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley. Ali focuses on growing hardy perennials, trees, and shrubs that thrive outdoors in the cold climate. 

How to grow verbena

Purple verbena flowers in bloom in a garden border

(Image credit: Jacky Parker Photography via Getty Images)
  • Soil: Verbena plants prefer 'well-drained soil,' says Jason Reeves, horticulturist at the University of Tennessee Gardens, Jackson. For additional nutrients, consider adding organic matter when planting your verbena, using a product such as this Organic Planting Mix from Nature Hills.
  • Light: Whilst this will vary between different species and varieties, most verbenas are sun-worshippers, 'preferring six or more hours of sun,' says Jason. Whilst verbena plants will tolerate a part-shade position, flowering will be much reduced when planted in a shady spot. 
  • Watering: Most verbenas 'are drought tolerant once established and growing in the ground,' says Jason, particularly those species that are native plants. If planted in a container or pot, watering will be required, particularly during the warm summer months. It is best to monitor your plants to assess watering requirements during the first year, at least until they are established. 
  • Fertilizing: Most verbenas do not require fertilizing and will attain what they need from the soil. Regular, annual mulching can help to add nutrients to the soil. If you are considering using a fertilizer to support plant health and flowering, an all-purpose feed should do the job, applied every month through the growing season. 
  • Care: During the summer months, verbenas can 'benefit from regular deadheading, particularly if grown in a container,' says Jason. If grown in the ground, it is preferable to leave this native plant to its own devices. Come fall, the old flowers become seedheads, taking on an attractive color and texture, which is useful for cut flower and dried flower bouquets, as well as encouraging wildlife. 
  • Additional notes: You can cut back verbenas during the growing season to extend their floral performance. It is advisable to cut back your verbena after the first flowering flush, usually around the middle of spring, reducing the size by about a third. Within a few weeks, you will once again have many verbena blooms to enjoy. This can also be done later during the summer. Cut back to ground once a year in early spring, just before new growth begins to shoot. This is recommended as last year's growth helps to protect the plant, particularly in cold areas where there is a risk of snow during the winter. 
Jason Reeves headshot
Jason Reeves

Jason Reeves is a horticulturist for the University of Tennessee Gardens, Jackson. The UT Gardens mission is to cultivate an appreciation of plants through horticultural displays, educational programs and research. 


When is the ideal time to plant verbena?

Verbena can be planted in the garden or yard once the risk of frost has passed, usually in mid-spring. If you would like to try your hand at propagation, verbena seed can be sown indoors from February, moving outside to a cold frame in mid-spring, before planting out in the garden a few weeks later, ensuring that young plants are protected from windy and cold weather. 

Using native planting in your yard, such as verbena, will add impact and interest to your flower beds. Why not consider also planting native grasses, which will complement your flowering plants through the spring and summer? 

Content Editor

Thomas is a Content Editor within the Gardens Team at Homes and Gardens. He has worked as a professional gardener in gardens across the UK and in Italy, specialising in productive gardening, growing food and flowers. Trained in Horticulture at the Garden Museum, London, he has written on gardening and garden history for various publications in the UK, including The English Garden, Gardens Illustrated, Hortus, The London Gardener and Bloom. He has co-authored a travel book celebrating trees, due out in late 2024.