The plant: If you want to party in the garden like it’s your birthday, I suggest grabbing a packet of Gerbera daisy seeds this fall.
Their jovial colors and sunny sparkle provide the perfect backdrop for a playful garden spot. Named after German naturalist Trauhott Gerber, these flowers belong to a family of about 40 species and also go by the name Transvaal daisies, reflecting their origins in South Africa. They have worked their way from the wilds of Barberton, South Africa, to the finest weddings on Long Island, N.Y.
Their simple elegance, sturdy stature and luscious hues have led Gerbera daisies to become nearly as popular as roses and carnations among floral designers and flower shops — they are the fifth most popular cut flower in the world. While many are grown commercially in greenhouses, there are many varieties you can grow at home, in the ground or in containers. They’ve been called the happiest flowers on Earth. In the language of flowers, the daisy in general represents innocence, purity and beauty. The Gerbera in particular is a symbol of cheerfulness, making plants or cut flowers wonderful as hostess or birthday gifts, or as a simple, bright surprise to lift the spirit.
Morning sun to light shade
Enrich soil with organic compost and amendments for cultivating flowers. Gerberas are perennials but can perform as winter annuals here in the low desert. They grow best in well-drained soil and can easily rot, so take care not to over-water and to keep the root crown just above the soil line. To minimize fungal diseases, avoid wetting the foliage when watering. Plant them from seed or transplant in fall or late winter for late spring color. Space 12 inches to 15 inches apart. Height depends on variety, but expect an average of 12 inches to 20 inches. Follow a regular watering schedule to establish, then switch to watering deeply, allowing slight (not severe) drying before watering again.
Fertilize with an organic source of nitrogen (bat guano, fish/seaweed emulsion or all purpose blend) every four to six weeks during growing season. Deadhead (trim off) spent flowers to maintain beauty. Add a 2- to 3-inch layer of compost or organic mulch in the summer to insulate from the heat. Watch for damage from slugs and snails. You can help control such pests organically by burying a shallow pie plate or plastic tub in the soil so the rim is at ground level and filling it with stale beer. You can also form barriers around your plants using diatomaceous earth (food grade, not pool grade). Also regularly trim away any leaves showing signs of fungal diseases. To minimize the spread of disease, use a light bleach solution to clean your shears after pruning.
barn goddess tips
Most Gerberas are so darn cheery and colorful that you’ll want them all. A few to try include Revolution Pink for your inner girlie garden girl (compact and perfect shades of pink), Jaguar Fire for your fiesta-themed flower beds (vibrant reds and oranges), and Living Color to lighten up a corner with its flaming corals, sizzling reds and subdued apricots (grows up to 20 inches tall). In containers, the ragged Festival Spider and contrasting Dark Eye make great companions with bidens, helichrysum, million bells, portulaca, wave petunias and verbenas. Use sharp shears when cutting flowers for indoor bouquets. Cut each stem at an angle under warm water. Then remove stems from water and cut a 1/2-inch slit up one side of each stem to encourage water intake. You should replace the water every couple of days. If flowers droop, remove from the vase and re-cut the stems under warm water. Gardeners are known to add an aspirin or a penny to water in their vases to help extend the life of cut flowers. You can also maintain vibrancy by keeping your bouquet away from cold or hot drafts, direct sunlight, televisions and computers. n
Visit www.gardenterritory.com and click on “Organic Gardening” for details on how to prepare soil for flowering plants, annuals and perennials.