Gerbera Daisy: Happiest Flower on Earth

gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)

gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)

If an award for happiest flower was given, gerbera daisy would most likely win the prize. The sight of gerbera daisies invariably brings a smile and the thought of having giant bouquets of them provokes a grin from ear to ear.
They show off vivid daisy-like flowers, up to six inches in diameter, in crimson, orange, salmon, yellow, pink and white. If only growing gerberas was as easy as growing other members of the daisy family, such as gazania, coreopsis and sunflower, we would see them everywhere. Gerberas are comparable to orchids in the sense that you will probably kill the first one or two or three you try to grow. Yet once you get the hang of it, growing them will be no problem at all.
Gerbera daisy is one of those South African natives, including geranium, fortnight lily (Dietes) and bird-of-paradise (Strelitzia reginae), that thrive in gritty earth. Decomposed granite is the ideal soil for South African natives, as it is for Australian and California natives as well, to say nothing of most members of the daisy family and many, many other plants. Taken altogether, the virtues of decomposed granite make it a nearly ideal soil. It drains well, contains traces of minerals including potassium, iron, magnesium, manganese and calcium and, when dry, develops a surface crust that serves as a highly effective mulch, minimizing evaporative water loss from the soil below.
If you tire of the maintenance a lawn requires, consider turning it into a DG (decomposed granite) garden. Remove existing grass two to three inches below grade and back fill with DG. DG should cost around a dollar a square foot to install, including removal of existing lawn, depending on the size of the area and whether you do the work yourself or hire someone else to do the job. One local source for reasonably priced DG is Yellowstone Rock and Sand ( Use a sod roller, available at rental yards and on loan from some plant nurseries, to tamp it down. Once you have your DG ground cover (a canvas for your work of garden art) in place, you can create a design of specimen trees, shrubs and flowering perennials such as gerbera daisy, salvias and succulents of all types, that can be watered by drip irrigation. Plants that are somewhat tricky to grow in regular soil, such as proteas, grevilleas and many California natives, will feel right at home and thrive in decomposed granite. It is important that the soil below the DG have above average drainage. An underlying bed of clay could be a barrier to deep root growth of certain dry climate species.
In the Valley, a half day of sun is the ideal exposure for gerbera (pronounced either gur-bura or jur-bura) daisies. They can also dwell in partial shade although they will flower more profusely in the sun. Since gerberas are frost sensitive, the advantage to providing a measure of shade is that they will also receive some cold protection from overhead trees or, if planted in pots, from porch, patio or balcony roof.
The key to keeping gerberas in the garden for years and years is making sure their crowns, where stems meet roots, are slightly elevated above soil level. This necessitates examination of the plants from time to time and, when necessary, lifting them slightly with a spading fork so the bottom of their shoots does not make contact with the ground or potting soil. Keep water off its stems, leaves and flowers since it is highly susceptible to fungus diseases.
The gerbera daisy is a clumping plant and can be divided at the root for purposes of propagation. For a simple yet stunning table arrangement, cut the heads off gerbera daisies and float them in a crystal or glass bowl half filled with water.
Decomposed granite is friendly to plants originating in a Mediterranean climate, where summers are hot and dry and winters are cool and wet. Areas with this climate include countries with a coastline along the Mediterranean Sea, southwestern Australia and New Zealand, California and southwestern South America. New Zealand tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium) is a winter blooming plant that finds DG much to its liking. It is erroneously named since it does not grow more than six feet tall, although it will branch randomly and take on the aspect of a small tree if you just let it go. More often than not, it is kept pruned into symmetrical shapes. It blooms in scarlet, pink or white but, when not in bloom, is of little ornamental interest. Still, the winter flower show is sufficient to make it a desirable addition to Valley gardens. It is called tea tree since Captain Cook, upon alighting in New Zealand, supposedly made herbal tea from its leaves. It grows well in half-day sun.
Airy bachelor buttons (Gomphrena decumbens) is an unusual, winter blooming drought-tolerant perennial that forms a wiry mass that is two to three feet in height and girth, and also prefers half-day sun. It has miniature pinkish purple flowers that are reminiscent of the larger flowers seen in common bachelor buttons (Gomphrena globosa).
Tip of the Week
Gerbera daisies may be grown as indoor plants as long as they are exposed to plenty of light and their crowns do not touch the soil surface. They grow best when temperatures stay between 40 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit and flourish at room temperature. When in active growth, fertilize weekly with any water soluble flowering plant fertilizer that is diluted to one-fourth of the recommended concentration. Slipperwort (Calceolaria crenatiflora) is another indoor flowering plant you might consider. It, too, needs continuous fertilization to stay in bloom and should get about half of the morning’s sun. Take care to keep water at the base of slipperworts since they go into irremediable decline when water touches their flowers.

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