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Gratifying Gerbera daisies

In the right conditions, the plants will flower for many months through summer and into winter.

In the right conditions, the plants will flower for many months through summer and into winter.

Vividly coloured Gerberas (also known as Barberton daisy or Transvaal daisy) are highly decorative and have a long flowering season. They are ideal for indoor arrangements because they last for a long time.

The familiar and attractive Barberton daisy (Gerbera jamesonii) is a member of the Compositae family. The genus, Gerbera comes from the name of an 18th-century German naturalist, Traugott Gerber. The species is indigenous to South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province and its common name arose from the old gold‑rush town of Barberton, where it grows in great profusion. In its natural environment Gerbera jamesonii grows in well‑drained soil in grassland areas.

Amateur botanists admired the bright scarlet‑orange flowers, and sent samples to England in the late 1880s. From those original plants a wide range of named hybrids have since been developed in many countries.

These hybrids have large single or double flowers, and come in plain or combined colours — in white and vivid shades of pink, yellow, orange and scarlet. There are a number of strains, some developed in South Africa and others further afield.

If grown in the right conditions, the plants will flower for many months through summer and into winter. Although these daisies grow best in sheltered, frost‑free positions, they will tolerate some frost. The soil should be well drained, and mixed with plenty of organic material. If the soil in your garden is heavy, compensate by raising the beds 15‑30 cm above ground level and mixing some river sand into the soil.

Fertilise the plants with a liquid foliar feed containing trace elements once or twice during the growing season, and keep the plants well watered, especially in dry weather.

In autumn, carefully strip the older, damaged leaves off the plants. This will encourage new leaves and buds to develop in their place.

Gerbera daisies are among the best and most attractive flowers for cutting, but they should be cut a day or two before they are to be displayed, because the flowers tend to close up the night after they are cut. To make the flowers last longer you should dip the ends of their stems in boiling water after cutting.

HOW TO PROPAGATE BARBERTON DAISIES

Barberton daisies are grown from seed sown in spring and summer and from division of the clumps, known as stools, in spring.

The seeds must be fresh (no older than three months) as old seeds often fail to germinate. Use a seed tray if you want the seedlings early in the season. Alternatively, when the weather is a little warmer, sow the seeds in a seed bed.

Sow the seeds in a soil mix of one part river sand to one part loam, and if desired, one part vermiculite or similar aggregate. Firm the mixture down well, sprinkle the seeds over the surface, and press them in.

If you use a seed tray, cover it with a sheet of plastic or glass, with a sheet or two of newspaper on top, and put it in a warm position, out of direct sunlight.

When the seedlings are large enough to handle, prick them out into small pots, and transplant them when they have reached a height of 15‑20 cm. They should be spaced about 50 cm apart. The plants will start to flower a month or so after transplanting, but they will take 12 months to develop one or two crowns.

Seeds can be sown at any time of the year in a relatively mild climate. They need a temperature of around 13oC to germinate.

After two or three years the plants will become crowded and will need to be lifted for division and replanting. Lift the plant when the stool has about six crowns.

Gently dig up the clump and wash the soil from around the roots. Cut away any roots that are damaged, and carefully disentangle the crowns, pulling them apart. When dividing the clumps, throw away the old woody central parts and keep the younger divisions — they will grow better.

Shorten the old leaves in order to reduce the demand on the roots for nourishment — this is frequently done when dividing or taking cuttings from plants that have large leaves. Do not remove the young shoots and leaves; rather shorten the roots to about 10 cm.

Once all this has been done, the separate crowns should be replanted in a fresh bed. Ensure that the crown of each plant is just visible above the surface of the soil. Named hybrids can be propagated only by division, as seed from them will not breed true.

US PLANTING ZONES FOR GERBERAS

Gerbera daisy flowers are grown as perennials in zones 9-11. Elsewhere, they are treated as annual plants. In zone 8 some homeowners report success in growing gerbera daisy flowers as perennials, especially if garden mulch is used.

WHAT CAN GO WRONG WITH GERBERAS

Water them faithfully; and fertilize regularly for optimal blooming. Gerbera daisy flowers are susceptible to crown rot, so don’t plant them too deeply. They are also susceptible to powdery mildew, so avoid overhead watering; and water the plants early in the day. Aphids and snails could be a problem.