University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring News Article
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GERBERA DAISIES

 
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
   
Each year the National Garden Bureau (www.ngb.org) chooses a flower to feature, with 2013 being the Year of the Gerbera.  Gerbera daisies have large daisy flowers, in a wide range of bright colors.  Perhaps known more as a cut flower, or indoor potted plant, you often can find or grow them for the garden.
           
Gerberas are most often seen as cut flowers, being the fifth most popular, coming in bright versions of all the rainbow colors.  The single flower heads, on long leafless stems, are often 3 to 5 inches wide, and most often single or semi-double.  To get up to 10-days of vase life from them, when you get them home, recut at an angle with a sharp knife or scissors, one to two inches from the stem base.  Do this under water, or running water, so air won’t block the stem water vessels.
           
Place stems in lukewarm water, containing preservative.  You can buy this at floral shops, or it may come in packets with the flowers.  If you don’t have this, use a drop of bleach in a bucket of water, which prevents harmful bacteria that clog the flower stems.
           
Recut stems every 2 or 3 days, and place in fresh water as above to prevent bacteria.  Place flowers in a bright area, but not direct sun.  They last best if kept cool (55 to 75 degrees F).  Keep them away from fruits and vegetables, as many of these give off ethylene gas which causes flowers to die.
           
On the other hand, if buying a gerbera daisy in a pot for indoors, you’ll want to give this as much light as possible.  Keep cool, or at least below 75 degrees if possible.  Fertilize while in bloom with the product of your choice, according to label directions.
           
Gerbera daisies can be started from seeds, requiring about 4 to 5 months from sowing to bloom.  So you’ll need to start these indoors about 10 to 12 weeks before planting outside.  They are quite sensitive to drying out while germinating, so make sure the medium is kept moist, as with a plastic dome or plastic wrap over a flat until you see the first growth.
           
Many gardeners often buy gerberas for planting outside in spring, already in pots and in bloom.  Look for ones with some flowers open and the most stems, plenty of leaves, and good leaf color.  Treat gerbera daisies outdoors as annuals, in all but the warmest parts of the country such as the southern Gulf coast or California.
           
Plant the base of the plant slightly raised, and in a well-drained soil (or container mix if in pots).  In the north, they really need full sun to bloom best.  Soil kits from local garden stores or your state Extension offices give you results on soil acidity or pH, and how to change it if needed prior to planting.  Yellowing of upper leaves, or black areas and spots on lower leaves, may indicate improper pH (too high, or low, respectively).
           
In addition to proper pH (5.5 to 6.5), they need plenty of fertility.  If using a liquid organic fertilizer, you may fertilize at each watering, and incorporate a balanced fertilizer (all the plant nutrients) into the bed.  Or you can use a low rate of incorporated slow-release synthetic fertilizer, then fertilize with a liquid product every couple of weeks. 
           
Plants need somewhat consistent moisture.  If allowed to get too dry, they may then not recover from wilting, or may get root rots when watered.  If plants wilt, and the soil is wet already, they may have root roots.  Dig and check the roots, which should be white, without black mushy roots.
           
Above ground, you’ll want to plant in areas with good air movement, and give sufficient spacing for such—12 to 15 inches apart.  Otherwise, leaves may remain wet and get diseases.  This is a reason you’ll want to water plants in the morning, so leaves can dry during the day and not go into the night wet.  If plants do get powdery mildew—a whitish growth on leaf surfaces—there are organic and synthetic sprays you can find at garden stores.
           
Of the several insect pests that you may see on gerbera, aphids are perhaps the main one.  Many pests have natural predators such as ladybugs, spiders, and green lacewings.  Or if pests are getting thick, try a relatively benign insecticidal soap spray.
           
Unlike the cut flower gerberas with stems of 12 to 20 inches, the garden cultivars (cultivated varieties) are often no more than a foot high and wide.  They are great along walks, in raised beds, fronts of borders, or in containers.  In the latter, plant with one of the dainty fine-flowered white spurges such as ‘Diamond Frost’, or the trailing ‘Silver Falls’ (Dicondra), or asparagus fern.  Here and in the garden, you’ll want to pair with flowers such as the low bacopa (Sutera), Axilflower (Mecardonia), or fan flower (Scaevola) that don’t detract from the showy flowers. 
           
This plant was named after a German botanist of the 1700’s, Traugott Gerber. Of the 30 or so species of gerbera, the ones we grow today are likely from two in particular (Gerbera jamesonii, G. viridifolia).  These plants come originally from South Africa.  It was a Scottish gold mine businessman and amateur botanist, Robert Jameson, who sent plants from the Transvaal area (near Barberton) to the Durban Botanic Gardens.  In 1888 they were sent to Kew Gardens in England, with a species then named after Jameson.  It’s this geographic origin that gives the other names to gerbera of Barberton or Transvaal daisy.           
 

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