How does Your Garden Grow?

Gaillardia and seed head (to be pruned)

Gaillardia and seed head (to be pruned)

Louise Grabell

I was outside in my yard looking at all the perennials that are growing and feeling so thankful for these steadfast performers. Among them are bearded irises, daylilies, carnations (dianthus), amaryllis, Echinacea, blue salvia and penstemon, just to name a few. But there is also one little beauty that I stuck in a container at least four years ago which has not failed to produce garlands of flowers from spring through fall, and which requires very little in return: Gaillardia.

In the sunflower family, Gaillardia is also known as “blanket flower.” The 10 to 12-inch high plant is covered or blanketed with a mass of brilliant bi-color blooms throughout the growing season. Gaillardia are also known to blanket wild areas with many plants, creating a luxurious quilt of yellow and orange three-inch blossoms that seem to be never-ending. Wildflowers to the core, Gaillardia can multiply and actually do well in the hot, dry climate of Arizona.

What’s the catch? Not much, actually. Full sun and a bit of irrigation will keep your Gaillardia happy. The catch is that the spent blooms shed their petals (no mess) and the central seed-producing part turns into a fuzzy brown lollipop. You will have to prune these off to encourage the flowers to continue producing in profusion. Like other plants, if you allow them to go to seed, then that’s what will happen, and the number of blooms will be much less. I check my Gaillardia plant weekly, cutting off all stems that no longer have a viable blossom.

Most of the cultivars of Gaillardia that you can purchase have been bred for ornamental use; however, this does not seem to stop them from popping up near the original plant. So now I have one beauty in its original container and another growing in the gravel nearby. That’s good for me: paid for one and got two!

There are many color variations of Gaillardia from flowers that are totally yellow to flowers that are totally mahogany red. Some varieties produce blossoms on rather tall stems (24”) and others grow relatively close to the ground forming a blanket of flowers. In any case, Gaillardia love our hot sun and with a bit of fertilizer and well-drained soil (don’t over-water!) one little plant will become quite large and keep producing flowers that cut well for the house. Other than removing the seed heads, no other care is required. Since Gaillardia are generally not that tall, use them in the front border or in containers. Plants in containers need more irrigation than plants in the ground—but you knew that. I have found that Gaillardia return for a few years and then have to be replaced.

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Remember, nothing brings more tranquility to the heart than a beautiful garden.