Sunday, July 19, 2009

You've Got To Love Gaillardia

Gaillardia, commonly called Blanket Flower or Indian Blanket, is a genus of 12 species along with various hybrids and varieties that is native to the U.S. The genus is named for an 18th century Frenchman, Gaillard de Charentonneau, a plant enthusiast who supported botanical studies. The common name was given due to the bright colors and bold patterns reminiscent of North American Indian fabrics. Gaillardia is a perennial in warmer areas of its range and re-seeds itself as an annual in colder regions.

Blanket Flower caught my eye when I was very young as it grew behind sand dunes on Tybee Island, GA, alongside coastal highways, abandoned railroad tracks and eroded shell middens. It thrives in full sun in USDA climate zones 3 through 10 in well-drained soils that range from mildly acid to mildy alkaline. The flowers attract butterflies, but the plants are unattractive to deer. Gaillardia is more or less disease free. It is heat-, drought- and salt-tolerant, therefore it is well-suited to exposed perennial gardens, rock gardens, wild-flower gardens, butterfly gardens and xeriscaping. Seaside gardeners love them, but they will flourish far from the coast. Gaillardia is favored by native plant enthusiasts. Because it may have some medicinal properties, herb gardeners sometimes include Blanket Flower in their collections.

Prepare the planting bed for Gaillardia by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep. Add enough soil to raise the bed at least 4" above the surrounding ground level. Sand is a fine amendment. This will help to promote good drainage. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil, but it may not be necessary. Gaillardia does well in poor soil. For that reason, fertilizer should be used sparingly. If used at all, incorporate 5-10-15 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Plant Gaillardia 12" to 18" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.

Because it likes well-drained soil, plant Blanket Flower with other plants having similar cultural requirements. As the plants mature, fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between waterings.

Depending upon where you grow it, Gaillardia blooms early-summer to early fall. Bloom time is about 8 weeks. While dead-heading (pinching off spent flowers) is not entirely necessary, it may help to prolong the bloom season.

The following are well worth growing:
  • Gaillardia x 'Arizona Sun': This was a 2005 All-America Selections Winner. It grows 12" to 14" in height as a low-growing mound. Red/orange flowers tipped with yellow are 3" across and produced from mid-summer to fall.
  • Gaillardia x grandiflora 'FanFare': This new cultivar invites praise. The red 3" wide flowers with yellow tips are tubular and trumpet-shaped.
  • Gaillardia x grandiflora 'Goblin' is an old favorite variety of a popular native plant, it grows up to 12" in height as a low-growing mound. You can't go wrong with this one.
  • Gaillardia x grandiflora 'Oranges and Lemons': Produces lots of yellow and orange flowers over a very long season.
Maybe it's because I grew up with it, or because I have grown to appreciate its adaptability, but I can't praise Gaillardia enough. It is native, sun-loving, heat-tolerant, drought-tolerant, attractive to butterflies, unattractive to deer, long-season blooming, re-seeding, practically disease-free and thrives across a very wide range of climate zones. What more can I say? You've got to love it.

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