University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
YEAR OF THE GAILLARDIA
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
What is a gaillardia, you may ask, if you’re a novice gardener? It is
often known as blanket flower, and its daisy-like flowers come in variations
of yellows, orange and reds, and combinations of these. Most commonly,
the flowers are yellow with red tips. Depending on cultivar
(cultivated variety), gaillardia may be a perennial, coming back each
year. They’re generally short-lived (often only lasting two years),
while some species are annuals.
Each year the National Garden Bureau (ngb.org) names plants of the year to
feature. In addition to coleus being the annual of the year, and sweet
pepper being the vegetable of the year for 2015, gaillardia (said as
“gal-ARE-dee-ah”) is their pick for perennial flower of the year. More
on these, and past plants of the year, can be found on their website.
The blanket flower is native to the Americas, most of the 23 species native
to North America and specifically the Southwest. One legend for the
common name says that it comes from a native American weaver who was quite
talented. When she died her grave was strewed with these native
flowers, colorful as the blankets she weaved.
The scientific name comes from a French explorer. He first described
an annual species (pulchella) he found in Louisiana in 1788, naming
them after the French naturalist Antoine Rene Gaillard. Other species
were found in the 1800’s, including a perennial one (aristata) by
Lewis and Clark in Montana. The origin of most our current hybrid
cultivars (Gaillardia x grandiflora) began in a Belgian garden in
1857 when, and where, these two species crossed. These tend to be
perennial, with large flowers, tolerance to heat and drought in particular,
and resistance to many insects and disease.
Leaves are soft, generally hairy, strap shaped, and although with smooth
edges these vary with indentations—toothed or lobed. “Lactones” are
organic compounds in the leaves that may cause a skin rash in susceptible
individuals so, if you’re one of these or unsure, wear gloves handling
them. The plant also contains a chemical called “gaillardin” which is
being researched for fighting cancerous tumor cells. An anesthetic in
the roots is used for toothaches.
You often will find the native species in wildflower mixes for prairies and
dry situations. In gardens, they’re good combined with ornamental
grasses to add a bit of color, or as fillers in young shrub beds. In
borders they can be used in groups, for spots of color, or the shorter
selections along the front. Since their colors are so bold, place
cooler colors such as blues and purples around them. The taller
selections are good cut flowers, but may need staking.
Perhaps the most common perennial species (aristata) and selection of
it is the Sunrita series. Choices include burgundy, yellow, or red
with yellow tips. These plants are a compact 18 inches high, shorter
than just the native species, and have flowers 3- to 4-inches wide.
Most the new selections are of the hybrid already mentioned. Some are
small plants good for containers, some have single flowers and others are
double. Most are about one foot tall.
In the Lunar series, Harvest Moon has yellow outer ray flowers (what you may
consider petals are actually separate small flowers) with red bases.
Two of the Arizona series won the All-America Selections award.
Arizona Sun, a winner in 2005, has red and yellow flowers. Arizona
Apricot, a winner in 2011, has soft orange flowers with yellow tips.
The Gallo series has large flowers on compact plants in solid colors of red,
yellow or peach, or red with yellow tips. A couple of older and still
popular selections are Kobold or Goblin with yellow-tipped red flowers, and
the all yellow Golden Goblin. The Sunset series has both dwarf and
medium-sized selections in various colors. The Mesa series includes
the 2010 All-America Selections winner Mesa Yellow, as well as peach and
bicolor forms. Then there are the single flowers of the
Galya and and Fanfare series, again coming in the common colors. There
also are some doubles in the Galya series.
The main annual species (pulchella) grows up to 3 feet tall, so
usually needs staking. Selections of this species, though, have been
bred to be much shorter-- often half that height-- and so won’t need
staking. Most have double flowers. Two of these were All-America
Selections winners—Red Plume (1991) and Sundance Bicolor (2003) with its
yellow-tipped red flowers. Also in this annual species are Yellow
Plume and Sundance Red.
Like most annuals, gaillardia need full sun and a well-drained soil.
If they stay too wet, they may get root rots or just not survive
winter. With no straw mulch or similar winter protection, the
perennial selections only grow into USDA zone 5 (down to at most -20
Most gaillardia are started, and easy to grow, from seeds. Since they
take four to five months from sowing until flowering, sow them indoors 6 to
8 weeks prior to the last spring frost outdoors. Germination is
quickest with a soil temperature of about 70 degrees (F) as from a heating
Sunny locations with good air circulation will minimize diseases such as
powdery mildew and fungal leaf spots. There are no serious insect
problems with these in gardens. Rabbits and deer tend to leave these
alone too. They are good for butterflies and native bees so, if you
want to help pollinators, consider adding some gaillardia to your garden.
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