The Gerber daisy (Gerbera), also known as Transvaal Daisy and Barberton Daisy, can be so vividly colored, you will wonder if they are real. Gerbera is a large genus in the same family as sunflowers (Asteraceae). They are native to South Africa, but a lot of breeding has gone into developing the large daisy-like flowers we see today. They were initially bred to be cut flowers and are still the 5th most common cut flower in the world.
They can be grown from seed and are popular as houseplants and outdoors in containers and beds, however, they are not frost hardy.
About Gerber Daisies
There are 4 general classes of Gerbera:
- Single flowers: This constitutes the main class. Singles will have either one or 2 layers of petals.
- Semi-double flowers: These have a row of short petals around the center disk. Cut gerbers are usually semi-doubles.
- Double flowers: With multiple layers of petals (5 – 7) the doubles looks a bit more like zinnias or dahlias, than daisies.
- Spider flowers: These have thinner, more pointed petals.
The plants form basal rosettes that slowly spread. The leaves are lobed or pinnate and often toothed. Large flower heads have rayed petals around a center disk of green or black. The disk is composed of the actual tiny flowers. Petal colors range from pale pastels and cream to bold oranges, yellows, reds and bi-colors.
Gerber daisies bloom from early summer through frost (in colder climates). They can bloom year round in warmer climates, but they bloom best from fall to spring.
A mature plant is 10 - 18 inches (24 - 45 centimeters) tall, with a spread of 1 - 2 feet (30 - 60 centimeters)
Gerber Daisy Growing Tips
Gerber daisies grow best in USDA Zones 8 – 11.
They will need some winter protection in zone 8. Most gardeners grow them as annuals or potted plants.
These plants require full sun to partial shade. Gerber daisies do not like intense heat. Give them morning sun in warmer zones, and full sun in cooler climates. Try not to plant them near a foundation or stone wall that would reflect heat back all day.
These plants need regular watering, about 1 in. per week. They will need more when you’re first getting them established and during hot, dry spells. Gerbera do best in a slightly acidic soil with a pH of 5.5 – 6.5. Higher pH levels can cause chlorosis which manifests as yellow stripes on the leaves. If the pH is too low, black spots or patches will appear on the leaves. The amount of fertilizer depends on the quality of your soil. Start with a rich soil, high in organic matter. Since they will be blooming all summer, monthly feeding with a water soluble fertilizer is advised. Gerber daisies are not often sold as small seedlings in cell packs and the individual plants can be expensive.
Some varieties can be easily grown from seed, but be warned, even the seed is pricey.
Gerber daisies are slow to develop, which is one of the reasons they are so expensive. Start seeds indoors, about 12 – 18 weeks before your last frost date. Sow the seed in peat or paper pots, because they do not like to have their roots disturbed by transplanting.
The seed needs light to germinate, so press the seeds on top of the soil mix. Do not cover with more soil. Covering the container with plastic will help to keep the soil and seed moist. Place in a warm spot, 70 – 75 F (21 –24 C) and expect to wait 2 –4 weeks for germination.
Note: Double varieties to not always grow true to type. You will probably get a good many that turn out to be singles.
Transplant outdoors after all danger of frost has passed. Choose a well-draining site with good light exposure. Plant so that the crown is ½ inch (1.25 centimeters) above the soil line. If you are planning on bringing the plants indoors for winter, you can simply sink the pot and lift it in the fall. It will be less disruptive to the roots.
Caring for Gerber Daisies
To keep the plants in flower, deadhead spent blooms. Make sure that sunlight can reach the center of the plants. If the plants get too bushy, you can remove some of the leaves clustered in the center to allow more light in.
You can bring your Gerber daisies indoors and they will continue growing and blooming. They prefer a cool winter temperature of about 45 – 50 F (7 – 10 C) and full, bright sun. Do not over-water during the winter. Water only when the soil is dry an inch or 2 below the surface.
Plants can also be overwintered dormant if the pots are kept cool and not allowed to freeze. Water lightly every month and allow to dry.
Pests and Problems
Aphids, whiteflies, spider mites and thrips will all feast on Gerbera leaves. They are attracted to stressed plants, but will also be drawn to large swathes of plants. Monitor regularly and treat at the first sign of trouble. Small populations can be blasted off with a strong spray of water. Larger populations can be controlled with insecticidal soap or neem.
Leafminers can also infest the leaves. Remove any that show the telltale tunneling.
Powdery mildew can become a problem if the plants remain wet for long periods and in high humidity.
Crown and root rot can affect the plants when they are continuously in wet soil. Allow the soil to dry between waterings, but do not leave them unwatered so long that they wilt and look dry.
The bold colors of Gerber daisies can be hard to integrate into a flower bed with more subtle colors. These work best when contrasted with just a few other plants, with more delicate blooms or airy foliage. Complementary colored Calibrachoa and Diascia make a nice contrast. To really play-up the bold colors, pair them with yellow foliage plants, especially short grasses like Hakonechloa macra "Aureola" or "All Gold". Small or spiky blue flowers, such as sages and lobelia, also bring out the boldness of Gerber daisies.
Of course, you can always grow Gerber daisies all on their own. They can easily fill a pot and make a statement.
Cut Gerber daisies when the flowers are fully opened, but the center remains tight. The stems will take-up as much water as you give them, but too much water will shorten their display time. Place them in only ½ to 1 inch of water and add more as necessary. If the base of the stem begins to discolor, make a fresh cut.
Gerbera jamesonii, the Transvaal or Barberton Daisy, is the most commonly grown species and there is a great deal of variety within it. Most of the seed sold is for Gerbera jamesonii. Jaguar is one of the most popular series. You can purchase seed of individual colors or in different combinations.
A smaller flowered Gerbera, Gerber minis, is becoming increasingly popular. They also come in a good selection of colors and can be grown from seed.
There is more selection when you purchase them as plants because a lot of Gerbera breeding is done through tissue culture.
Resources: Year of Gerbera, at the National Garden Bureau.