How To Grow Gerberas (African Daisies)

Gerberas are bright and colourful. They are perennials which bring zest and zing to a garden and their cheery colours will lift a garden and bring lots of comments. The gerbera is a member of the Asteraceae or sunflower family. They are related to daisies and asters. It has a very showy 'daisy-type' flower and is widely used in bouquets and floral arrangements because of its size, long-lasting qualities when cut, and wide range of colours. White, yellow, orange, pink and red are some of the colours available. The centre may be green, black or red and the petals of a single flower may be of several colours.

GerberaCredit: Vince Evans - Copyright

The gerbera is endemic to Transvaal, South Africa, and is sometimes known as the African daisy. The word 'gerbera' comes from Traugott Gerber, a German botanist and naturalist who was a friend of Carl Linnaeus. Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), a Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician, is known as the father of modern taxonomy. There are around 30 species of gerbera in the wild with representatives appearing from South America through Africa and tropical Asia.

Most domestic cultivars have come about as a result of crossing Gerbera jamesonii and Gerbera viridifolia, both South African species.

The average diameter of the blooms is 5 to 6 inches with some reaching a massive 7 inches. On a sunny day, the very bright colours are dazzling but there are also pastel varieties which have blooms in white, yellow and cream. The actual flower or capitulum is in reality groups of hundreds of different tiny flowers.

There are four types of gerberas.

  • The most common is the single gerbera. The central disc is green and the petals do not overlap each other.
  • The double gerbera has a double row of overlapping petals. The centre disc may be red, green or black.
  • The crested double has two rows of petals which overlap. In addition, there are another one or more inner rows of shorter petals. The centres may be red, green or black.
  • The full-crested double gerbera has overlapping rows of petals and a smaller inner row which covers the central disc.

Gerberas are best started as seeds. Plant in a good artificial commercial mix and start them off in trays or 'flats'. A mix which uses field sand and/or peat moss and/or perlite will not be sterile whereas an artificial growing medium will be sterile, lightweight, have good water retention and good drainage. There may or may not be a fertiliser mixed in the growing medium.

Gerbera(54323)Credit: Vince Evans - Copyright

Plant the seeds at twice the depth of the width of the seeds. Sow the seeds in rows, cover lightly and water with a fine mist so that the seeds are not washed out. For best results, cover with a sheet of glass or clear plastic and place about 18 inches below a fluorescent light.

Keep the planting medium moist. Transplant into small pots when the plants have two leaves and plant out when large enough. Gerberas need warmth. USDA planting zones of 3 to 6 will need to grow gerberas indoors. They also need plenty of sunlight.

Moisture retention of gerbera plants can be helped by adding animal manures and/or compost. Over-watering of gerberas can lead to rotting of the crown and/or root. This will cause the plant to die. Gerberas can actually survive under very dry conditions. If only watered when absolutely necessary, they will adapt to less water.

Most growth and flowering of gerberas takes place during warmer months. The roots may travel down 60cm in search of moisture and nutrients. Because of this comparatively deep root system, plants in well-mulched soils will need watering only perhaps three times a week except during extreme heatwaves.

However having soft, broad leaves means they lose moisture rapidly especially when temperatures exceed 30oC on a regular basis. Leaves and flowers will then show signs of stress and begin to wilt. A light spray late afternoon will see them revive by next morning. Gerberas grown in containers will need more water than those grown in a garden bed. Potting mix can exceed 40oC on very hot days and protection from the afternoon sun will benefit them greatly.

Once flowers start to appear it is time to start fertilising the plants. Regular feeding during summer will help produce strong root systems which in turn means the plant will produce lots of beautiful flowers. A sprinkle of general purpose fertiliser once a month around the edge of the plants will help. If your soil is light and sandy, choose a fertiliser that contains trace elements.

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Flower production can be stimulated by using a liquid fertiliser over the leaves. If flowers are slow to develop, add a tablespoon each of Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) and potassium sulphate (potash) to 10 litres of liquid fertiliser.

During warm weather, gerberas are not affected much by pests and diseases. Aphids can be a problem. Insects which can be a nuisance to growers of gerberas include white fly, thrips and leaf miner.

During humid periods, mildew can attack the plants. Grey mildew is a pathogen which affects many plant species. Gerberas are particularly susceptible to infection by grey mildew. White powdery mildew is seen initially on the leaves and flower heads and has the appearance of a white, floury efflorescence. Dust moist leaves with a commercial preparation. Fungal disease can be minimised by removing dead and dying leaves and flower stems. The fungus is sometimes called 'leaf spots' as irregular circles appear, small at first then becoming larger with prominent borders. If there is an excess of foliage, the leaves can be thinned out and this too will help reduce the incidence of fungal disease.

Cut gerberas should be harvested by cutting the stem at an angle thus allowing better entry of water into the stems.

The gerbera is very important to the cut flower industry, rating in the top five along with the rose, carnation, chrysanthemum and tulip. While bees, birds and butterflies find the gerbera attractive, deer do not.

Members of the daisy family represent innocence and purity. The gerbera's flowers has the additional meaning of cheerfulness because of the assortment of colours. Gerberas are excellent as bedding plants for borders and flower beds. They also provide attractive, long-lasting cut flowers for vases and floral arrangements.

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