The National Garden Bureau has proclaimed 2013 as the Year of the Gerbera.
It is no surprise that colored Gerber daisies have taken a spotlight among flower lovers. Their large size, simple daisy shape and bright luminous colors make them real eye catchers in the garden and in cut flower arrangements.
There are 30 wild species of flowers in the genus Gerbera, which is in turn a member of the sunflower family. Those wild species are found in South America, Africa and tropical Asia.
The Gerberas we use in our gardens, a cross between Gerbera jamesonii and Gerbera viridifolia, are native to South Africa and surrounding areas. It was named in 1737 after the German botanist, Traugott Gerber.
The flowers were growing in profusion around a gold mine near Barberton, South Africa, and its owner found them intriguing. He brought plants back to his home in Durban, South Africa. These plants later became known as Barberton daisies and some plants were sent to Kew Gardens in England. One survived, and provided genetics to combine with others sent earlier to develop the modern Gerbera.
During the 20th century, Gerbera breeding accelerated, but the two world wars interrupted the research until the early 1970s. The breeders were looking for varieties for cutting, but development of potted plants began shortly later.
The first potted Gerberas had green centers, but in the mid- 1990s, seed companies introduced varieties of Gerbera with dark centers, which increased their appeal. Semi-double and spider types came later.
Current Gerbera species come as large flower heads composed of hundreds of individual flowers with a set of ray petals around them in colorful shades of pink, gold, white, red, orange, yellow, cream and bi-colors. The center of the flower is either green or black.
Single flowers are the most common type with two layers of flower petals.
The semi-doubles are most common as cut flowers but there are some pot types. Semi-double flowers have extra rows of mini petals around the center eye, making the flower look thicker and emphasizing the eye. Double flowers are very full with five to seven layers of petals that fully cover the flower head. Spider flowers are unique with thinner, more pointed flower petals making a more rounded surface.
Gerberas have become more and more popular in the floral trade. They were an infrequently used novelty flower less than 20 years ago, but they are now among the most popular flowers in the world after roses, carnations and chrysanthemums.
Pot-type Gerberas were originally grown from seed, but a very large patio type flower, ‘Giant Spinner,’ changed all of that. ‘Giant Spinner’ produces pink and white 8-inch flowers on a plant big enough to grow in a 10-inch pot and is grown from tissue culture. Other varieties using crosses between potted and cut-type flowers followed in multiple colors that are well suited to patio pots and large tubs and also provide a homecut flower.
The ‘Garvinea’ series is another recent introduction that has a more botanical-look with an abundance of smaller flowers on disease-resistant plants.
Gerberas do will in patio pots with coarse, loose soil and plenty of sunshine. They do not do well in hot spots, so avoid placing them against brick walls or near surfaces that reflect intense heat.
Water early in the morning so the foliage will dry off during the daylight hours. Water remaining on the leaves for too long invites diseases like powdery mildew. Gerberas need frequent fertilization. Fertilize with a slowrelease fertilizer and supplement with liquid fertilizer every two weeks.
Flowering requires ample light. The more light they get in the center of the plant, the more flowers they produce. Remove excess foliage from the center throughout the growing season to maximize flower production. Gerberas are subject to various root rots, so let the media dry slightly between watering to keep the roots healthy. Water often enough that they don’t wilt severely. Wilting damages the root system making it more susceptible to fungal pathogens.
You can use cultural practices to help prevent such problems. Remove infected leaves, avoid crowding the plants, keep the plants watered properly, use resistant plants and avoid excessive nitrogen fertilizer.
Aphids, whiteflies, thrips, spider mites and leaf miners may attack gerberas. These pests are often controlled by natural predators like ladybugs, beneficial mites, lace wings, pirate bugs and spiders. It is best to give the process a bit of time for the beneficial insects to take care of the problem, but if the infestation becomes serious, insecticides and insecticidal soap will help.
Gerberas are available as transplantable plants at garden centers, but they can be started at home from seed in flats of very lightweight medium. Plant the seeds close to the surface of the soil and cover the flat with plastic. Plants will germinate in 15 to 20 days. Then uncover and provide 14 hours of light daily, keep the growth medium moist and fertilize lightly and frequently to encourage healthy growth. Flowering occurs 18 to 20 weeks after sowing.