Hardy Gerberas

Updated: Jun 14, 2019

Gerbera Daisies have been a part of the horticultural scene for more than a century now, with the first plants being introduced to Europe (specifically the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew) from South Africa in 1889. By the time the early 1900’s rolled around it had already become an important greenhouse crop, with gerberas being used outdoors in Mediterranean gardens and of course, as flowering houseplants and bedding elsewhere.

This family of tender perennials includes about 40 species native to grasslands or mountain meadows of Africa, Asia and South America, although most domesticated gerberas were bred from a G. jamesonii x G. viridifolia cross. They are immensely popular with florists as cut and potted flowers but until very recently, gardeners in temperate regions have been unable to enjoy them as permanent features in their landscapes. Then a Dutch breeder started hybridizing Gerbera jamesonii with other available species in hopes of creating a hardy form.

'Sweet Fiesta' - All images copyright MK Lascelle 2019

The results of this intensive breeding program were first released in 2009 as the Garvinea Series, which went on to win the Golden Floral Award in 2010. This was further refined with the Sweet Series which was introduced from 2015 to 2016 and there are currently 24 hardy Gerberas available in a multitude of colours including bright yellow (‘Sweet Smile’, ‘Sweet Honey’), Orange (‘Kendall’, ‘Sweet Glow’, ‘Sweet Caroline’), Red (‘Fleurie’, ‘Sweet Love’, ‘Sophie’, ‘Rachel’), Pink (‘Sweet Memories’, ‘Sweet Heart’, ‘Sweet Sixteen’), White (‘Sylvana’) and Mauve to Purplish-pink (‘Sweet Spice’, ‘Sweet Dreams’, ‘Sweet Surprise’). The bloom colour may also be two-tone and the flower form single to semi-double or anemone.

Sweet Memories Gerbera Daisy
'Sweet Memories' - All images copyright MK Lascelle 2019

Expect 2 to 3-inch wide blooms from spring to early fall with mature plants producing an average of 70-100 flower stems per season. These new hybrids are not adversely affected by either cool or hot weather so the blooms start early, persist through the warm summer and continue into autumn. Garvinea gerberas still make excellent cut flowers for arranging, with strong stems averaging 16-18” tall. The plants themselves are reasonably compact at 12-16” across and prefer a part to full sun exposure and well-drained soil in order to avoid crown rot. They have been bred to be disease resistant and also seem to not appeal to the likes of either deer or rabbits. Of course, that doesn’t mean that these perennial gerberas are not nature friendly, as they still have plenty of pollen to attract both bees and butterflies.

Clockwise from top left - 'Sweet Spice', 'Sweet Smile', 'Sweet Sunset', 'Sweet Glow'. All images copyright MK Lascelle 2019

As to their hardiness, they have been rated as USDA Zone 7 and I have personally overwintered several of these in containers with them coming through with flying colours. In case of extreme cold weather conditions they can be dry mulched or simply temporarily covered with a heavy frost cloth for protection. Expect them to be generally herbaceous in nature, meaning that they tend to go dormant in winter.

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You will find these rather versatile plants as their large blooms and extended flowering season makes them ideal for beds, mixed borders or even containers. The many jewel-toned flowers show well even under a glaring sun and you can choose to either compliment or contrast the colour palette. For containers I would avoid mixed plantings as the coarse basal foliage tends to overwhelm the finer trailers. That said, with mature plants averaging 5 to 10 flower stems at any given time during the blooming season, the show is always spectacular. Hardy gerberas will need ongoing fertilization (with something like a Superbloom 10-40-25) and regular deadheading of the spent blooms for the best flower display.

In any case, one look at these showy perennials is usually enough to convince most gardeners to bring them home; but I will leave that decision up to you.