Gaillardia is a cheerful flower that brightens up the garden all summer long. It’s easy to grow and will thrive in hot, dry areas of your landscape where other plants might struggle.
The other name for Gaillardia is ‘blanket flower,’ which is thought to be a reference to the colorfully patterned Native American blankets the flowers resemble. The plants also slowly spread and ‘blanket’ an area, living up to their name even more.
Here’s more about how to grow, care for, and enjoy Gaillardia in your garden all season long.
What Is Gaillardia?
If you aren’t familiar with this delightful native flower, Gaillardia (Gaillardia sp.) is a group of over two dozen species that mostly originate from North America. Many species are grown as short-lived perennials, while a few are grown in most zones as annuals.
The perennial types of Gaillardia are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 3-10. This gives almost any gardener the chance to grow at least one variety of blanket flower.
Despite being a short-lived perennial, meaning they only return for a few years (usually 3-5), plants easily self-seed and can be divided to propagate more plants. This means you should be able to keep Gaillardia in your garden for many years without buying any more plants.
The plants themselves are typically low-growing, reaching an average of 10-18 inches in height. Some varieties, however, can grow a few feet tall. Most Gaillardia will slowly spread out 1-2 feet without being at all invasive.
Gaillardia is a low maintenance native plant that makes a great addition to almost any garden. It thrives on low water, low fertility, and rocky or sandy soil
Flowers start appearing in early summer and continue to bloom on and off all the way to fall. The daisy-like blooms are bright shades of yellow, orange, and red with some softer apricot and peach colors as well.
Most cultivars have single petals with flowers that get about 2-3 inches across. Others have double or semi-double blooms. Leaves are an attractive grey-green color and hairy.
Benefits of Growing Gaillardia
There are so many reasons to add Gaillardia flowers to your garden. Like many other native plants, they are extremely hardy and low maintenance and will require little work once you get them started.
Blanket flowers are also very versatile in the landscape and add color all summer long. They can be grown as a landscape plant, for cut flowers, and even in containers.
Because they attract butterflies and hummingbirds, Gaillardia makes a great plant for a wildflower meadow or a butterfly garden as well. Or you could grow them around a vegetable or fruit garden to draw in pollinators.
To add to all of this, blanket flower rarely has pest or disease issues and is drought tolerant and deer resistant!
Top Species and Cultivars
Even though there are a few dozen species of Gaillardia, there are only three major ones that are frequently grown as garden plants. Here’s a look at them:
Most of the hybrids you’ll see on the market today come from a cross between yellow Gaillardia (G. aristata) and annual Gaillardia (G. pulchella). The new varieties have characteristics of each parent.
- Gaillardia pulchella– This species is native to southern parts of the U.S., from the Southeast to Colorado, and to parts of Mexico. It’s most often grown as an annual and has bright flowers with a red center and yellow outer band.
- G. aristata– This species is native to the prairie lands of North America. The plants are perennials and have bright yellow flowers and dandelion-like leaves.
- G. x Grandiflora– This is the most popular species grown and sold at garden centers and is a cross between G. pulchella and G. aristata. Cultivars have different heights and coloring and are short-lived perennials.
Sometimes, garden centers will only have the standard Gaillardia for sale, but there are actually several unique cultivars to keep an eye out for. Here’s a look at the top ones:
- ‘Arizona Sun’– This is an award-winning variety with the typical cheery red flowers that have a band of yellow on the outside. Plants form nice mounds that are about 10 inches tall and 12 inches wide. Blooms all summer, zones 3-9.
- ‘Arizona Red Shades’– This cultivar is similar to ‘Arizona Sun’, except that flowers are all-red. Sometimes the petals have a hint of yellow just at the edges. Zones 4-10.
- ‘Arizona Apricot’– A cousin of the previous two varieties, this one has unique apricot-orange blooms. Zones 4-10.
- ‘Burgundy’– This cultivar has striking wine-red flowers with yellow centers. The center gradually turns burgundy as the flowers mature. Grows 2-3 feet tall and wide, zones 3-10.
- ‘Oranges and Lemons’– Gorgeous and cheerful, this cultivar has soft orange blooms with lemon-yellow tips. Flowers can get 4-6 inches across and have golden cones in the center. A single plant can get 75 blooms at a time! Grows 1-2 feet tall and wide, zones 6-10.
- ‘Fanfare’– This is a truly unique variety that has trumpet-shaped blooms instead of the normal daisy-like petals. Colors are red and yellow. Grows 1-2 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide, zones 3-10.
Instead of flat petals, ‘Fanfare’ has unique trumpet-like blooms that are the characteristic red and yellow color. The petals surround a greenish cone in the center.
- ‘Mesa Yellow’– This is one of the best sunshiny-yellow varieties. Plants grow 1-2 feet tall and are hardy in zones 5-10. The ‘Mesa’ series also has peach and red selections.
How to Grow Gaillardia
Gaillardia is easy to find at both local and online nurseries if you want to start with seedlings. However, it’s also an easy perennial to grow from seed, and plants are even likely to flower in their first year.
Here’s a guide to follow if you opt for the seed-starting route.
Growing from Seed Indoors
Your plants will have the best chance of flowering their first growing season if you give them a headstart indoors. Start your seeds 4-6 weeks before your last average frost date in the spring.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Gaillardia seeds
- Seed starting trays
- Good quality seed starting mix
- Plastic tray covers (optional)
- Grow lights (optional but preferred)
Get started by first mixing your seed starting soil with water to get it damp. You’ll know it’s wet enough when you can squeeze a handful into a clump that stays together. Just don’t get it so wet that it starts dripping.
Fill your seed tray(s) with the dampened mix and sow 1-3 seeds per cell. Gaillardia seeds need light to germinate, so place them on top of the soil and press them gently in without covering.
Water your seeds gently and place plastic covers over the trays (if you have them) to keep moisture in. Place the seeded trays somewhere they’ll get light, like under grow lights or by a window.
The seeds can take a bit of time to germinate- anywhere from 1-3 weeks. Be patient and make sure the soil stays damp during the germination period.
Once you see seedlings start to sprout up, remove the plastic covers and place your trays under grow lights or by a very sunny window. Water the soil around your seedlings as needed, and run a fan a few times a day for good air circulation.
If you planted more than one seed in each cell, thin them out once they get a few inches tall. You only want one seedling growing in each individual cell.
About 1-2 weeks before planting time, harden your seedlings off by gradually exposing them to the weather outside.
Growing from Seed Outdoors
Gaillardia is also easy to sow directly in your garden, although plants started outdoors will generally be behind ones started indoors. They may flower late or not at all during their first growing season.
Plant your seeds in spring after the last frost has passed. If your area gets pretty mild winters, you can also sow seeds in the fall that will come up the following spring.
Gaillardia started from seed outdoors will be slower to bloom than plants started indoors, but direct sowing is a very easy way to get this perennial started.
Start by preparing your planting area. Get rid of weeds, rocks, and debris and add soil amendments like compost as needed. Rake the top of the soil smooth so that you have a good place to sow seeds.
Then, scatter your seed on top of the soil. You can press the seeds in so they won’t wash away, but don’t cover them. Water the area well, and keep it damp as the seeds germinate.
Once your seedlings are up and a few inches tall, thin them to the proper spacing. This will depend on which variety you are planting, but generally plants should be at least 6-12 inches apart.
Tips for Planting Gaillardia
When to Plant
If you started seeds indoors or bought seedlings from a nursery, your plants can go in the garden after all danger of frost has passed in the spring. Make sure you harden them off before transplanting if they haven’t been already.
Fall planting is also an option in regions with mild winters.
Where to Plant
Gaillardia is not a picky flower, but it should be grown in full sun. Partial shade is okay in very warm climates, but too much shade will make your plants floppy and keep them from flowering at their best.
Blanket flowers will thrive in dry and rocky soil but don’t like soil that gets too wet. For this reason, it’s best to avoid planting them in clay soil and wet areas in your garden.
Planting Gaillardia in the right spot will cause your plants to thrive with little effort. Stay away from shaded areas, heavy clay, poorly drained soil, and overly rich soil.
Improve clay soil with lots of amendments if that’s the type of soil you’re stuck with. Compost, shredded leaves, and well-rotted manure are all good options for improving heavy and poorly drained soil.
Don’t bother adding fertilizer to your soil before planting. Gaillardia actually does better without any fertilizer, and you may see fewer flowers if you put it in overly rich soil.
You can also grow blanket flowers in containers. Dwarf varieties are a better option for growing in pots, although you can give any cultivar a go. Just make sure you use a light potting soil and have drainage holes in the bottom of your containers.
How to Plant
Spacing can be anywhere from 6-18 inches and depends on the mature size of the cultivar you’re planting and the look you want to achieve.
For example, if you want individual mounds, you’ll need to space plants further apart. If you want them to fill in and cover the ground, space them closer together.
Once you have the spacing figured out, simply dig holes that are about the size of the root ball of your seedlings. Loosen the roots on each seedling before placing it in the ground and filling around it with soil.
Make sure you water your new plants well, and that’s it!
Gaillardia Plant Care
Planting them in the right spot is probably the hardest part of growing Gaillardia. These flowers are very hardy and incredibly resilient to tough conditions.
Gaillardia will draw bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to your garden along with hummingbirds and songbirds. Leave the seedheads on in fall to feed the birds and enjoy watching the wildlife that’s drawn to these flowers.
You will need to water your seedlings regularly (unless it rains) for the first few weeks while they get established. After that, you may not need to ever water them again unless your region goes through an extreme drought period.
Whatever you do, do not overwater your plants!
Because they don’t like overly wet conditions, Gaillardia plants often do better without mulch. However, you can put a light layer down to help with weeds as long as your plants don’t start to suffer.
Deadheading is optional, but it can help prolong the bloom period. It’s best to deadhead early in the season, then leave the seedheads on in late summer for the birds to eat.
Fertilizing is completely unnecessary, so that’s one thing you can cross off your list.
Because they are short lived, divide your plants every 2 years if you want to keep them vigorous. Or let the seeds fall and sprout up into new plants that can be transplanted elsewhere in the garden. Just keep in mind that hybrids may not come true to seed.
Pests and Problems
Great news! Gaillardia is rarely bothered by diseases or pests- even big pests like deer.
The most common problem is root rot if you plant blanket flowers in heavy clay or in areas that stay wet. You can solve or avoid this problem by amending your soil, using raised beds, or planting in containers.
Gaillardia grows well with other warm-colored perennials that grow in similar conditions, like black-eyed Susan. It also makes a good contrast to cool-colored plants like purple coneflower or blue salvia.
Occasionally, plants may get infected with a virus called aster yellows. If this happens, your only option is to remove and destroy infected plants immediately.
If leaf hoppers or aphids (which can both spread aster yellows) show up, control them with a natural insecticidal soap or spray.
Ideas for Planting and Enjoying Gaillardia
Almost every garden has room for Gaillardia, since it’s such a versatile plant.
Try planting blanket flower with other perennials like salvia, coreopsis, sedum, and ornamental grasses. They also mix well with purple coneflower, yarrow, and black-eyed Susans, which all have similar growing requirements.
Bright colored annuals like marigolds and lantana complement Gaillardia. You can also try them against the of white sweet alyssum or to contrast blue-colored annuals or perennials.
There are so many things to love about Gaillardia, and you’ll be glad you planted it in your garden!