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Loving My Red Blanket Perennial in the Summer

This pretty, thick-leafed plant with bright orange/red and black daisy-like flowers just blew me away when I bought it, repotted it, and added it to my balcony garden a few weeks ago. Happy me!

CAUTION: My blanket flower, the Gaillardia, is one of the plants that can cause skin irritation, especially if you come in contact with the sap. All parts of this plant contain sesquiterpene lactones, a chemical compound that is common in many plants. Also, do NOT eat them, but that holds true for most flowers. If you have children playing in your garden or on your balcony or patio where you grow these plants, daisies, morning glories, or any plant, actually, make sure you take proper precautions and know if there are toxicity issues with your plants.

I have had NO problems with mine, but I have few allergies and there never have been small children on our balcony!

Did the "love glow" fade?

Not really. I just began to have a few questions and wondered about the "blanket" part of its name and if its fading, dull look was my fault. A quick google helped:

Twice the flower power with a much more dense, rounded habit than others. A carefree perennial with vibrant flowers that bloom nearly nonstop all season. Perfect for hot sunny borders and cutting gardens.

There's a lot to be learned from this. First, I haven't been using them as cutting flowers. I just let them bloom, be pretty, then fade into this sad little spent flower.

There are over two dozen species of the Gaillardia and mine is a Gaillardia aristata, a prairie wildflower. It's called a "blanket" because they form a slowly spreading mound when planted in the ground and the flower can reseed and sprawl through the garden. The original plants are usually hybrids, so we can expect some variation from self-seeding. Surprise!

The Gaillardia is also referred to commonly as a "blanket flower" as a reference to the bright and vivid colors reminiscent of the traditional textile patterns of certain groups of Native Americans. The botanical name came from eighteenth-century French magistrate M. Gaillard de Charentonneau. He served as a patron for botanists and is now remembered with this plant bearing his name.

So, how do I help these little flowers?

First, since mine is a balcony potted plant, they'll need a bit more watering if they get a whole afternoon of full sun, but they're more resilient to wilting than some of the other full-sun plants I've chosen. My Red Blanket, like my other balcony plants, really likes a sprinkle from my water container during the heat of the afternoon.

The fun part of this is when our little Yorkie neighbor, Diesel, decides to help. He loves the sprinkled water bouncing around on the plants, and sticks his head under the water. A wet Yorkie is adorable, but you'll need to use a little towel before he runs inside and jumps happily on the sofa!

After the flowers bloom into brilliance you have a choice. Enjoy them outside or go ahead and cut them to include in a bouquet to enjoy inside! Otherwise, leave them on the plant until they fade. Then what?

Deadheading? Blanket flowers don't require deadheading to keep blooming, but the plants will look better and be fuller if you cut the stems back when the flowers start to fade. I cut mine down to just above the next leaf, which seemed logical.

This picture is two days after the above picture when I cut the faded flowers (and their stems) out of the plant. It is even taller now!

Also, don't fertilize blanket flower plants, as this may actually cause a decrease in flowering. Healthy potted blanket flowers will continue to bloom throughout the summer, two or three months, and will look much better if you cut out the faded flowers. Most balconies are small, so we want each of our plants to look as pretty as possible. These are short-lived perennial plants, so you'll want to divide and repot every two or three years.

If you totally love your healthy, happy blanket flower and want more next year, you can harvest the seeds. There are lots of things to do with these seeds, so here is where you start:

  • Cut off the flower stalk once the petals drop off and the seed head begins to look brown and dry. Put these into a brown paper bag.

  • Leave the bag open, or close, leave plenty of air space, secure the top and poke some ventilation holes to provide air circulation to the drying seeds. Dry for about two weeks.

  • Remove a seed head from the bag and hold it above a bowl. Gently rub the seed head to dislodge the seeds and fall into the bow. Remove stems or non-seed material from the bowl.

  • Store the seeds in a sealed jar or bag. Label with the plant name and date harvested. Store in a cool, dark place until you're ready to plant!

But I want to keep this plant for next year!

For some crazy reason, I haven't been able to find out what to do with my potted Gaillardia during the winter. If it were planted in the earth, not in a cute terra cotta pot, I'd know (for Arkansas zones) to cut it back, mulch a bit, and it would probably be just fine.

Think I'll just bring this little plant into the house and talk to it. I'll let everyone know how this works out and you'll see it again (I HOPE) next year on my balcony!

What else can I do with my blanket flower?

First, just enjoy it. We can't control the world, but we do have some control over our personal spaces. Make it pretty and embrace every day and every flower. As you look past your balcony, remember that the space you make beautiful is part of your neighbor's view. Make that view as pleasant as possible for your neighbors.

And those seeds you harvested?

You probably have friends who enjoy plants as much as you do. Use the seeds you harvested as fun little surprises to give your friends or new neighbors. Or go ahead and plant some in cute little pots and you'll have precious little seedlings to share in the spring.

Don't freak out over the caution!

Many ornamental plants have cautions on their labeling about humans and animals eating them, but this caution seemed particularly helpful since I was talking about getting up-close and personal with the flowers. Common sense sure makes life easier and allows us to enjoy so much more of nature's beauty.


Thank you for your time!

I hope you enjoyed this article and have as much fun with your "urban" gardening space as I have with mine!

If you haven't visited The Learning Fields at Chaffee Crossing, any season is a good season, and our Demonstration Gardens are Springtime Wonderful!

I'd love to hear from you! It's easy:

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