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    Lightbulb Growing Gerbera Daisies from Seeds

    Growing Gerbera Daisies from Seeds

    Gerbera jamesonii

    With September comes a wave of colorful Gerbera Daisies. After having bloomed spectacularly all spring, the plants rested during the hot summer only occasionally producing a few scattered flowers. September is like the grand finale of a fireworks show, saving the best for last.

    I love growing Gerbera Daisies. They can be found in an endless array of vivid or pastel flower colors. Petals may be of a traditional daisy type or fancier shapes that look more like ‘mums. In my Coastal South Carolina garden these plants range in size from 12 to 24 inches tall, and are a perfect choice to tuck into those front border spaces adding both great color and interesting foliage. Even better, Gerberas are one of the very best plants to grow for cut flowers. The flowers will last a week or two in a vase or an arrangement. Fortunately, in this geographic area, Gerberas are hardy enough to survive most winters and grow as perennials.

    I haven’t always lived in an area where they will over winter outdoors. Since one can never have too many Gerberas and it can be somewhat expensive to purchase them in quantity in the spring, I learned to grow them from seeds. This project is much more challenging than common annuals such as zinnias, marigolds, and vinca. However, with some patience, persistence and a knowledge of this plant’s peculiar requirements, it is possible to grow them quite successfully from seeds. The reward of those beautiful flowers is well worth the effort.

    September’s bountiful display signals time for me to get busy preparing for seeds for the next generation of Gerbera flowers. The first step is to ensure a supply of viable seeds. Often there are not enough butterflies and bees working this late in the season, so I pollinate the flowers with a soft brush. (A large round artist brush or a cosmetic brush works wonderfully for pollinating daisy-type flowers.) I simply swirl the brush in the center of the dry bloom. Moving from flower to flower, the pollinating task is accomplished very quickly. I continue to pollinate them daily until each flower is mature and no longer shows visible pollen. Part of the fun is that you never know what interesting colors your seedlings will be.

    Two to three weeks later the Gerbera flower will fluff up similar to a dandelion puff. It’s now time to harvest the seeds before they fly away. After removing the seed head, I either clip or use a flame to remove the excess fluff. If not removed the fluff will usually mold and spoil your seeds. Viable seeds will be plump and somewhat oval shaped. Pick out only the best, most viable looking seeds and discard all other material from the seed head.

    After several failures using expensive commercially produced seeds, I learned that success for me depends upon the seed freshness. For that reason I use only seeds produced in my garden during the current season. Excess seeds not used on the day harvested are cleaned, dusted with fungicide, sealed and immediately refrigerated. They should not be allowed to dry out. Gerbera seed remains viable for only a very short time. Even when carefully refrigerated, the germination rate is much lower than if they were fresh, so I try to time this project to utilize the fresh seeds when they are ready.

    Immediately before planting, I soak the seeds for 15 minutes in a cup of water with one teaspoonful of bleach added. This helps to kill any bacteria, fungus, or mold clinging to the seeds.

    Since a controlled environment is needed, I grow these seedlings indoors. For good germination, a constant temperature of about 70 degrees and a daily minimum of 16 hours of intensely bright light is required. I use a large, old unoccupied aquarium with a grow light positioned above it about 18 inches from the seeds. (Sterilize the aquarium with bleach.) Strips of small square peat pots (each cell one inch wide by two inches deep) work very well for starting the seedlings and minimizing root damage later during transplanting. I fill the cells with sterile, moistened medium consisting of ½ peat and ½ perlite. The sterilized seeds are then planted two per cell and covered with ¼ inch of additional peat. Peat inhibits the growth of mold and other organisms that would kill the seedlings during their lengthy germination period.

    The seeds will not usually begin to show sprouts until at least two or three weeks after being planted, so some patience is required. They need a humid but not soggy environment until germinated. Maintain 16-18 hours of bright light daily and temperature at about 70 degrees until the appearance of their second true leaf. With the appearance of the second true leaf, I move them out of the aquarium “incubator” and transplant them into 4” pots containing a Ph-balanced, soil-less potting mix. If two sprouts survived in the small peat cell, remove the least desirable one. (just pinch off the top of it leaving the roots in place to prevent injury to the remaining seedling.)

    Since until this time, these baby plants have had little nutrition other that what the seed provided, I feed them with a diluted solution of water soluble fertilizer (¼ strength 10-5-10 with minerals). The leaves at this stage are very tender and will burn easily; so care must be taken not to allow the fertilizer solution to touch the young leaves.

    They will now live in my garage under bright “grow lights” until warmer spring weather. In October and November, the garage temperature will cool and fluctuate normally. Even through the winter it will not freeze. As long as these little plants have bright light and adequate nourishment they will continue to grow slowly until spring. The only care they will need is occasional watering, and continued feeding every 2 weeks with ¼ strength diluted fertilizer. As spring approaches they will be gradually hardened off outdoors in a bright but protected area of the garden. After the last frost, as each one blooms and shows its colors it will have earned its permanent place in the garden.

    Cultivation of Gerberas is not complicated. They need richly organic but well drained soil. Gerberas are heavy feeders. Bright morning sun, but protection from intense afternoon heat in summer prevents wilting and encourages blooming. They should be planted on a slight mound with their crowns positioned a bit above the normal soil line and then mulch built up around the roots. Keep the crown free from mulch . This will prevent crown rot that might otherwise occur from extremely wet weather or over watering. And most important of all, enjoy those lovely flowers. Cutting some to bring inside and deadheading faded flowers keeps them blooming as long as weather conditions permit.

    Happy Gardening!

    Shari
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