Blanket Flowers are sunny natives to the desert plains of the southwestern US and they add bold colour to any garden. They’re easy to grow, hardy and not fussy in the slightest.
Learn everything you need to know about growing these self-sufficient plants. Your garden will be a riot of sunny faces with lovely green foliage.
What Is A Blanket Flower?
The Blanket flower or Gaillardia spp. is a common native wildflower across the dry and arid plains of the midwestern US.
Belonging to the Asteraceae genus － Sunflowers, Coreopsis, Daisies and Asters are also members. Blanket flowers are short-lived perennials with daisy-like flowers in colours such as deep burgundy, orange, peach or apricot colour, golden-yellow and scarlet red.
They flower in a large cluster on top of tall stems. As they “blanket” the ground in bright colours, this is the reason for their common name.
There are 5 main types of Blanket flowers:
1. Common blanket flower: The common Gaillardia plant (Gaillardia aristata) sports yellow petals and fuzzy green stems and foliage. It is the most widespread Blanket flower in North America.
2. Gaillardia ‘Arizona Sun’:This intense beauty has red petals ending in a golden shade. This perennial attracts birds and butterflies.
3. Gaillardia ‘Fanfare’: This striking specimen bears trumpet-like petals which change from a red-orange centre to yellow tips.
4. Gaillardia x grandiflora: This is a hybrid with daisy-like red flowers fringed with yellow gold. It has a short-lived bloom time usually starting in early summer. There is also a yellow cultivar of this flower called ‘Mesa Yellow.’
5. Sundance: The Gaillardia pulchella Blanket flower is also called Firewheel. It bears deep red-coloured filled petals that fade to vibrant yellows at the tip. The symmetry of the petals looks like a pinwheel.
A Little History Of The Blanket Flower
Gaillardia is also known commonly as “blanket flower,” a reference to the bright and vivid colours woven in traditional rugs of groups of Native Americans.
They have been extensively bred and hybridised and can be grouped according to where they occur.
- Gaillardia Pulchella is a native annual to the Southeastern US right up to Colorado and south to Mexico.
- Gaillardia Aristata: This is a prairie native across North America.
- Gaillardia x Grandiflora: This is a cross between G. pulchella and G. aristata, G. x grandiflora. This is the Blanket flower you will mostly come across in garden centres and nurseries.
How To Grow Blanket Flowers
These unfussy plants are very easy to grow and it is often said they just keep on giving.
So let’s dig in and learn how to grow them.
Blanket flowers can be grown from seed or transplanted out from potted containers bought at a garden centre.
Gently remove the plant from the pot and plant it in a hole big enough to accommodate it. Backfill the soil to the right level and even fashion a little mound around it. This facilitates a bit of run-off and prevents problems associated with over watering such as root rot.
Growing Blanket flowers from seed is dead easy. In fact, get the kids to help germinate and care for the seedings. They’re that easy and the kids will love the instant gratification.
Start the seeds in a seedling container with three seeds per cell. Mist them slightly. Lightly cover them with a fine soil layer or seedling medium.
Blanket flower seeds require light to germinate so don’t bury them. Seeds should germinate in 2-3 weeks.
Once they have hardened off then you can plant them in the garden after the last frost in spring.
Water weekly and come early May you will have a spectacular show of flowers through spring and summer.
Where To Plant A Blanket Flower
A hot sunny spot will be best for Blanket flowers as they love desert climates with high temperatures. No shade is necessary and they don’t mind poor soils either. Plant them in dry soil that has good drainage or even sand.
Avoid over watering as you will end up with diseased and unhealthy plants. Oh and also Blanket flowers don’t require much fertilising or feeding. They are used to doing without it in the desert.
Regularly deadheading Blanket flowers assists the plant to store energy over winter and survive frosts. Keep those deadheaded flowers as your next store of seed heads. Or use them as mulch in the garden and they will self-seed.
When To Plant a Blanket Flower
You plant Blanket flowers in spring after the last frost. A light dressing of compost will set them on their feet for a good growing season over the summer months.
What Is The Meaning Of Blanket Flowers?
Blanket flower plants spread in mounds and literally blanket an area in the garden, hence their common name. They look fantastic planted en-masse but also make impressive container plants.
There is a rich heritage of legend and lore around Blanket flowers. Legend has it that the Firewheel got its unique colours by soaking up the blood of the Aztecs following the devastation caused by the arrival of the Spaniards and Cortes.
Native American origin traditions have it that a chief’s wife wove a blanket for her husband who was away fighting a war. Their daughter wandered into the woods and got lost. She prayed to the Great Spirits to send her mother’s coloured blanket to keep her warm. She woke up the next morning covered and warmed by Blanket flowers.
Where Do Blanket Flowers Grow Best?
In full sun in a hot and dry area of the garden.
Do Blanket Flowers Prefer Sun Or Shade?
Definitely full sun. They will not thrive in the shade.
How to Care for Blanket Flowers?
Blanket flowers do not require much care but you should be aware of some common problems which may crop up.
Pests and Diseases That Affect Blanket Flowers
While Blanket flowers attract desirable and beneficial pollinators such as bees and butterflies, they can be attacked by diseases and pests.
Encourage Ladybugs to keep aphids at bay. That beautiful but pesky bird, goldfinches, enjoy feeding on the Blanket flower’s seed cones.
Another disease is Aster yellows, a virus spread and carried by leafhoppers and aphids. If you spot any yellowing or wilted petals, remove the infected flower plants to prevent it from spreading.
The fungus Powdery mildew must be watched for. Keep the area dry with little excess moisture and spray with a fungicide if you notice your plants with this.
Proper spacing and pruning of your plants prevent this. And ensure your water in the early morning so the plant can dry out during the day.
Some gardeners have even reported that their entire Blanket flower crop survived for an entire summer only on rainfall.
Blanket Flower Maintenance
Prune or cut back your Gaillardia in late autumn to about six inches, and compost your prunings.
A single Blanket flower plant usually survives for 2-3 years before dying. You can lift and divide them when they are about 2 years old. Remember they are self-seeders and fast-growing, so you may even have to thin them out.
Always companion plants with plants that enjoy similar conditions. In the case of the Blanket Flower, these include black-eyed Susan, echinacea, herbs, salvia and heather.
You can also choose marigolds and vinca flowers.
Blanket Flower Winter Care
There are two options for cold weather care:
- Either prune your Blanket flowers right back
- Just leave them in the garden.
Most Blanket flowers are hardy so they usually don’t need special care during the cold, snowy months. The only exception is Mesa Yellow which is not as tolerant of the cold as the others in the family. If you are growing this variety you can mulch lightly around them for some protection in the winter.
But remember just a light mulch as Blanket flowers die off in soggy conditions.
So it’s true to say that Blanket flowers are nourished by neglect. They are tough and water-wise and are perfect for arid areas. The tough colourful beauties will give you a spring and summer show like no other.
Their best characteristic is they just get on with doing what they do best.