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A blanket of perennial blooms

March 23, 2013
By H.I. JEAN SHIELDS - Garden Club of Cape Coral ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Gaillardia is the name of a native wildflower that should be in everyone's garden, yard bed or lanai container. It loves our hot sun and once established is drought tolerant. It will do well in sandy soil and even in some clay, with good drainage. They are just as happy in a roadside ditch or concrete cracks.

You do not have to keep trimming these mounds of flowers, and they do not have a bunch of pests to fight. They will re-seed themselves easily unless you deadhead spent flowers. Most of us just let them re-seed and when we have enough of there bright sunny faces we pass some on to others.

When they get too tall and scraggly, which some types do, just cut them back. They are great for the new homeowners who want some instant sunny colors. You can, of course, put them in a low spot and drown them, something new gardeners just have to learn not to do.

This plant is a clumping style about 18 inches high and one or two feet wide, depending on your choice. The daisy-like flowers grow up pretty straight from a green kind of informal mass of fuzzy leaves. Each flower has a clean stem and they can be used as a cut flower for several days.

There are at least eight or nine different flower choices, and 23 species, but only three grow in the U.S.

The gaillardia is from the family Asteraceae Genus: gaillardia, species pulchella. It grows well from Illinois down through Texas and that is a big stretch of climate. The further north they grow the shorter the season, but they still manage to re seed.

Texas and Arizona consider them an important plant as mass plantings, in their dry heat. They grow in Zones 3 to 11. We plant three months earlier than up north.

The re-seeding is automatic, in case you are not sure, however you can always deadhead a spent flower and stop the process. It is so easy to just let them re-seed and then when you have enough just dig up a clump and pass it on.

They do not always come back true to their prior blooming style but that is not a problem with such a friendly flower. You can always buy seeds and dead head a lot if you have a particular desire to have something the same over and over.

New seeds can be sown in the little seedling pots or put directly into some loose soil. Plant them shallow. The sun will do the rest. They will withstand a sprinkler or just do well with the rain, after they are established. You really should dampen the soil when you first plant them, but no wet planting bed. Plant 3 or 4 seeds in a soil plot and then thin out to keep the strongest.

Cape Coral city medians are looking real good right now and there are clumps of gaillardia that have been recently planted. On Skyline Boulevard, south of Gleason, there are large mounds. They give their space a real native plant look. Kind of a prairie look. They love full sun.

Country Club medians, especially north of Veterans Parkway, have been looking nice and have several flowering trees, when it is their time to flower.

Santa Barbara north and south of the parkway is also looking very manicured and features some nice bushy grasses. When there is a hardy wind blowing, these grasses have a beautiful silver tone as they sway back and forth. When you see grass clumps looking like a pointed dunce cap, that is the way they are timed on purpose.

I am sure there are other favorites around town. We do have to remember though that admiring these medians while driving our congested roadways can be a serious problem. You need a designated driver.

It seems a shame that just as the city springs into bloom and is all trimmed and manicured, we start losing a lot of residents who never even see the results. It is the same in parts of Fort Myers. There is a row of several spectacular weeping bottle brush trees on McGregor, just south of the Cape Coral Bridge. This collection of mature trees is just beautiful. I have no idea why I do not see many of these in the Cape. Please do not tell me they are fragile and do not withstand our winds. They have been there for a while.

When we first moved here I loved the flowering poinciana trees. Our neighbors advised us to not plant one because they were fragile and could not withstand a good wind. I see them everywhere. Pine Island has areas that are incredibly close to the water and they blanket the neighborhood.

I have a regular bottle brush tree and it is very hardy and it is over 15 years old. It is very forgiving of my haphazard method of fertilizing. I never even saw a weeping bottle brush for several years.

There is a lot of information about the perky Gaillardia on the computer, one site is our Lee County Extension Service review. The April plant sale at Rotary Park will have this native flower there for sure.

I am sure everything growing was thankful for the recent rainy days. I actually had 1 inch the first day it rained. I always have horticulture that is thankful for rain.

How about the fact that we are now enjoying spring. The Vernal Equinox was on Wednesday the 20th. You know, that is the day the sun crosses directly over the earth's equator and both day and night are the same length. The computer or the library are good places to investigate all the mysteries of that event, which happens every year.

Spring will last 3 months, until June 21, and then its summer until the Autumnal Equinox, on Sept. 22. All of that time information reminds me that it is time to start getting gardens and pots cleaned up and deciding on which type of mulch to use, and to plant another tomato plant.

I know many gardeners have already started doing spring clean up and are far ahead of me, but I always manage to get everything done. That is part of the fun of gardening for me, not being organized.

When someone calls and asks do I need a few pass-along plants, I can always say yes because I am still puttering around changing my mind and looking for some plant sales to show me something new.

I just potted up a nice large pot full of caladium bulbs, can't wait to see them come peeking out of their cozy container. We can talk about them next time. They are a no brainer plant for sure.

Enjoy the beautiful new spring and the few rains we will be having, this is one of Southwest Florida's best seasons. In a couple of months we will have a lot more rain and a lot more hot sun. Start with the sunscreen now.

Happy gardening until we meet again.

H.I. Jean Shields is a past president of the Cape Coral Garden Club.



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