Each spring and fall LSU AgCenter horticulturists unveil Louisiana Super Plants selections for that season, and gaillardia Mesa series has been named a Louisiana Super Plants selection for fall 2014. The Louisiana Super Plants program is an LSU AgCenter educational and marketing campaign that highlights tough and beautiful plants that perform well throughout the state of Louisiana.
Louisiana Super Plants selections have a proven track record with many years of reliable performance in Louisiana landscapes or have gone through several years of university evaluations and observations. Louisiana Super Plants are “university tested and industry approved.”
The flowers that Louisianians grow in their gardens come from all over the world. More garden flowers than you might think, however, have their origins right here on the North American continent – and many of those are native to the South.
This is the case with gaillardias (Gaillardia species and hybrids). We have grown gaillardias in our flower gardens for many years. Commonly called blanket flower or Indian blanket, the showy, bicolor daisy-like flowers are golden yellow with a deep red center and can cover the plants when they are in full bloom.
The two species most common in cultivation are Gaillardia aristata, a perennial species native to the western and northern United States, and Gaillardia pulchella, an annual species native to much of the U.S., including the Southeast. Varieties of these two species and their hybrids (Gaillardia x grandiflora) have been available for the past few decades. The varieties include plants with double-flowering forms, compact growth habits and color variations on the original gold and dark red flowers of the species.
These plants have been popular in sunny, well-drained locations and are notable for their attractiveness for butterflies. But there were flaws. The length of the blooming season was relatively short, and the plants tended to play out in mid- to late summer. Lack of vigor and stamina over the entire length of the summer season were common issues.
Mesa series gaillardia
The Mesa series of gaillardia has been very impressive in several years of trials at the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station. This series has proven itself as a superior choice for Louisiana gardeners, and it has been named a Louisiana Super Plants selection for fall.
The Mesa series comes in three colors – Mesa Peach, Mesa Yellow and Mesa Bicolor (gold and dark red like the original species). The large, three-inch daisy-like flowers are produced in amazing abundance through an exceptionally long blooming season.
Mesa Yellow was an All-America Selections winner in 2010. It received the award as the first hybrid blanket flower with a controlled plant habit and prolific flowering. Mesa Peach and Mesa Bicolor are just as great.
Let’s start off with the well-controlled growth habit. These gaillardias do not get tall, loose and floppy. Individual plants are neat and mounded – reaching about 16 inches tall and about 20 inches wide.
Their growth stays dense, mounded and attractive throughout their long growing and blooming season. Shearing back old seed heads when flowering finishes is all the pruning that’s needed.
The compact habit makes them adaptable to smaller-space gardens and containers. When planted near the edge of the container, they will cascade down the side, producing a “waterfall” of flowers.
We have traditionally planted gaillardias in spring, but the versatile Mesa gaillardias are being promoted for planting in fall. A September or October planting allows these gaillardias to really show off what they can do.
Planted in the early fall, Mesa gaillardias will begin flowering in October, November or early December. Plants are winter-hardy and will not be severely damaged by winter freezes. In mild winters, you may see flowers through winter.
The advantage of fall planting becomes apparent in the spring. The flower performance of fall-planted gaillardias in spring is amazing. The well-established, robust plants will cover themselves with blooms through spring and into summer.
Blooming plants can also be planted in spring or early summer, and they will bloom over the long, hot summer months. Although often grown for just one season as annuals, Mesa gaillardias are short-lived perennials. You may notice fall- or spring-planted plants reviving the next fall. Shear them back, and they will likely produce another long season of bloom.
Plant Mesa gaillardia into well-prepared beds in full sun. Good drainage is important, and raised beds are recommended. Fertilize at planting with a slow-release product and then repeat fertilization, as needed, through the season.
These plants are drought-tolerant and will not need constant irrigation in summer. They are not prone to insect pests. The bright flowers of gaillardias are rich in nectar and will attract butterflies.
Look for Mesa gaillardia at area nurseries and garden centers. Don’t miss out on using these colorful, dependable, native flowers to brighten your flower beds this fall and into next summer.
Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter. He can be reached at DGill@agcenter.lsu.edu