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Colorful Blanket Flowers Loved by Butterflies, Birds, and Bees

Dorothy is a Master Gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of several books. Michael is a landscape/nature photographer in NM.

Traditional Colors of an Indian Blanket

One of my gorgeous Tokajer gaillardia blanket flowers.  The petals are a mango orange color and they appear to have ends that are dipped in peach paint.  Butterflies, bees and birds all love them.  Beetles are great pollinators.

One of my gorgeous Tokajer gaillardia blanket flowers. The petals are a mango orange color and they appear to have ends that are dipped in peach paint. Butterflies, bees and birds all love them. Beetles are great pollinators.

Full Sun Keeps This Flower Happy!

If your garden is in full sun and you live in an area with frequent drought periods, your choices in flowers are somewhat limited. But if you insist on having some beautiful, colorful blooms, you are in luck with blanket flowers (Gaillardia), which are perennial daisies. From early summer, they are very showy in shades of red, yellow, and orange with colorful banded petals. The choices of which blanket flower to plant are plentiful.

An added plus to planting these carefree beauties is that butterflies love them but deer don't. These perennials have an extremely long season of blooming with their daisy-like flowers blooming from early summer all the way into fall.

Blanket flowers are native to the United States and Mexico and they are often planted along roadsides because of the minimal amount of care required...and, of course, for the viewing delight of many travelers.

The petals of a blanket flower might be solid shades of yellow; a dark, wine red; or a peachy orange color, all depending on the variety you choose. They have bands that are combinations of red or orange with yellow. Petals on some of the flowers are frilled, but others have a tubular shape. The leaves are a narrow grayish-green color and the entire plant can grow up to a few feet tall. All of the different varieties of this flower are easy to care for, having very few insect problems or diseases, so they are a particularly nice choice for amateur or first-time gardeners.

Easy to Start From Seeds

Blanket flowers are easy to start growing from seed and they can be started indoors or outdoors. Regardless of where you start them, you barely need to cover them with soil and place them where they have plenty of exposure to light, which is needed in order for them to germinate. If you have a large area in which you are going to plant them, you need only to scatter the seeds around with a rake, but make sure they come in contact with the dirt. Once you have planted the seeds, water the area thoroughly then sit back and wait for them to spring to life.

Blanket flower plants are not finicky but prefer to be in an area that drains well and does not remain muddy after a heavy rain.

The blanket flowers will appear on sturdy stems that are held high above the plant's foliage. Most varieties reach heights from about 18 to 22 inches tall. These plants are hardy from zones 5 through 9 and they are great container plants.

If you live in the northernmost part of their range, you might consider a very light mulch in the winter to help them withstand sub-zero temperatures.

Interesting Seeds

Although this seed has been magnified many times over you can see that it is not shaped like an ordinary flower seed.  When you start looking for seeds to buy, they will probably be labeled as Gaillardia.

Although this seed has been magnified many times over you can see that it is not shaped like an ordinary flower seed. When you start looking for seeds to buy, they will probably be labeled as Gaillardia.

Harvesting Blanket Flower Seeds

The seeds produced by blanket flowers are held in globe-shaped seed heads. If you have fall seed heads on your plant, you are essentially allowing the annual varieties to self-sow if you don't care to replant them every year, although the seed-grown varieties may not look exactly like the parent plant. The seeds also will attract birds to your garden.

Cut the entire plant back to the ground after it grows dormant in the late fall if you don't wish it to set seeds.

You should only harvest seeds from the healthiest plants you have, which should be the ones that produce the most beautiful flowers. After the petals drop off, the seed heads will begin to look brown and very dry. Place those seed heads inside a paper bag and put it in a dry, well-ventilated area. The bag should be left open so that air circulates to the drying seeds. The seeds will need to continue drying for about two weeks.

Once the drying is complete, hold a seed head above a bowl and gently rub it. The seeds should dislodge and fall into the bowl. You will also be left with stems and other non-seed material and you need to pick all of those out of the bowl. The seeds that remain need to be stored in a sealed jar labeled with the name of the plant and the date the seeds were harvested. That jar of seeds should be kept in a cool, dark place until you are ready to plant.

Annual and perennial blanket flower varieties produce attractive globe-shaped seed heads. Leaving the last flush of blooms on the plant and allowing them to set seed in the fall can add winter interest to the garden. Leaving fall seed heads on the plant also allows annual varieties to self-sow if you don't want to replant them each year, although seed-grown varieties may not produce true to the parent plant. The seeds also attract birds to your fall and winter garden. Cut the plant back to the ground after it goes dormant in late fall if you don't want it to set seeds.

The Gaillardia (blanket flowers) were named after an M. Gaillard de Charentonneau, an 18th-century French magistrate who was also a patron of botany.

Directions for Planting

You can set out container-grown plants throughout the growing season (summer), but the ideal time is in the spring or the fall. If you are planting a dwarf variety, you only need to leave about a foot of space between plants; however, the taller varieties require more room, so about 18" should be plenty of room for them.

Loosen the soil to a depth of about a foot or so, then mix in a few inches of compost. Once that is complete, dig a hole that is twice the diameter of the pot that the plant is in. Remove the plant (carefully) from the container and put it in the hole so that the top of the root ball remains level with the surface of the soil. Fill in the soil around the root ball and carefully pack the soil in. Water thoroughly.

Pruning

Cutting back and pruning your blanket flowers will result in more abundant blooms and healthier plants.

Deadheading - Deadheading is the process of pruning spent flowers It will encourage continued blooming and prevent your plant from self-sowing in the garden. A blanket flower can be deadheaded any time during the flowering season once the blooms have begun wilting. Inspect the plants at least once a week and pinch back the flower stems to the topmost leaf so the entire flowering structure is removed. Allowing the plant to set seeds takes energy away from further bloom production. Deadheading prevents this waste of energy, which can result in more flowers and a healthier plant.

Cutting back your plant - In late summer, if your plant has begun to flower less, your blanket flower might benefit from some severe pruning, which is only likely to be needed if you have failed to deadhead on a regular basis. If need, though, cut the entire plant back by about a third of its height, using sterile, sharp pruning shears. This type of pruning will encourage a lot of new growth, which will result in a fuller plant with more blooms. Cutting your plant back in late summer will help your plant to flower all the way through fall.

Dividing - Most blanket flowers are perennials (some are not) and they benefit from being divided every two or three years. When dividing, the roots are split into multiple plants, which aids in controlling the size of very large plants giving you more plants to spread about your garden.

In the early spring before growth resumes, dig up the roots, breaking them apart gently into two sections. Some of the larger roots may require cutting with shears. Once you have them divided, you can plant them at the same depth you did originally, spacing them at least a foot apart.

Common Names for Gaillardia Flowers

  • Indian Blanket
  • Common gaillardia
  • Great blanketflower
  • Blanketflower
  • Brown-eyed susan
  • Brown Eyed Susan
  • Indian Blanketflower

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Mike and Dorothy McKenney

Comments

Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on April 18, 2018:

They are. You should try them!

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on April 18, 2018:

We have lots of deer in our area. They eat everything except daffodils andi iris. If the deer don’t like these, I will have to look for some seeds . It seems like they would be easy to care for.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 18, 2018:

Lovely flowers and unique photos. The time of year that I enjoy best.