Blanket Flower: Glorious Gaillardia Gardens

Looking for a striking and brightly colored flowering plant to grow in your perennial garden? Look no further than blanket flower. Rising in early summer, these lovely soft orange flowers fit into meadow, pollinator, and drought resistant-gardens. 

Blanket flowers are perfect when planted among ornamental grasses, like Mexican feather grass. They’re great in xeriscaped areas exposed to full sun year-round. I eagerly await the emergence of blanket flower in my perennial garden. Then I let the faded flowers drop to the ground in early fall to self-seed and rise the following summer. 

Grow these lovely daisy-like flowers in a slowly spreading mound, or create vibrant perennial borders in cottage gardens with Gaillardia blanket flower. With a wide range of hardiness, this plant will work in your garden too. Let’s talk about caring for this extremely showy plant. We’ll discuss Gaillardia varieties and the ins and outs of growing them.

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Quick Care Guide

Blanket flower
The blanket flower or firewheel gets its name from its color and pattern. Source: TexasEagle
Common Name Blanket flower, firewheel, Indian blanket, sundance, bandana daisy
Scientific Name Gaillardia pulchella
Family Asteraceae
Height & Spread 1-2 feet tall, 1-2 feet wide
Light Full sun
Soil Loamy, well-draining
Water Up to 1 inch per week
Pests & Diseases Leaf spot, aster yellows, powdery mildew, leaf hoppers, small birds 

All About The Blanket Flower

Gaillardia Mesa Yellow
Mesa Yellow is an all-yellow cultivar of blanket flower. Source: F. D. Richards

Blanket flower (Gaillardia spp.) is commonly known as firewheel, Indian blanket, sundance, and bandana daisy. Gaillardia species originate in the Americas, spreading across North America into northern parts of South America. Each is a short-lived perennial with gray-green leaves and varying combinations of red-orange flowers, often with yellow tips.

The flowers grow atop a hairy stem that reaches anywhere from 12 to 24 inches tall (or 1 to 2 feet tall), depending on ecology. The glandular leaves are either alternate on the central stem or grouped at the base, covered in hairs. In early summer, single flowers grow between the leaves and remain all summer long into early fall. Some have an extended bloom time lasting until late fall. Then their heads fall to the ground to self-seed for next summer. Their taproot facilitates their drought-tolerant nature, as it extends several inches into the earth to draw in nutrients and moisture.   

Gaillardia was named after Antoine René Gaillard de Charentonneau, a French 18th century court magistrate and botanist. The plant is used medicinally by the Gáuigú people, also known as the Kiowa people, for treating stomach inflammation, skin disorders, eye soreness, and pain due to nursing. It’s prized in home gardens for its drought-tolerant and perennial nature, as well as its ability to accent pocket prairies, and meadows. Native in most of North America, they are excellent for encouraging the presence of pollinators in your yard.  

Types Of Blanket Flower

Gaillardia Mesa Apricot
‘Mesa Apricot’ is a popular cross between Arizona Sun and Mesa Yellow. Source: Swallowtail
  • Gaillardia pulchella is the most widespread of the blanket flower species. The petals of its flowers have red-orange centers with yellow tips. They bloom from May to August in subtropical zones but have a wide range of hardiness from zones 2 through 11. This blanket flower is easy to grow and holds up to extreme heat easily. 
  • Gaillardia aristata is sometimes referred to as great blanket flower or brown-eyed Susan. However, it should not be confused with Rudbeckia hirta another wildflower of the same name. Gaillardia aristata have 3-toothed petals with a deep red center. Instead of having yellow tips, most of the petal is yellow. The leaves are much like dandelion leaves, clasping at the base. Its hardiness range is zones 3 through 8. 
  • Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘burgunder’ has burgundy flowers that bloom in early summer and last through fall. People grow blanket flower of the burgundy variety for cutting and displaying in floral arrangements. It also has a hardiness range from zones 3 to 8. 
  • Gaillardia ‘Tokajer’ has lovely pink or peach-colored flowers and a hardiness range from zones 3 to 9. This blanket flower blooms from May through September, boasting splendid raspberry hues among its grey-green lanced leaves. While it’s not as bold as the other blanket flowers on this list, Tojaker is an excellent addition to your perennial garden or pocket prairie. 
  • Gaillardia Arizona Sun has lovely yellow-tipped flowers each with an amber-red center. The ray flowers of these short-lived perennials are hardy in zones 3 through 9 with silvery-green foliage, covered in hairs. These mound together, creating a dazzling sight in their blooming season. Another closely related species to Arizona Sun Gaillardia is Arizona Red. Shades of crimson donned by these daisy-like flowers are wonderful too. 
  • Gaillardia pinnatifida is another yellow variety with ray flowers with stringy petals. They’re useful in pollinator gardens meant to attract native bees and do best in arid environments in zones 7 through 10. The daisy-like flowers of this variety are lovely with other drought-tolerant wildflowers. 
  • Gaillardia Mesa Yellow (or botanically, Gaillardia x grandiflora Mesa Yellow) is yet another variety of bright yellow blanket flower. Their range starts in zone 5 and reaches tropical zone 10. These grow vigorously, up to 18 inches tall, in pleasing clumps that act like magnets for butterflies.  

Blanket Flower Care

Blanket flowers
Blanket flowers like these Arizona Sun gaillardia really brighten the garden. Source: Mary Keim

Now that we’ve covered a few varieties, let’s talk about how to grow blanket flower. Whether you choose a Gaillardia x grandiflora variety or another, know you can have blanket flowers and butterflies every summer. 

Sun and Temperature

All blanket flowers appreciate full sun and have some tolerance for partial shade. Give them at least 6 hours of direct sunlight, and up to 8 total. Most are hardy in USDA zones 3 through 10, with some that have a smaller range due to their growing habits. Blanket flowers are frost tolerant but will die back in the persistent cold. They are heat tolerant as well. Ideally, they appreciate temperatures of 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Because Gaillardia blanket flower self-sows, there is no need to cover it in freezing weather, as it will return in summer. 

Water and Humidity

One of the best things about blanket flowers (Gaillardia x grandiflora varieties included) is their drought tolerance. They don’t need supplemental watering and subsist on the irrigation from local precipitation easily. Supplemental watering won’t hurt them either. They tolerate up to 1 inch of water per week though most prefer dry climates. Because good drainage is a must for this plant, water them with drip irrigation or via soaker hoses at their base. Wetting the leaves can leave them open to disease. If it rains often, there is no need to water further. 

Soil

Blanket flowers need loamy well-draining soil. In the wild, they grow in sandy soils rich with nutrients. You can plant them in average garden soil and have large flowers in summer and fall. While poor soils aren’t detrimental, especially to established plants, a little supplemental compost each year will help them produce the ray flowers they’re known for. A neutral well-drained soil with a pH of 6.8 to 7.2 is best. 

Fertilizing

Blanket flowers don’t need any fertilizer and won’t do well if they’re coddled. Remember, they’re just fine in poor soil, so adding too much additional nutrition can stamp out the chance for additional blooms in late summer. 

Pruning

As the first red and yellow flowers of your Gaillardia bloom, pinch them off to promote a longer bloom time. Blanket flowers appreciate a little deadheading as well throughout the season. If you want to encourage re-seeding, don’t deadhead the flowers and allow the seeds to fall to the earth for winter survival. If leaves or plants contract any diseases, remove them as needed. This is probably the most maintenance you’ll do when growing Gaillardia blanket flowers. 

Propagation

The most common form of propagating red and yellow blanket flowers is to allow the seed heads to self-sow over winter. Remove the seed heads and spread the seeds elsewhere after the last frost has passed, or start them indoors and transfer new plants outside in a full-sun location in spring. Or divide an annual species to have blanket flowers elsewhere in your yard the following growing season. Use a hand trowel or Hori Hori garden knife to dig up the roots of a clump. Then either transfer the clump with the root intact to another area of the garden or a container. Water them in and let them do their thing! 

Troubleshooting Gaillardia

Arizona Sun gaillardia
Arizona Sun Gaillardia with a bee visiting. Source: Swallowtail

As I’ve said before, growing Gaillardia in your garden is so easy! Because it’s such a heat-tolerant and drought-resistant plant, you won’t have many issues with these easy-going perennials. But let’s discuss a few of the problems that arise from time to time. 

Growing Problems

If you don’t plant them in full sun, you may miss out on lovely yellow, orange, pink, or red flowers in your garden. Instead, you’ll have plenty of foliage and no access to excellent cut flowers. Another issue that could arise when growing these plants is to remember to keep relatively dry conditions for plants in containers and in the ground too. When it comes to Gaillardia, you’ll experience super easy care. Coddle them too much, and you’ll have a lot of foliage but no flowers. Let the blooms do their thing, and enjoy the orange, yellow, and red flowers all season long almost without your help. One of the only issues I’ve personally had in my wildflower garden with Gaillardia is the lovely yellow blooms and foliage sometimes are overtaken by other plants. In cases where other aggressive plants grow, plant Gaillardia along borders and in containers where they won’t be taken over.  

Pests

Another easy-care aspect of cultivating blanket flowers in your garden is they are deer resistant. So you won’t need to cage them or protect them from deer. Small birds will eat the seed heads, though, making it necessary sometimes to collect the seeds from the mounding foliage soon after the blooms fade in late fall.

Leaf hoppers are one insect pest that you may find in your garden on your blanket flowers. They will suck plant juices from the leaves of your blanket flowers and stunt growth, preventing blooms. They can also spread a disease which we’ll cover in the next section. Treat them with neem oil or insecticidal sprays. To prevent these insects, encourage their natural predators, or spiders, lacewings, pirate bugs, lady beetles, black hunter thrips, and predaceous mites. Plant host plants to encourage these predators to stay in your garden and feast on the hoppers. Many of these plants are also companion plants for your veggie garden too!

Diseases

Septoria leaf spot is one disease that can sometimes strike blanket flower species, especially when they’ve experienced excess irrigation in humid and warm summers. Prevent the disease by watering at the base of your blanket flowers in the morning. Divide the plants annually to promote better air circulation and remove any leaves from the plant that touch the ground. Prune off diseased leaves, and use a Bordeaux mixture on infected plants to treat the issue. Do not compost infected plant matter. Instead, destroy or dispose of it.  

Aster yellows is spread by leafhoppers. This bacteria-like organism causes yellowed leaves and distorted flowers. It’s a highly infectious disease that cannot be treated once it takes hold. Therefore, remove infected plants, destroy them, and dispose of them. To prevent the disease, control leafhoppers with neem and insecticidal sprays early in the season. 

Powdery mildew is another disease that comes from too much moisture on Gaillardia. It begins as a white film that spreads across the leaves of your plant. It usually occurs in wet conditions. To prevent mildew, promote good air circulation to keep plants vigorous. Alternately, spray your plants with copper fungicides just as your new blanket flowers emerge. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella)
As it matures, the center of a firewheel forms a cone. Source: mlhradio

Q: Does blanket flower come back every year?

A: Indeed! It does. It self-seeds. 

Q: Do blanket flowers spread?

A: The mounds can increase in size from year to year. Divide them as needed to promote good air circulation.

Q: Do blanket flowers need full sun?

A: They really do. Give them lots of sunlight for 6-8 hours per day.

Q: Why is it called blanket flower?

A: Because its color resembles Native American blankets. 

Q: Is blanket flower a native?

A: Yes. But each species has its own native range. Many are native to central Canada all the way to northern South America. Choose a variety that is native to your region for the best results.


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