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Hardy gerbera and ranunculus woes


Photo: Hardy gerbera everlast

Photo: Hardy gerbera everlast

I was so pleased to discover that there is a new strain of hardy gerbera plants available. These are hardy up to -5 degrees. The great thing about gerberas is that the flowers last for ages in water – that’s why you see them in so many restaurant dining rooms.

If the plants are potted up and moved into the greenhouse in the autumn, they will flower on and off all winter. They appeared to be an ideal plant to grow for a flower seller, so I invested in some plantlets, potted them on in ordinary compost and within three weeks had lost the lot.

Investigations on the Internet informed me that they need a very free draining compost. Determined not to be beaten I bought some more plantlets, potted them up in a mixture of compost, sand and vermiculite. These plants did a bit better than their murdered relations but after a few weeks I noticed that one was starting to keel over.

More research ensued. Then I found the key point that somehow I’d missed before – their crowns need to be kept really dry – particularly when they are small. So ideally the crown should be set above the soil line in the pot. They are now flourishing (sort of) but growth is slow.

Early August is a good time to stock up on perennial plants as lots of plants are on sale at garden centres to make space for the new autumn displays. I whistled into Homebase and picked up a couple of old English roses at half price and then spotted that they had knocked down the price of their hardy gerberas from £6.99 to just £2.49.

These were good strong plants, covered in buds. Needless to say a couple were popped into my trolley immediately. Peering closely at these pots the crowns are at soil level so it must just be the baby plants that need extra special care. They do need good drainage and twice weekly feed and if you leave them in a border overwinter I reckon a protective mulch of compost would be a good idea.

Big corporate centres that sell plants as a sideline (such as QD, B&Q, Netto etc) are great places to buy if you know your stuff (my knowledge is still a bit vague but I sniff around with the rest of the customers). If the plants are not selling well they are quickly discounted. Two weeks ago I bought two chocolate cosmos plants for £2.99 from QD – the corms can be dug up late October/early November and stored over winter. A great delicate perennial with a wonderful chocolate scent that will flower for years if they are treated correctly. In a good garden centre these plants are very expensive.

Talking of failures that I assume were cared for incorrectly, let’s move on to our ranunculus. A pretty flower with a hideous name. I bought a lot of these corms in the spring and planted them in 8 x 12” terracotta pots to transfer (in their pots) into the new herbaceous borders to hopefully flower in July. The idea being that I would dig up the pots in the autumn and overwinter them in the greenhouse and have flowers again next spring.

They did very well in the greenhouse and with a happy chortle I quickly transferred them to the herbaceous borders at the end of May, expecting a really good show. Once the pots were in the borders the green shoots started to look drained and after a couple of months all the green hopefullness had withered and died off completely. I dug up the pots last week and retrieved just a handful of corms.

I’m planning to dry these off and try again next year. They were watered and fed regularly when they were planted in the ground – any ideas as to what I did wrong would be greeted with enormous joy. I really want these beautiful flowers to thrive in our garden.

And finally on the failure front I’m not even going to mention the lisianthus plants…just 8” high, in bud for 6 weeks. Arrrrgh!

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  1. My still rather parched fields are full of buttercup which neither the horses nor the sheep will eat. This is because we have very acid soil which we are going to lime (9.6 tonnes/hectare needed according to the soil analysis) when we can find a contractor to do 2 hectares. Perhaps your soil needs to be more acid?

  2. I planted a hardy gerbera in a new border last July when it was in flower, it survived the winter just fine (I didn’t mulch it or anything!) and it is flowering away again now. I hope you have success with yours too.


  3. I love gerbera and have them growing very beautifully in a little flower bed. Don’t know how the crowns have kept dry as it rained almost every day in July in Argyll. Not sure that mine are a hardy type, but i will lift them later and try to overwinter them in the polytunnel. Thanks Fiona

  4. Kooky Girl

    Hardy gerbera sound like a great idea. I will definitely look out for those. Chocolate cosmos are great, we had these and they did flower for a number of years before they eventually died off.. the smell was amazing.

  5. Hi Fiona, it sounds like your soil is not free draining enough, and you have possibly overwatered your ranunculus, easily done when in a mixed border, as they prefer warm and dry. Leave any foliage on the plant to die off naturally and try again next year, forking in some grit may help. Lisianthus also prefer free draining soil although they like to be evenly moist. Plant with a slow release fertiliser and pinch out the tips a couple of times for more blooms. It’s all a learning curve isn’t it, better luck with the next lot. x

  6. I kept a gerbera on my window sill in full son and it just kept on flowering. I had to water it every day though as the potting mix was very porous and dried out quickly.
    I believe that ranunculus are bred for one season only so you need new corms every year. At least that is so in Cape Town. It may be different where you get really cold winters.

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Joanna

    Yes I agree you can’t beat a good independant garden centre. There’s a great one in Newport called Saggers that helped me with the garden when I came here 18 years ago.

    Strangely we were discussing the possibility of having one here – in the way distant future. Someone has started selling plants at the shop where I sell my flowers and the plants are selling really well.

    Hi Celia

    Good point – research where they grow naturally!

    Like you I struggled keeping things alive during that long hot period so the rain has been welcome.

    I do have lots of flowers but our water bill is going to be horendous…

  8. Magic Cochin

    As I’ve never tried to grow gerbera, ranunculus or lisianthus I’m not going to be a lot of help Fiona.

    It has been a very very tough growing year as I live not far away from your place, I too have battled with the long long cold winter, those very late sharp frosts and then the long dry spell with temperatures regularly in the high 20s or even 30s for weeks.

    Now we’ve had a little rain I’m assessing how I can renovate a tired and less than floral garden!

    As for the flowers you’re attempting – I’d research where they grow naturally and think what sort of conditions they like. I think the ranunculus (developed from the alpine buttercups) would like peaty slightly acid, damp but quickly draining soil. Maybe they got a bit hot and dry despite your watering.

    I suppose the florists flowers are grown in controlled polytunnels or glasshouses.


  9. I know you can get some cheap deals in supermarkets and I am not a fan of the flashy large garden centres but there are some small nurseries still around, or there were when I left the UK. These places are great for getting good advice and are not usually too expensive and should be supported so they are not lost entirely. Maybe there is an idea for you Fiona as you gain experience?

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