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Shasta Daisy is a perennial whose traditional simplicity suits cottage, informal and wild gardens. Their ease of cultivation will thrill the busy gardener with one too many tasks on his or her plate.
Originally developed by Luther Burbank, an American plant breeder of the 19th and 20th centuries, and named after California’s Mt. Shasta for its pure white petals, this hybrid is one whose botanical name (Leucanthemum x superbum) gives you a very good indication of what it can add to your garden and your inside vases. Superb indeed – from mid-spring to late summer, this perennial holds tall white flowers above strong green foliage, providing an easy pairing for many other spring and summer perennials.
Since those early days of development, Shasta daisies have been bred in varying, simple shades of yellow and white. The disk-like flowers can sport shaggy or smooth petals in either double or single formation. There are dwarf cultivars to fill pots or line the edges of garden beds, and standard cultivars to take center stage in a traditional border.
And if you are searching for a daisy that naturalizes well, with a similar but smaller, more wildflower-like blossom, you may be interested in growing ox-eye daisies – another leucanthemum species (L. vulgare). Ox-eyes do very well in meadows, are more drought-hardy than Shastas and spread quickly by seed and rhizome. In some states, they are considered invasive, so it is important to check with your state’s extension service before purchasing seed.
There are many choices for the gardener when it comes to Shasta and Ox-eye daisies. If you’re looking for a strong meadow plant, or a flower to decorate a difficult hillside or verge, growing Ox-eye daisies from seed may be the most economical way to accomplish that goal. Broadcast seed in early spring on earth that has been disturbed and has had most of the perennial weeds removed in order that the daisies will be able to gain a foothold. Cover lightly and tamp in, watering well.
If seeding in garden beds, either broadcast the seeds or space them approximately 6 inches apart, thinning as true leaves develop to at least 18” between the strongest plants. Cover seeds lightly and tamp down, watering thoroughly.
True Leaves are the second set of leaves to form on a plant; the first set, aka ‘seed leaves’, provide specialized early nutrition and differ in their appearance.
If specific cultivars for garden beds are what you are interested in, potted varieties are shipped in the spring or early fall for planting. Plant the plants at the same level as they are in the pots, keeping the crown of the plant just above soil level. Water in well and keep moist as it becomes established.
Shasta daisies are a perennial that does better and flowers longer if you consistently dead head the stems all season; but you needn’t wait until they’re dead. Harvesting blooms for inside arrangements brings the beauty of your garden inside and keeps the plant making new buds. Don’t worry about ruining your outside display – Shasta daisies are extremely floriferous and you’ll hardly miss the blooms you cut.
This attribute, amongst many others, earned the excellent cultivar ‘Becky’ the 2003 Perennial Plant of the Year award, but the designation could so easily have gone to the entire species. It’s easy to grow, easy to harvest and easy to love – a garden favorite that will fill your beds, fill your vases, and fill you with pride when you see how good they look. Many gardeners who began their gardening lives with ‘common’ Shasta daisies but moved towards fussier species often find themselves coming back to Shasta’s in later designs as a solid, dependable plant with excellent attributes. I know I sure have. Becky and I have been together for many, many years now, and along with a few of her cousins, I know we have many more years together.
For all their ease of cultivation, Shasta daisies can be short lived without a little help from the gardener. Digging and dividing these rhizomatic perennials every few years is the key to a long life, not to mention good friendships – as your gardening friends and neighbors will appreciate divisions from such a strong, versatile plant in their landscapes.
As they age, clumps of Shasta daisies tend to become woody and die out in the center. The rhizomes slowly move closer to the surface and the plant loses its vigor. Low water situations can also exacerbate this decline. When you notice this occurring (every 3-4 years or so), dig up the shallowly-rooted clump, and divide it with a sharp spade or a garden knife, discarding the old, woody center. Each division should include at least a couple of rhizomes and should be planted so the crown of the plant is just above the soil level. Water thoroughly and do not allow the divisions to dry out during their first year.
Older plants will also create little plantlets as a method of reproduction. These are easily recognized as ‘tufts’ of foliage with root buds located near the base of the stems. Simply cut above and below the stem, remove the plantlet and plant so the crown is above the soil. They will root just as easily in potting soil or normal garden soil, but they need to be kept moist.
About the Author: Marianne Willburn is a columnist, blogger and author of the new book "Big Dreams, Small Garden: Creating Something Extraordinary in Your Ordinary Space." Originally from California, she now gardens in Virginia – read more at www.smalltowngardener.com.
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