Gazania: Annual or Perennial?

Gazanias are half-hardy flowers which are generally thought of as annuals.

While it is not unusual for gazanias to survive late into the fall, even flowering as late as September or October, they are eventually killed off by extended periods of cold weather as winter sets in. This applies equally to most areas of the USA and to Europe including the UK.

By the following spring your gazanias are likely to be nothing but a dead, rotten shadow of their former self. Unusually, in especially mild winters or sheltered areas there is a slight chance that the odd plant could survive.

While gazanias are actually a perennial plant they don’t survive the cold temperate winter. If they are dug up and brought indoors then they should survive the winter just fine, ready to be planted outdoors again the following spring. For many of us, however, this is too much like hard work. This is why most gardeners consider gazanias as annuals in temperate climates. 

Generally if you seek an annual display of gazanias you’ll need to replant each spring. Fortunately this needn’t be too troublesome as gazanias are generally pretty easy to grow from seed, and are undemanding as garden plants. 

Indeed, one of the reasons for the popularity of gazanias is that they are very drought-tolerant as adult plants, surviving well in hot, dry areas with minimal supplementary watering. 

How to Overwinter Gazanias

Flower Petals Gazania Plant Leaves  - mirceaadrian72 / Pixabay
mirceaadrian72 / Pixabay

If you would rather avoid the trouble of replanting gazania seeds each spring then your only reliable option is to bring them indoors over winter and grow them as houseplants. 

This requires some additional work in the fall, and basic maintenance during the winter, though you’ll be rewarded with a strong display of flowers the following year. 

Furthermore, gazania plants overwintered in this way tend to get a head-start on the season when compared to growing gazanias from seed. As a result they can flower earlier, more abundantly and for longer, giving a better overall show in your garden.

Overwintering gazanias is a pretty simple process:

Collect suitably-sized, sterilized containers

Gazanias tend to have a reasonably shallow root system, so don’t require overly large containers. Even a 4” pot will be enough for many younger plants. For ease, however, however you might want to consider packing a number of plants together into one or more larger containers. 

I’m a fan of trough planters for gazanias. Even plastic versions can look reasonably attractive these days. Of course by their very nature trough planters tend to be narrow yet long. This makes them ideal for popping into a windowsill over the winter. Indeed, many trough planters come with a drip-tray of the perfect dimensions for the average window ledge.  

Fill your container with free-draining compost

Gazanias have evolved to thrive in dry, warm conditions. Generally they overwinter best when their roots aren’t allowed to become too wet. A free-draining compost such as a John Innes mix tends to work best. Alternatively try adding a little sand or grit to your existing compost to ensure excess water can drain away easily. 

Gently dig up your gazanias with a hand trowel

Gazania plants can have a surprisingly small root ball when compared with their big showy leaves and flowers. When digging up your gazanias you’ll therefore want to be careful not to damage their small, sensitive roots. Work slowly and carefully, gently digging up the plants one at a time. 

Replant your gazanias into their “winter accommodation”

Once you’ve removed your gazanias from the earth, gently brush off any excess earth and plant them into your chosen container. Be sure to add extra compost as necessary and firm around the plants. You want to ensure that the roots are firmly packed down with compost so that your gazania plants can continue to absorb water and other nutrients from the compost.

Water the container well to encourage root establishment

Gazanias may be quite drought-tolerant, but every repotted plant should be given a decent watering-in to help it recover from the repotting process. In the case of gazanias, water them generously but then allow the water to drain away. Wet, soggy compost is best avoided. 

Bring indoors as temperatures begin to drop

As summer draws to a close, bring your gazania container indoors. You don’t need to do this too early in the season; it is not unusual for gazanias to continue flowering quite late in the season. However by September or October it is probably time to consider bringing your plants inside to protect them from the worst of the winter.

Maintain on a sunny windowsill with minimal watering

Pop your gazanias on a windowsill in your home and allow them a reasonably sunny position. Aim to keep the plants reasonably dry over winter, only adding small volumes of water occasionally to prevent them from wilting.

The following spring, as temperatures begin to increase, so start to water more. Your gazanias will respond in kind, noticeably starting to put on size and looking generally healthier. 

Plant out after frosts

It is generally safest to wait to plant out your gazanias until any frosts have passed in your area. Here in the UK that can mean as late as May. If you’re lucky enough to have an unheated greenhouse then it may be possible to move your gazanias into the greenhouse in early spring, assuming you can be confident that your greenhouse remains frost-free.

Can You Overwinter Gazanias in a Greenhouse?

Only heated greenhouses are really suitable for overwintering gazanias. Unless you’re very lucky indeed an unheated greenhouse is unlikely to provide the right conditions for your gazanias. 

The weaknesses for greenhouses for overwintering gazanias are:

Cold conditions

Gazanias struggle in cold weather. As they are hit by frost they will begin to wilt. Over time they’ll slowly die off. While it is true that most unheated greenhouses remain a few degrees warmer than the outside temperature, it is not always possible to guarantee that they are frost-free. 

I would only consider overwintering gazanias in a greenhouse if you can be 100% certain that internal temperatures stay above freezing, and ideally a few degrees warmer than that to be safe.

Wet conditions

Gazanias appreciate a reasonably dry environment, but unfortunately most unheated greenhouses get quite humid in the winter. Moisture in the earth can evaporate up into the greenhouse, which then cannot escape as the doors and vents remain closed to retain warmth. These conditions can cause gazanias to rot. 

If you plan to try overwintering gazanias in an unheated greenhouse then put some thought into ventilation. In very mild areas it may be possible to tow the difficult line of retaining warmth but allowing moist air to escape. For most of us though this will be a fool’s errand. 

Instead, gazanias are best overwintered in your home. That said, you may be able to utilize your unheated greenhouse in that difficult spring period. That time of the year, perhaps between March and May, when temperatures are still reasonably low and the odd frost may be experienced, but where many greenhouses remain frost-free. 

How to Grow Gazanias in Containers

Growing gazanias in pots or containers has a number of benefits over planting them directly in the ground. Here are some reasons why you might want to consider growing gazanias this way:

Permits movement around the garden

Gazanias are some of the most cheerful flowers around. In contrast, however, the foliage isn’t really very inspiring to many people. Growing gazanias in pots is the perfect solution; the plants can be left in an ideal position to grow big and strong, then brought to a highly visible area as they start to flower. 

In this way you get the best of both worlds – you can enjoy the blooms through the summer months, but needn’t be staring at the foliage outside that season.

Gazanias appreciate a sunny growing position. For many of us, though, as the seasons change so too do the sunniest posts. Another benefit of growing gazanias in containers is therefore that you can relocate your containers as the sun moves around, ensuring optimal growing conditions from spring right through to fall. 

Free-draining soil easier to accomplish

Depending on your soil it isn’t always easy to provide the free-draining earth that gazanias love so much. Here in the east of the UK my soil is quite clay-rich, which can create issues for many plants including gazanias. Growing gazanias in pots obviously gives you total control over the growing medium, meaning that any of us can enjoy them.

Gazanias make ideal container plants

Gazanias actually have a number of features that makes them ideal for growing in containers. For instance, they tend to have reasonably small root systems. This means that gazanias are far less likely to get pot-bound than many other popular container plants. It also means you can pack a decent number of plants into a reasonably small space for a really bold display.

Lastly, gazanias do well in dry soil. One weakness of container gardening is that pots can dry out quite quickly in warm weather. While many plants struggle with this environment, your gazanias will relish them. 

Easier to overwinter

Of course, if you opt to grow your gazanias as perennials rather than annuals then they’ll need to be overwintered indoors like houseplants. It’s a lot easier to simply move potted gazanias each fall than it is to dig them up and try to re-establish them in a pot before winter sets in.

Fortunately gazanias are very easy indeed to grow in containers. The plants tend to be “natural survivors” and will cope with many different conditions. 

While it is certainly possible to grow individual gazanias in single small pots, they often look best when planted together in a clump. Here the yellow and red blooms provide far greater impact, and can provide plenty of color and interest to any part of your outside space. 

How to Grow Gazanias From Seed

If you don’t have the room or the patience to overwinter gazanias indoors then you’ll have to rely on planting fresh seed each spring. Gazanias are reasonably undemanding given suitable warmth for germination so this needn’t be too troublesome. 

Gazania seeds are best sown “under glass” – ideally indoors. They need a reasonable temperature to germinate, and seeds left outside or in an unheated greenhouse in early spring are unlikely to germinate as well. 

Here are the steps I take when growing gazanias from seed:

Start early in the season

Gazanias can take some time to really get going in the spring. In less-than-ideal growing conditions you might wait all summer long for your gazanias to reach flowering-size. Therefore gazanias tend to be seeds worth planting really early in the season. 

March tends to be an ideal time, giving the gazania seeds plenty of time to grow and mature before the really balmy summer weather sets in. 

As temperatures tend to still be relatively low this early in the year gazania seeds are generally best planted indoors. If the seeds are merely scattered on the earth in your garden they’re far less likely to germinate well, if at all. 

Seed trays work well

Almost any container can be used to plant gazania seeds, but shallow seed trays or modules can work well. I have a personal preference for seed modules, popping two seeds into each section. 

If both seeds germinate then the weaker seedling can be removed. In this way you’ll end up with just one vigorous gazania plant per module. This makes planting them out very easy when the time comes. 

Fill with compost

Almost any compost can be used for growing gazania seeds. While the adult plants tend to appreciate free-draining soil, seeds can be started just as easily in richer multi-purpose compost. This can help to prevent the seedlings from drying out and dying at an early stage.

Scatter seeds loosely & gently cover

Gazanias don’t tend to transplant very well in my experience, so you’ll want to plan ahead to minimize constantly potting up the plants as they grow. Scattering the seed very loosely means that any seedlings that germinate will have plenty of growing room before they need to be moved on. 

The seeds should be covered with fine compost. I like to use a garden sieve to cover them with the finest compost possible, as I believe this makes it slightly easier for the seeds to break through the surface. 

Water from below

After planting your gazania seeds be sure to water them well. Placing the modules into a tray of lukewarm water can work well, allowing the compost to absorb the moisture but without disturbing your carefully-positioned seeds. Allow the tray to drip-dry afterwards.

Cover the container & place in a warm area

The key to success when growing gazanias from seed is providing suitable warmth. Ideally a temperature of 20’C or above works best in my experience. So consider placing the tray on a sunny south-facing windowsill in your home. 

If your house gets cold at night, as many do in early spring, then you might want to consider investing in a heated propagator or placing a soil-warming device under your gazanias. 

Of course, higher temperatures mean that the compost is at risk of drying out quickly. This should hardly be a problem if you’re using a propagator, but if you opt simply to use a windowsill and/or a heat mat then you might want to consider covering the seed trays with clear polythene to retain some moisture.

Once these steps have been completed it’s merely a matter of being patient. Keep a regular check on your seeds, adding extra water if you see the compost starting to dry out. Typically within a few weeks the earth will begin to shift, and a carpet of fresh, green gazania seedlings will emerge. 

Buying in Gazania Plug Plants

For the easiest solution to growing gazanias you really can’t beat plug-plants. These are typically available from garden centers and many online suppliers in spring. As the name suggests, plug plants are small plants that come with an established root system. You simply need to dig a reasonably-sized hole (in the earth or a container) and then “plug” them into the hole. 

While gazania plug plants are a more expensive way to grow gazanias than starting from seed, it does save a lot of effort. Springtime can be a busy season for many of us, so reducing some of that workload can sometimes be worth the slightly higher expense. 

Lastly, particularly if ordered online, trays of gazanias will normally be dispatched around the perfect time for planting. You can simply satisfy yourself that the last frosts are likely past, harden off the plants for a week or so, and then plant them out in their final flowering location. Job done!

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