Cinerarias by any other name
This beautiful flowering plant with daisy flowers in a spectacular range of bright colours is still affectionately called cinerarias by gardeners around the globe, despite the botanical name having changed a number of times. Cineraria cruentus became Senecio cruentus and then Pericallis cruenta, and now Pericallis x hybrida is the preferred name for the plant commonly known as florists’ cineraria.
Both dwarf and tall-growing hybrids are cultivated today, with the more compact forms seemingly the most popular. This is due to the fact that they maintain their shape and form, unlike their lanky relatives that tend to flop open as the flowers develop. Generally the F1 hybrid compact forms are available as seedlings, while the taller cinerarias are available in seed packets. Florists’ cinerarias are considered to be perennials but are treated locally as annuals.
They grow quickly during autumn and commenceflowering in late winter and early spring, when cushion-shaped flower heads develop in the centre of the rosette of lush green, heart-shaped or triangular leaves. Blooms emerge in a huge variety of colours, some with white centres, which creates a two-tone effect. The range is far too diverse and complex to try and describe, so rather feast your eyes on the photographs and admire the beauty of these amazing plants.
Cinerarias can be grown from seed sown in trays, and then transplanted into small pots before being set out in their final position. The best time for sowing is during March and April, but it’s a lot easier and more successful to acquire healthy young seedlings that are ready for planting in April or May. They should have healthy green leaves with no signs of flower buds appearing, as this will allow them to grow and develop fully in your garden.
Cinerarias need rich, well-drained soil with liberal amounts of good garden compost and peat moss dug in. Plant out seedlings when temperatures have started to cool down.
They grow best in dappled shade – too much shade results in lanky plants with poor flowers, and please remember that they are frost tender and require protection from winter cold. Regular applications of a water-soluble fertiliser high in potassium (a 3:1:5 formula is recommended) ensure a spectacular floral display. Watch out for insect pests – aphids, thrips, whiteflies, leaf miners and also red spider mites, and check for powdery mildew on the foliage.
Treat any pests and diseases immediately after identification. Once flowers start to brown and deteriorate in spring, the plants need to be removed and replaced with suitable summer-flowering annuals.
Garden and other uses
Cinerarias are ideal plants for mass planting in lightly shaded flower beds. They also thrive in pots and containers – a single plant in a 20-25cm terracotta pot makes a spectacular specimen for use indoors or outside on patio tables. Alternatively fill larger pots with many cinerarias spaced at 30-35cm intervals, or use them to brighten up window boxes and planter troughs around the garden.
In colder climates they’re cultivated in protected greenhouses and then brought indoors for a splash of vibrant winter and early spring colour. Commercially grown plants in bloom are offered for sale in the floristry and nursery trade. Note that these are annuals and will die off completely once flowering is complete.