We're all familiar with the iconic yellow center surrounded by white petals. Daisies grace not only our gardens, but things like clothing, key chains, jewelry, human names, pet names and dinnerware, just to name a few. In fact, I even had a cow named Daisy when I was a kid. Daisies are a universal symbol of happiness and they are frequently part of both cottage gardens and more formal displays.
Daisy lore and history
Humans have had a love affair with daisies for thousands of years. There are even cave carvings that have been dated to 3000 B.C. that depict daisies. The ancient Romans grew them and used them medicinally as a treatment for wounds. They extracted the oils and soaked bandages in it to promote healing without infection. They actually are anti-inflammatory and antibacterial, so the Romans were correct in adding it to their herbal pharmacy. They treated boils and hemorrhoids with the oils and tea made from the flowers and leaves was a diuretic, soothed sore throats, eased coughs and colic as well. The Norse associated the daisy with their goddess Freya. She was their goddess of love, beauty and fertility and even today, mothers in Scandinavia are often gifted with daisies. Much later, in the Victorian Era daisies took on another love-related task when someone created the well-known verse and petal-pulling activity of 'he loves me-he loves me not '. The name daisy actually comes from the Old English 'days eye'. Since the flowers close at night and open when the sun comes up each morning, they believed them to be the eye that looks upon the day. They were also considered a symbol of fidelity and were a popular flower in wedding bouquets, and still are to this day. In fact, my own bridal bouquet consisted of red roses and daisies.
Some daisy species are invasive
Originally native to Europe, daisies were carried world-wide by travelers and immigrants, so now every continent except Antarctica has a daisy. However, they are not loved by many ranchers and farmers. The Scots called them gools and the unfortunate farmer who had too many growing on his land was taxed higher than his gool-free neighbors. Daisies, especially the ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) are considered an invasive weed in many parts of the world. Several states in the U.S., provinces in Canada and Australia have them on their noxious weed lists. It seems that cattle will graze pastures but leave the daisy uneaten. Apparently, they don't like the taste. When the pastures are grazed short and the daisies left to seed, that just makes more daisies for the cattle to avoid. Deer abstain from daisies as well, so that is a good thing if Bambi considers your garden his personal buffet. However, the daisy produces huge amounts of seeds that can remain viable for decades and that means that it is difficult to eradicate daisies from farmland and pastures once they gain a foothold. Horses and sheep will eat daisies and a good percentage of the seeds survive the passage through their digestive tracts and are pooped out with their own little pile of fertilizer elsewhere on the farm, so the daisy manages to survive and flourish despite the battles that farmers wage against it.
Growing daisies in the garden
Regardless how farmers feel about the daisy, it is beloved by gardeners. Depending on which species or variety of daisy you choose, gardeners can have daisies growing in Zones 3a to 11, so there is a daisy for just about everyone. Ox-eye daisies are the hardiest, Shastas have bigger flowers and tend to stay in well-mannered clumps and English daisies (Bellis perennis) prefer cool summers. However, all daisies thrive under the same conditions. A sunny, well-drained bed, ample moisture while establishing and a light mulch during growing season will make for happy daisies since the root systems are shallow, rarely going deeper than six inches. If starting from seed, prepare the bed with finely tilled soil and scatter the seeds across the top. Do not cover the seeds. Daisies need light to germinate. Once the seeds have sprouted, thin to about eight to ten inches apart. Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum) will form tight clumps with underground rhizomes and other species will send out creeping, underground runners. Divide clumping daisies every three to five years. Lift the whole rootball and gently tease the plants apart. Re-set back in the garden at least twelve inches apart to give them room to fill in.
Dead-head spent blooms back to the first new bud to prevent seedlings and to encourage more flowers. They will continue to bloom after their first big flush, however the show won't be quite as big. Daisies withstand drought quite well, however the bloom quantity will suffer. For the best show, make sure that they have at least one inch of water each week. Aphids are probably the worst pests to plague daisies. In most cases, a blast of water will dislodge the critters, however if the infestation is large, a good organic solution is to dust them with flour. It will gum them up and they will simply fall to the ground and die. Insecticides will just harm the butterflies and honeybees that love to land on the flowers. Whichever daisy you choose, they will add joy and happiness to your garden. They ask for very little and give back so much.