The painted daisy, Tanacetum coccineum, has an interesting story. With vibrant colors of red, violet, pink, yellow and white, it’s cheerful and bright. But it’s useful too! While it’s grown most commonly for its flowers, it’s also a natural insecticide source.
Today, we’re delving deep into the world of the pyrethrum daisy. Also called Persian pellitory or Persian insect flower, painted daisies are big bloomers. Coming from the Caucasus and western and central Asia, they’re sure to be a highlight in your garden. Once there, they’ll shower your bed in a rainbow of brilliant flowers!
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Painted Daisy Plant Overview
|Common Name(s):||Painted daisy, pyrethrum, Persian insect flower|
|Scientific Name||Tanacetum coccineum|
|Zone:||3-7 ideal, may grow in zones 8-10 in partial shade|
|Height & Spread:||2-3′ tall, 1-1.5′ wide|
|Light||Full sun to partial shade|
|Soil||Lightly-acidic, sandy loam preferred. Well-draining a must.|
|Water:||Moderate watering, keeping soil damp to touch|
|Pests & Diseases:||Spider mites, aphids, leafhoppers, thrips, powdery mildew, botrytis|
All About Pyrethrum Daisies
From late spring sometimes well into fall, pyrethrum brings delightful flowers. The stiff flower stalks feature frilly, almost fern-like leaves. Because of their sturdiness, the painted daisy is a fan favorite in cut flower displays.
In the past, this lovely species was botanically classified as chrysanthemum coccineum. It has since been renamed as a tanacetum. A close relative, tanacetum cinerarifolium, is the primary source for pyrethrins for insecticide.
But our painted daisy contains natural pyrethrins, too. It’s considered a poor substitute for the more potent T. cinerarifolium. Still, it can be an effective insecticide. The heads of the flower may be dried, then crushed into a powder which is then mixed with water. It won’t be as strong as the commercially-derived insecticides. In a lab, they can extract the pyrethrin compounds in a purer form.
The flower heads tend to sizes of 2-3 inches across, making them a vivid pop of color in garden settings. Beneath it, the delicate foliage provides a soft and lush green base. Fern-like is an excellent description for the leaf shape, as they’re soft and feathery.
While perennial in zones 3-7, painted daisies are often grown as annuals in a much wider range. Zones 2-10 are common places to find this popular flowering plant in the right weather!
Popular Painted Daisy Plant Cultivars
Many cultivars exist of the painted daisy now. Each is slightly different, with a different bloom time or flower shade. While this is not an exhaustive list, the below table shows some of the most prized types!
|Variety||Bloom Color||Bloom Time|
|Robinson Red||Scarlet red, yellow center||Late spring to midsummer|
|James Kelway||Deep scarlet, yellow center||Early to mid-summer|
|Brenda||Magenta pink, yellow center||Early summer through fall|
|Eileen May Robinson||Pale pink, yellow center||Early summer|
|Mrs. James Kelway||White to pale pink, yellow center||Early to mid-summer|
|Mont Blanc||Pure white, yellow center||Early to mid-summer|
|Robinson’s Mixture||Mixed red, white and pink varieties||Early to mid-summer|
Painted Daisy Plant Care
Growing pyrethrum daisies is fairly simple. But, like all other plants, it has preferences. Ensuring the plant has what it needs will give you the best chance at a thriving, flowering beauty!
Let’s go over those needs right now.
While your painted daisies can tolerate full sun conditions, be careful. They aren’t fond of intense sunlight or heat, and the beautiful leaves can wilt. They’re best grown in full sun in zones 3-7. In hotter areas, opt for partial shade, especially afternoon shade conditions. Dappled lighting will also work.
Moderate watering is best for this plant. Avoid watering directly onto the foliage, as the fern-like leaves can suffer damage. Instead, opt for a soaker hose or drip irrigation system. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. You should be able to feel dampness at least an inch under the soil’s surface.
Those in hotter climates may need to water more frequently. For newly-transplanted plants, consistent watering is also important. Once the plants are established, they are somewhat drought-tolerant. However, it’s best to opt for a consistent watering schedule for good growth.
Well-draining soil is a must for your pyrethrum daisy. A slightly-acidic sandy soil is preferred, but it can grow in any soil which isn’t too heavy. Avoid hard clay soils as the roots can find them difficult to penetrate.
Mulch around plants to maintain consistent soil moisture and to reduce weeds. Pine straw, wood chip, or leaf mulch is fine and will add to the soil’s organic content over time. This plant prefers pH ranges from 5.2 to 7 (slightly acidic to neutral).
Fertilize early in the spring with a 5-10-5 slow-release fertilizer. This should provide plenty of nutrition for your plant over its growing season. An annual application of compost in mid-spring can provide extra feed potential. Cover the compost with mulch to maintain good soil moisture.
Painted daisy propagation is from seeds, cuttings, or by division.
From seed, you should plan to sow directly into the garden. Wait until all risk of frost has passed. Weed the area you plan to plant and loosen the soil 6-8″ deep. Work in some compost or other organic-rich material at this point if you’d like. Broadcast your seed over the area evenly, and cover with 1/8″ of soil. Germination should take 10-20 days.
Cuttings are less reliable but are an option. Select a healthy cutting and dip the end into water, then a powdered rooting hormone. Place it into a prepared potting blend that’s well-draining and pre-moistened. Care for your plant cutting as you would other species, ensuring it stays moist until roots form.
For division, wait until the first new growth starts to appear in spring. Dig large clumps of pyrethrum from the ground, then examine them. You will want several growing “eyes” and lots of roots on each division. Cut them apart with a sharp garden knife, and remove any dead parts. Replant your divisions immediately to prevent transplant shock.
You can also divide your plants when they get overcrowded, when they start to lose strength and vigor, or when the blooms seem to be diminished in size and color. However, it’s best to divide in spring when the plants have much more time to become established.
After the first hard frost in the fall, remove and discard the plant foliage. If your area is prone to cold winters, add 1-2 extra inches of mulch in the winter to provide root protection. Evergreen boughs over the top of the plant’s base provide extra protection for your plant.
In early spring, remove the extra mulch and boughs. Leave at least 3-4″ of mulch around the base of the plants, but avoid covering the root crown. Once foliage begins to appear, allow it to grow until the first flower stalk starts to come up. Then, pinch back longer foliage to encourage bushing.
When the flowers are spent, cut back the flower stalk. If the plant stops flowering and it’s still in season, lightly trim back the plant. This can encourage another flush of blooming.
Most gardeners find pyrethrum daisies to be easy and enjoyable to grow. But there’s always a few problems that might appear. Let’s go over those now and how to handle them!
The first year after starting seed or very young transplants, you may discover an issue. There just aren’t as many flowers as you’d expect. This isn’t a problem, per se, but is more of a matter of plant maturity. In its second year, your pyrethrum will provide a flurry of flowers, but there will be less its first year.
If they’re over-watered, the tall flower stems have a tendency to flop over. Try to ensure consistent soil moisture, and wait for the top inch of soil to dry out before watering again. The flopping isn’t hazardous to the plant, but it’s also not very appealing!
If it’s hot, these plants can and do wilt in direct sunlight. Try to provide afternoon shade if you’re in a hot environment.
One might assume that because pyrethrin is made from these plants, they’d be pest-free. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. You may find a few pests… and ironically, pyrethrin may be a good way to fix the problem.
Aphids are a constant problem in most gardens. To deter these, a good spraying of neem oil on all leaf surfaces will suffice. That neem oil or an insecticidal soap can also eliminate the ones that do persist.
Leafhoppers are a less-common pest, but can appear and cause sucking pest damage. These are best treated with a more powerful pyrethrin spray.
Thrips may appear on the flowers themselves. The huge center of the flower is particularly appealing! If you find them there, use an insecticidal soap or pyrethrin spray to get rid of them.
All the above are fairly rare on your painted daisies. But there is one pest which is common there. Spider mites, irritating little pests that they are, love to call pyrethrum home. Use neem oil or a pyrethrin spray to wipe them out.
In humid environments, powdery mildew is fairly common. This whitish, dusty-looking disease appears on the leaves of plants. While it’s not fatal, it can prevent the plant from absorbing sunlight properly. Use neem oil to treat outbreaks, and avoid watering from above.
An unusual “disease” of sorts is fasciation, sometimes called cresting. Occasionally caused by bacterial infection, fasciation is not fatal to the plant. It causes elongation in flowers, making the center a long oval instead of a circle. It can cause stems to flatten out and become ribbon-like. It’s not curable, as it causes changes to the plant’s tissue. If it worries you, remove plant material to avoid spread to non-fasciated plants.
Botrytis cinerea can cause greyish spores to form on the leaves of your plant. It can be very tricky to treat, so it’s best to prevent it. Avoid overhead watering, and ensure that plants are not densely packed together. Separate tight clumps as needed. For treatment information, we’ve got an entire piece on treating botrytis cinerea.
Extremely wet or soggy soils can create conditions that help fungal root rots to form. To avoid these, ensure your soil is well-draining. If necessary, work perlite or a coarse sand into your soil to aid in good drainage. Adding more organic material can assist as well.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Are painted daisies deer resistant?
A. Yes, pyrethrum is deer resistant. It’s not deer-proof, though. They aren’t fond of the taste, but if they’re hungry enough and that’s all that’s available, they’ll still eat it in limited amounts. It’s an excellent choice for a deer-deterrent garden, though.
Q. Is it possible to grow pyrethrum daisy in a pot?
A. Yes! Container growing is an excellent choice. Be sure that you be more vigilant about ensuring your soil doesn’t completely dry out. Containers often dry more rapidly than garden beds do. Mulching is still a good choice for container growing to keep the soil damp.
Q: Is painted daisy invasive?
A: No, although other Tanacetum species may be.
Painted daisy, while not a true daisy, is a beautiful perennial to grow. After you’ve established it in your garden, you’ll have lovely flowers galore! From mid-spring to late summer, you’ll be rewarded with plenty of color to liven up your landscape.
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