Though I love my vegetable garden, as a horticulturist my first “plant love” was perennials. I spent ten years in my early career tending 35 different perennial gardens in and around the city of Pittsburgh. That’s where I developed a great appreciation for these wonderful plants. Seeing them return to those gardens year after year, bigger and better than the season before, was a great confidence booster, especially for a young gardener. Perennials are among the most reliable and low-maintenance plants, and if you mix and match the right selections, you’ll have a beautiful show of blooms all season long. Among my most favorite perennials is the Shasta daisy, a hardy, rabbit- and deer-resistant perennial with a long bloom time and very few pest troubles.
What is a Shasta daisy?
Known botanically as Leucanthemum x superbum, the Shasta daisy is a hybrid between the European oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), the Nippon daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum), and two other species (L. maximum and L. lacustre). Bred in California in the late 1800s by renowned botanist Luther Burbank, the Shasta daisy received its name from the snow-capped California peak known as Mount Shasta. It grows in a broad range of gardening zones.
Growth habits and appearance
Hardy down to -20 degrees F and thriving in full sun, the Shasta daisy reaches a maximum height of 3 to 4 feet with an equal spread. There are some cultivars of this plant, however, that grow both shorter and taller (see below) than this norm. Shastas are prized for their carefree nature and bloom power.
Like many other members of the Asteraceae plant family, Shasta daisy plants produce classic daisy-shaped blooms. They have a core of hundreds of tiny yellow flowers (called disk flowers) that are collected together to form the yellow centers of the bloom. These central disk flowers are then surrounded by white petals (called ray flowers). Each “flower” is actually not a flower at all, but rather it’s a collection of many flowers organized together into an inflorescence. Botanical nerdiness aside, the fact is that in late summer, Shasta daisy blooms are beautiful! Each one measures two or more inches across and lasts for several weeks, beginning in mid summer.
And, not only are the flowers beautiful, but the foliage is lovely, too. The glossy, dark green leaves have small teeth on their margin. The plant itself stays low to the ground; it’s only the flower stems that reach the height of 3 to 4 feet.
The best varieties
There are dozens of cultivars of this plant ranging in size from barely a foot tall to well over four. Here are a few of my favorite types of Shastas.
Becky Shasta daisy
‘Becky’ is an old standby variety that deserves every bit of attention it gets. I have three of them in my garden and absolutely adore them. ‘Becky’ reaches three to four feet tall and produces a main flush of blooms in June and then a smattering of blooms a few weeks later if the spent flower heads are trimmed off. Each bloom is a whopping 3 inches across. ‘Becky’ shines with its pure white petals and strong, sturdy stems. As an added bonus, it does not require staking. It’s among the longest blooming Shasta daisy varieties. I also enjoy using them in cut flower arrangements.
Shasta daisy Alaska
‘Alaska’ Shasta daisy is a bit shorter, topping out at just 2 or 3 feet tall. The strong stems don’t need to be staked. While all Shasta varieties are drought-tolerant, I find this variety to be particularly tolerant of dry conditions. Full sun is best since the plants can get a little floppy in shadier conditions.
Snowcap Shasta daisy
If you’re looking for a dwarf variety of Shasta daisy with long-lasting flowers, then ‘Snowcap’ is your answer. Perfect for the front of the border or for growing in containers, the lush, dark green foliage makes a beautiful backdrop for the foot-tall flower stalks. Compact and drought-, deer-, and rabbit-resistant — what could be better for a small garden?
There are many Shasta cultivars that offer double or semi-double flowers with multiple rows of petals. Varieties with double blooms include ‘Christine Hagemann’, ‘Ice Star’, and ‘Aglaia’, among others. While their fluffy white flowers have tempted me on occasion, I’ve avoided them. There is evidence that the nectar and pollen from double flowers are harder for pollinators to access. And in some cases, the flowers may not produce any nectar or pollen at all. This is good enough reason for me to skip the doubles in my garden.
Shasta daisy care
Shastas require very little care. Plant them in full sun (or partial shade if you must), don’t over-fertilize, and let them do their thing. Taller varieties require staking if they aren’t positioned in a sunny site. A good peony ring with a grow-thru grid makes an excellent support for these plants should one be necessary.
Keep newly planted Shasta daisies well watered. After a full season, stop watering the plants entirely except during times of extreme drought. They don’t much like soggy soil, but adding organic matter every year is a plus. I mulch my Shastas and other perennials with either shredded leaves or leaf compost each spring. A layer about 1 to 2 inches thick is plenty. If you’re not sure how much mulch you need for your perennial garden, use our mulch calculator.
Four-lined plant bugs can occasionally be problematic on Shasta daisy plants. They leave pockmarks on the foliage, but their damage is only aesthetic; they will not cause any long-term damage or kill the plants. Here are tips for managing four-lined plant bugs organically.
Most gardeners I know cultivate this pretty plant for themselves, but it’s important to know that Shasta daisies are also good for the bugs. I know that these plants aren’t North American natives, but they do support a broad diversity of insects in the landscape (see photo collage below).
Their low-growing foliage creates good habitat for predatory bugs, like assassin bugs, big eyed bugs, and spined soldier bugs. And, the nectar and pollen from the flowers are preferred by some species of pest-eating parasitic wasps, minute pirate bugs, lacewings, soldier beetles, ladybugs, and syrphid flies, too. Not to mention how appealing the blooms are to numerous species of butterflies, native bees, beetles, flies, and other pollinators. I find an incredible diversity of insects feeding from the tiny yellow disk flowers on a daily basis when the plants are in bloom in my garden.
And as an important added bonus, the flower stalks of the Shasta daisy are hollow. So, if you deadhead the plants at the end of the growing season and leave their flower stalks standing, the hollow tubes make excellent overwintering habitat for many of our smaller native bee species. Plant stubble is essential winter habitat!
As you can see, the Shasta daisy is a great addition to your garden. Plant this lovely perennial and enjoy it for many years to come.
For more on growing great perennials, check out the following articles:
Purple Perennial Flowers
The Longest Blooming Perennials
Top Perennials for the Shade
Asters: Perennials with a Late Season Punch
Rudbeckias: Powerhouses of the Garden
Lolita Compitello says
Do I cut them back mine are about 2 and a half feet tall. Love them but falling over and leaves are very brown.
Jessica Walliser says
After the plants are killed by a fall frost, yes, you can cut them down to the ground. They will re-emerge in the spring.