How to Grow Blackfoot Daisy

Melampodium leucanthum

Native to Mexico and parts of the United States, including the southwest and the Central Plains, blackfoot daisy is a cheerful, drought-tolerant plant that can take the heat and still shine brightly.

A vertical picture of a profusion of the white flowers with yellow centers of the Melampodium leucanthum plant. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white text.

This evergreen perennial member of the Asteraceae family has a low, round, bushy form and produces an abundance of one-inch, white, daisy-like flowers from early spring through late fall.

The dark green foliage consists of 2-inch-long, narrow, oblong leaves.

The lightly fragrant flowers have an attractive bright yellow center that resembles a pincushion. They attract bees and butterflies, and the seeds make a tasty snack for birds in the winter.

A close up of the blackfoot daisy plant growing in the garden with light green foliage, white flowers with yellow centers, fading to soft focus in the background.

“Blackfoot” refers to the bract that surrounds each seed that is shaped like a foot, and turns black as it matures.

Hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 5-11, blackfoot daisy grows six to 12 inches tall, with a spread of 12 to 24 inches.

Its numerous aliases include rock daisy, desert daisy, ash gray blackfoot, plains blackfoot, and arnica.

Let’s learn more!

This low-maintenance wildflower is ideal for growing in gardens with dry, rocky soil or xeriscapes. It grows prolifically in open grassland and desert scrublands.

Sometimes confused with the native desert zinnia, Zinnia acerosa, the flowers of the blackfoot daisy have 8-10 white petals, while desert zinnias have 4-6, and they are broader.

Propagation

Blackfoot daisy propagates easily from seed – either planted or scattered by the wind. Or you can take cuttings from an existing plant, or buy transplants from a local garden center or nursery.

A close up of the white flowers of the Melampodium leucanthum plant, with yellow centers and light green foliage on a soft focus background.

It is not suitable for propagation by division as it has a deep taproot, and is difficult to transplant once it has become established.

From Seed

Direct sow seeds outdoors in the fall. Plant seeds 1/8 inch deep, space 12 inches apart, and water in well.

Alternatively, you can start seeds indoors six weeks before winter’s last frost. If sowing indoors, cold stratify the seeds before planting them.

To do this, place them in a sealed container in the refrigerator for about four weeks prior to sowing.

Blackfoot daisy will liberally reseed itself and become naturalized in the landscape, though not to the point of becoming invasive.

From Cuttings

From an existing plant, take a 4 to 6-inch cutting. Remove any buds or flowers, and the lower leaves.

Dip the cut end into a powdered rooting hormone and place in well-draining soil, or a soilless growing medium.

Maintain even moisture, but do not allow the planting medium to become waterlogged.

From Seedlings or Transplanting

Transplant seedlings – those you’ve grown or purchased from a garden center – after all danger of frost has passed.

Wait to transplant until they are about six inches tall but before they have started budding, to minimize transplant shock.

Plant at the same depth as the container from which you are transplanting in well-draining soil, and leave 12 inches of spaace between plants.

Water in well, and keep the transplants moist but not waterlogged until they become established.

How to Grow

Blackfoot daisy prefers full sun, but it will tolerate a bit of shade. And if you live in an area where the sun blazes for 14 hours a day, you most definitely want to provide some afternoon shade.

A vertical close up picture of a blackfoot daisy growing in the garden amongst some blue flowers in bright sunshine.

This plant requires well-drained soil, and its roots will rot if they’re wet for too long. It prefers dry, rocky, gravelly, sandy soils and will tolerate calcareous, limestone, and caliche soils.

Once established, M. leucanthum is extremely drought tolerant. It will thrive when watered deeply only two or three times during the summer months, and once a month in winter.

You don’t have to fertilize blackfoot daisy, as it prefers poor soil conditions.

To grow it in containers, add some sand or perlite to your potting mix to ensure it drains well.

You may need to provide additional irrigation as the soil in containers tends to dry out more quickly than in the garden.

Growing tips

  • Plant in a full to part sun location in well-draining soil
  • Be careful not to overwater, or this may cause root rot
  • Prune in late winter to promote a more compact form

Pruning and Maintenance

As plants mature, they may become leggy. You can cut them back in late winter to encourage a more compact and bushy form.

A close up of a bee feeding on the nectar of the flower of the Melampodium leucanthum plant pictured in light sunshine on a soft focus background.

You can deadhead you like, but it’s not necessary – the flowers will bloom regardless.

If you wish to harvest the seeds, allow the seed heads to dry on the plants, then remove them.

Shake the seed heads into a paper bag and store in a cool, dry place, or sow immediately in another area of the garden.

Where to Buy

Your best bet for sourcing this plant is to check with your local garden center, or see if friends and neighbors are growing it, and take cuttings or collect seeds.

Managing Pests and Disease

This tough plant is deer-resistant, and is generally not plagued by insect pests.

The only issue to watch out for is root rot caused by fungi, if the plant is growing in soil that does not drain well. If M. leucanthum is allowed to stand in waterlogged soil, it will fail to thrive, and drop its leaves and blooms.

A close up of a clump of blackfoot daisy flowers growing in a wildflower meadow.

If you pull up your plant and see mushy roots, root rot is likely the culprit. If the whole root system is affected, you’ll have to discard the plant.

If some healthy roots remain, clip away the mushy roots, and either fix the drainage problem or relocate the plant to a more suitable location, with soil that does not become waterlogged.

Best Uses

Blackfoot daisy looks lovely and performs very well in rock gardens or wildflower meadows.

A close up top down picture of blackfoot daisy growing in poor soil in the garden, with blue flowers, pictured in bright sunshine.

It can also be grown in containers or in mass plantings as a ground cover – just be aware that the stems are quite brittle, so it is not suitable for growing in high-traffic areas.

A close up of a Melampodium leucanthum flower with white petals and yellow center, growing in the garden.

Some gardeners use it as a border plant amongst cacti, succulents, or other drought-tolerant plants.

Quick Reference Growing Guide

Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial flowering plant Flower / Foliage Color: White; green
Native To: Mexico, southwest US Maintenance: Low
Hardiness (USDA Zone): 5-11 Tolerance: Drought, heat, poor soil
Bloom Time / Season: Spring through fall Soil Type: Poor, rocky
Exposure: Full sun or full sun with afternoon shade Soil pH: 6.6-7.5
Spacing: 12 inches Soil Drainage: Well-draining
Planting Depth: Seeds: 1/8 inch. Transplants: same depth as container from which you are transplanting. Attracts: Bees, birds, and butterflies
Height: 6-12 inches Companion Planting: Agave, red yucca, prickly pear, angelita daisy, verbena, firecracker penstemon, verbena, yaupon holly
Spread: 12-18 inches Uses: Ground cover, containers, rock gardens, xeriscaping
Growth Rate: Medium Family: Asteraceae
Water Needs: Minimal Genus: Melampodium
Pests & Diseases: Fungal root rot Species: leucanthum

A Whole List of Awesomeness

Drought-tolerant? Check. Heat- and sun-tolerant? Check. Low maintenance? Check. Long blooming season? Check!

A close up of a Melampodium leucanthum plant growing in the garden with a profusion of white daisy flowers with yellow centers and light green foliage.

What are you waiting for? If you’re looking for a durable, pretty plant that’s happy to hang out in your less-than-organically-rich soil, blackfoot daisy is calling your name.

Already have this beauty in your landscape and have tips to share? Spill your secrets in the comments section below!

If you are looking for more information about growing drought tolerant plants, you’ll need these guides next:


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A collage of different photos showing blackfoot daisy flowers in bloom.

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Clare Groom and Allison Sidhu.

About Gretchen Heber

A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

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