By: Jessie Keith
Zinnias are summer workhorses in the flower garden. They keep producing radiant flowers—even in the worst heat—and come in a wide range of sizes and colors making them adaptable to practically any garden space. Their value as premium cut flowers and favorite bee and butterfly plants makes them that much more appealing to gardeners. No summer garden should be without a few zinnias.
The long stems, large flowers and bushy stature of tall zinnias (Zinnia elegans) have led to their wide popularity. These easy-to-grow Mexican natives will bloom from summer to frost, if they are deadheaded and moderately maintained. Their flowers have single, semi-double, or double petal arrangements and come in many forms including cactus, dahlia, button, button-like pompons and ruffled forms. What’s more, there are tons of colors available. The pallet includes red, pink, white, green, orange, salmon, yellow and lavender. There are also many bicolored and tricolored varieties. One of the best color combos – for garden or case – is a vibrant mix of pink, rose, green and apricot colored flowers.
Zinnia plants vary in height from 1-4 feet, depending on the cultivar. Shorter “tall zinnia” varieties, such as the many large-flowered, short-statured varieties in the Magellan Series, are perfect for containers and low flower borders while wild, free, long-stemmed forms look great in tall borders, vegetable gardens and cutting gardens. The ever-popular chartreuse green ‘Envy‘, rose and green ‘Queen Red Lime‘ and ruffled salmon apricot Senora™ are three complimentary long-stemmed, double-flowered varieties ideal for making quick, vibrant flower arrangements.
Hybrid bedding zinnias are the best for container gardening. These include the wonderfully versatile and lovely single-flowered Profusion zinnias, which come in all colors, and award-winning double-flowered Zahara™ zinnias. The bushy, spreading, slightly taller (18″-24″) ‘Uptown Grape‘ is also a new variety lauded for its prolific blooms and exemplary disease resistance. Another wonderful compact species is the Mexican native Zinnia angustifolia—with ‘Star Orange‘ and the hybrid Raspberry Lemonade Mix being top sellers.
Getting started with zinnia growing is simple. Each spring, in late April to early May, choose the best sunny spot for your zinnias. Clean out the weeds and debris from the area, then work up and smooth the soil. Amend the beds with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend until the soil is light and friable. Finally, surface-sow the zinnia seed, lightly pat them in and gently water. Then keep the planted area evenly moist. Within a week or so your seeds will start sprouting up. From there, it’s just a matter of keeping the plants reasonably hydrated and thinned to a foot apart. Purchased, container-grown zinnias thrive in large pots filled with moisture rich potting soils, such as Fafard® Natural & Organic Potting Mix. Growing zinnias is that easy!
Zinnia flowers are most spectacular in mid to late summer, so this is the best time to make beautiful table bouquets with long-stemmed varieties. To make a simple zinnia arrangement, choose newly opened, fresh stems and cut them to around 8-12 inches in length. Remove the leaves from the lower part of the stems and then gather the flowers into a tidy, mounded bunch; trim the bottoms uniformly and place them in a vase filled with about 2 cups of water spiked with 1 tablespoon of sugared lemon soda (a great cut flower food). That’s all there is to it!
Zinnia Pests, Diseases, and Problems
Zinnias can have a few troubles. Really tall cultivars can flop in the wind and may need to be staked. The leaves may also develop powdery mildew and leaf spot while also attracting hungry Japanese beetles. To keep my zinnias mildew-free, I gently hand-wash their leaves and space plants well to encourage good air flow. This also discourages outbreaks of fungal spotting. The all-natural GreenCure is also a wonderful remedy for powdery mildew. Another option is to plant disease-resistant selections like the Dreamland Series. To control Japanese beetles, simply pick them off and drown or squash them.
Follow these simple guidelines and you’ll have spectacular zinnias until frost. Whether enjoyed from a patio or balcony or cut and brought indoors to dress up a table, zinnias will bring rich, easy color to your summer life.
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