Robin Trott, UMN Extension Educator
Last summer was the first year I grew zinnias in any quantity. Spaniards who first saw them growing in Mexico thought zinnias were so unattractive they called them "mal de ojos", or "sickness of the eyes"; and until last summer, I tended to agree. I thought zinnias were large, gaudy flowers that didn't even have the redeeming quality of a pleasant fragrance; and so I never grew them in my home garden. Boy, was I wrong!
Last summer I grew many tall zinnia varieties to be used as cut flowers. Benary's giants were spectacular, and the peppermint stick varieties were something else. It's no wonder that the National Garden Bureau has declared 2011 the "Year of the Zinnia."
One of the reasons for the booming popularity of the zinnia is its diversity. Zinnias have a variety of flower forms--they may be single, semi-double, or double. Single Zinnias, Zinnia angustifolia, have one row of petals with an exposed center, similar to the daisy.
Crystal White, an All American Selections winner is a delightful example of the single flowering variety. The semi-double and double flowered zinnias have a mass of dense petals that hide the center. Button, beehive, cactus shaped and dahlia flowered zinnias all fall within this category. Profusion, Queen Red Lime and Zahara are all examples of premium double flowering zinnias. Giant Fantasy is a splendid cactus flowering zinnia, and, Benary's Giant is a spectacular dahlia flowering variety. Zinnias also come in a wide range of color choices. My favorites are the cream, salmon, magenta and lime varieties. If you have a specific color scheme in mind, there is a zinnia that will fit in your garden palette.Zinnias are annuals that grow easily from seed. Direct seed after all danger of frost has past and the soil has warmed; or start inside 4-6 weeks before your last frost date (May 24 for our region.) Zinnias bloom profusely throughout the growing season and can grow as short as 6" or as tall as 48". Zinnias require minimal care. Deadhead spent blooms to encourage repeat blooming, keep watered during the growing season, and fertilize at half strength monthly from July - September. Zinnias are prone to powdery mildew, so avoid overhead watering, and space them to allow air flow between plants.
Use zinnias as border plants, in containers, as tall garden focal points, dried, and for cut flowers. Choose smaller varieties, such as Zinnita at the front of border plantings and in containers. Benary's Giant and tall cactus flowering zinnias are excellent as focal plantings and for cut flowers.
To gather flowers for fresh arrangements, cut them during the cool part of the day. (Early morning or early evening.) Select blooms that have not fully opened--they will continue to open indoors. Cut zinnias into a clean bucket of fresh water, and re-cut the stems, removing the lower leaves, before arranging them.
"Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bands." -Thomas Jefferson.
All photos by Laura Trott, taken in the garden of the author, Robin Trott.