Growing Zinnia Flowers: Easy Plants for Your Landscape and Containers
The Colorful, Friendly Zinnia Flower
Looking for an easy to grow and maintain landscaping flower?
Have you considered the zinnia? Its one of the most versatile and colorful annual plants you can choose for your garden, window box or container pots. The species has been developed over many years to become a show-stopper in the garden. Yet, when Spanish settlers first saw the zinnia in Mexico, they thought the flowers were so unattractive they called them mal de ojos, or "sickness of the eye."
Today, zinnias come in a full rainbow of colors. In fact, the only naturally occurring hue you won't find is blue! There is also a range of sizes, from low-growing, plants the size of marigolds, to giant, towering zinnias that can match the height of dahlias.
Perhaps the best feature of zinnia flowers is that you can practically plant and forget them. Water as needed, dead-head them infrequently, and enjoy the showcase of dazzling colors throughout your landscape or in your container gardens.
Zinnias make great cut flowers, too. Think bouquets are too expensive? Grow your own with a zinnia garden!
2011 Was the Year of the Zinnia
Perhaps to celebrate its modest beauty, or its amazing versatility, the National Garden Bureau announced that 2011 was the Year of the Zinnia (its also the Year of the Tomato) when it heralded its All-America Selections.
According to the NGB's official website:
"Each year representatives of the professional horticulture industry select one flower and one vegetable to be showcased. In 2012, we'll add a perennial to these selections. These crops are chosen because they are popular, easy-to-grow, widely adaptable, genetically diverse, and versatile."
So, let's learn more about the celebrated zinnia - how to grow them, where to plant them and special tips for enjoying the colorful blooms.
How to Grow Zinnias
History and Types of Zinnias Found in Gardens
While botanists will tell you there are over a dozen zinnias species, not many of them are found in residential landscapes. Zinnias are part of the Asteraceae (or Compositae) family of flowers. Asteraceae is one of the largest families, with 1100 genera and 25,000 species, found with the greatest diversity in semi-arid regions.
You are probably most familiar with Zinnia elegans (syn. Z. violacea ), also known as the common zinnia. Although they might appear to be several different species, in fact the same species is represented in tall, medium-sized and dwarf varieties.
The history of zinnias, named for Dr. Johann Gottfried Zinn, goes back several hundred years to 18th century Europe. From 1 1/2 inch bright "Lilliput" zinnias developed in France in the 1880s, to double flowers that emerged in the early 20th century which eventually morphed into "Pumila" or "Cut-and-come-again" zinnias, eventually larger zinnias were developed, including the "Giant Mammoth." By the 1920s, Bodger Seeds introduced the "Giant Dahlia" zinnia which won a gold medal from the Royal Horticultural Society of England. The range of sizes, heights and colors continued to expand from there.
While the giant blooms of dahlia-like zinnias are impressive, many gardeners prefer compact zinnia flowers for small spaces and container gardening. Among the most popular include dwarf versions of Zinnia haageana , specifically "Persian Carpet" and "Old Mexico" and the 8-15-inch Z. angustifolia "Crystal White." In the past 25 years, Z. angustifolia and Z. elegans , were successfully bred to create "Profusion," "Cherry" and "Orange" zinnias that offer the best of all worlds when it comes to easy to care for plants: tolerance of heat and humidity, resistance to disease, no deadheading, compact growth and impressive 2-3 inch single flowers.
No matter what genus or type of zinnia flowers you select, you might just want to pick between those with single flowers, double flowers, or semi-double. With a rainbow of colors available, there are also solid hues and flower petals that have contrasting tips.
Growing Zinnia Flowers from Seed
Don't have a particularly green thumb? That's OK. Zinnias are so easy to grow from seed, whether you start them in a greenhouse, in your kitchen, or outdoors. In fact, planting the seeds is a perfect project to do with your children. Not only are they easy to start, but zinnias are fast-growing, as well (quick results are important for short attention spans). In about a month, your flowers will be ready to plant in the garden.
To start zinnia flowers from seed indoors, simple fill a flat shallow container or individual pots with a soil mixture recommended for commercial seed-starting. Gently moisten with water and allow to drain. Sow seeds in rows and cover with about 1/4 inch of mix, then spray with a water bottle. Cover with clear plastic wrap to trap moisture and keep warm at a temperature of 75-80 degrees F. Set in a bright, sunny window. Once the seedlings sprout, remove the plastic cover. Water to keep moist, but be careful not to over water. You can transplant to individual pots once they sprout a few leaves.
After the danger of frost has passed, take your zinnia seedlings outdoors and enjoy them in your garden!
If you live in a temperate climate, or if its late enough in the year that the air and soil are already warm, you can grow zinnia flowers from seed right in your backyard or outdoor containers. Mix in compost to amend the soil beforehand and sow the seeds in rows, then cover with 1/4 inch of soil and water gently.
Zinnia Flowers are Easy to Grow
How to Care for Zinnia Flowers
You don't have to grow your own zinnias. In fact, plant nurseries often carry the brightly colored plants. They are annuals, which mean that they do not winter over. You'll have to replant (or sow new seeds) each year.
Zinnias prefer full sun (6 hours or more) and moist but well-drained soil. My in-laws always say that you should put a $5 plant in a $50 hole, rather than a $50 plant in a $5 hole. This means that, if you prepare your soil properly, you are much more likely to have gardening success! So, invest a bit more in soil amendments, then enjoy sowing the relatively inexpensive zinnia seeds, or planting seedling starts without worry.
As with other plants, you'll want to pick an overcast, cooler day to do your planting so as not to stress the flowers. Space the zinnias several inches apart to allow circulation and avoid disease.
Once your zinnias are planted, they really do need little care. Water as needed, but not too much to drown them. In the garden, you should fertilize twice during the growing season, using a 20-20-20 water-soluble mix. Alternatively, you can go with a slow-release or organic fertilizer mixed into the soil. This is also recommended for container gardening.
Growing Zinnia Flowers from Seeds
Enjoy Zinnia Flowers Outdoors and Inside!
Other than the ease of caring for zinnias in your garden or containers, the best feature of these colorful, friendly blooms is how simple it is to cut them for arrangements. Unlike roses or other flowers that take a while to re-grow, zinnias reproduce new blooms within days of being cut, provided you trim the bloom above a pair of leaves.
Cut zinnias will last up to a week in a vase, if you handle them properly. Take cuttings in the morning before the warm sun dries or wilts the blooms. Pick buds that are partially, but not yet fully opened to lengthen their life indoors. Re-cut the stems under running water and remove any leaves that would end up under water in the vase.
Personally, I'm not much of a "dried flower" arrangement person, but many people enjoy drying zinnias and have good success in doing so.
Whether you love working in the garden (or perhaps particularly if you don't) growing zinnia flowers is an easy way to add a splash of color and personality to your landscape. Enjoy the bright blooms without concerns of frequent deadheading and disease. Cut flowers for enjoyment indoors with the satisfaction of knowing that the buds will quickly be replaced. What more could you want in an annual flowering plant?
© 2011 Stephanie Hicks