Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
April, 2004
Regional Report

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Sunflowers provide happy faces throughout the long, hot summer.

Warm-Season Color

It seems too early to be thinking about summer flowers, but zinnia seedlings are popping up like crazy now, encouraged by recent rains and above-normal temperatures. I always let flower heads dry and go to seed in late fall to self-sow for the next year, but I think this is the earliest the zinnia seedlings have germinated. Our record-breaking heat this spring is confusing the plants as well as the gardeners.

Summer Bloomers
Zinnias provide long-lasting summer color and will bloom and bloom and then bloom some more until frost hits, as long as you keep deadheading spent flowers. I always have good luck with 'Cut and Come Again' for bouquets. The Profusion series are hybrids that are especially heat tolerant as well as resistant to powdery mildew, which often plagues zinnia. About 12 to 18 inches high, these plants make a vivid ground cover in colors of cherry, orange, and white.

Zinnias take full sun, although they will benefit from a few hours of protection from hot afternoon sun in the low desert. Allow sufficient space for good air circulation to help prevent powdery mildew. Zinnias require more water than wildflowers, but the Profusion series are listed on the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association plant guide as low-water-use annuals.

I also spotted some sunflowers poking above ground. Sunflowers are another easy-to-grow, warm-season flower. They readily self-sow and provide long-lasting color. However, I don't seem to get as many of them sprouting as volunteers, perhaps because the seeds are gobbled up by birds in the fall. Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximilianii) is one of my favorites, blooming in tall yellow spires through the heat of summer.

Two other summer favorites are blanket flower (Gaillardia sp.) and Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). Their flat flower surfaces are favored by butterflies as landing pads for sipping nectar. Both flower through the summer in vibrant orange and yellow shades.

Layer 2 to 3 inches of compost or other organic mulch around the flowers to help maintain soil moisture and moderate soil temperatures. Water soil to a depth of 12 inches after the top inch of soil has dried out. Deadhead frequently and you'll have blooms all summer long!

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