Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
August, 2007
Regional Report

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For show-stopping color in the garden, try the new zinnia variety 'Zowie! Yellow Flame'.

Zinnias and Marigolds, Oh, My!

A friend calls them "those 50s flowers," but zinnias and marigolds, as well as a number of other old-fashioned annuals are really quite remarkable for their bright, cheerful colors that are produced nonstop until frost. Whether used to spruce up a vegetable garden, given their own cutting garden area, or incorporated into a mixed flower bed, annuals are invaluable plants worthy of more respect. As you spend time in your own garden this summer and visit other private and public gardens, think about how they might make your life more colorful next year.

Of the thousands of varieties of annuals, several have particular appeal to me. Each year there are always sunflowers, morning glories, moon vines, nicotiana (especially for that lovely evening fragrance), Verbena bonariensis (a butterfly magnet), petunias, coleus, impatiens, and others. It had been years, however, since I had grown zinnias. One, in particular, caught my eye in a seed catalog, then somehow another couple of packets leapt into my shopping cart. The result? A newfound "old friend" that will once more show up in my garden year after year.

Choosing Zinnias
Reliable, easy to grow, tolerant of heat, attractive to butterflies, a long-lasting cut flower, and available in a rainbow of colors as well as a myriad of flower and plant shapes and sizes, zinnias should be on everybody's plant list. Easy to start from seed, they're great for a children's garden, too. The hardest part of growing zinnias is deciding which ones to grow.

Heights range from 8 inches to over 3 feet tall. Many of the newer hybrids have increased disease resistance and weather tolerance. Flower forms include dahlia, quilled, crested, ball, pompon, single, semi-double, and fully double. Colors include white, green, pastels, and brights, but no blue. Flowers maybe also be striped, speckled, or bicolored. It's a bicolor that has become my new favorite. 'Zowie! Yellow Flame' grows to 30 inches tall, with each bloom having a scarlet-rose center and yellow petal edges. These look beautiful combined with marigolds, sunflowers, and portulaca in my garden. As a bonus, the flowers have an extra-long vase life of up to two weeks. 'Zowie! Yellow Flame' was a 2006 All-America Selection (AAS).

Among the many varieties of the 3- to 4-foot-tall zinnias, a top choice for cut flowers is 'Benary's Giants', as these were specially developed for their large flowers and long, strong stems on multi-branching plants. The flowers are fully double and are available in 12 different colors.

For containers and flower borders, another AAS winner to consider is 'Profusion'. The 12- to 15-inch, mounding plants bear single or semi-double, 2-inch flowers available in a mixture of colors or as separate colors of white, gold, bright orange, soft apricot, and cherry red. Unlike many other dwarf varieties of zinnias, 'Profusion' flowers naturally fall after they fade, so plants don't require deadheading.

Growing Zinnias
Zinnias can be started from seed indoors four to five weeks before the last spring frost, or planted directly into the garden after all danger of frost has passed and night temperatures are consistently in the 50s. Choose a spot that has fertile, well-drained soil in full sun. Although newer hybrids are usually resistant to powdery mildew, which is the bane of older varieties, it pays to space plants far enough apart to allow for good air circulation. If plants do get mildew, spray weekly with a solution of 1 tablespoons of baking soda to 1 gallon of water.

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