Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
March, 2008
Regional Report

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Narrow-leaved zinnias spill out of a large container while standard garden types grow around the base.

Make Room for Zinnias

Zinnias are one of the easiest flowers to grow, and perhaps the most common of our cut flowers. Most gardeners can recall growing zinnias, even in their childhood. For me, familiarity does not breed contempt, but rather admiration. I love this "blue collar" inhabitant of the flower garden.

Anyone interested in getting children involved in gardening should rely on zinnias. In addition to their ease of culture, they are downright pretty and make good cut flowers, and kids love to give gifts of flowers!

The flowers come in many forms. The standard tall cut flower types are available with medium-sized blooms, such as the tried-and-true Oklahoma series; and large-flowered forms like the Benary's Giant series. There are the frilly Giant Cactus types and the striped petals of the Peppermint Stick mixes. I love the novel multicolored blooms of the Carrousel mix and the truly exciting flowers of the relative newcomer 'Zowie! Yellow Flame', whose blooms transition from yellow through magenta and orange.

If you want bedding plants, try the Profusion series, which reaches only about a foot tall. Another great low-growing type is the narrow-leaf zinnia (Zinnia angustifolia), one of the parents of the hybrid Profusion Series. Narrow-leaf zinnias trail outward on narrow stems, producing 1-inch yellow, orange, or white blooms. Unlike their common garden zinnia cousins, these semi-trailing zinnias are relatively free from pest and disease problems.

Sowing Seeds
Zinnia seeds can be started indoors as transplants or seeded directly into the garden after the danger of frost is past. Sow seeds 1/4 inch deep and thin plants to about a foot apart. Maintain moderate soil moisture and fertilize lightly for good vigor. Powdery mildew and leaf spots can damage plants, so minimize wetting of foliage. Some varieties are less plagued by these diseases than others. Occasionally leaf-feeding pests can do enough damage to warrant control, but I generally avoid spraying and just tolerate a little damage.

Don't limit your zinnia planting to the cut flower garden. The dwarf types are excellent as bedding plants and work well in warm-season containers. The semi-trailing habit of narrow-leaf zinnia works well in a large hanging basket, a half whiskey barrel, or a large terra cotta pot. Just make sure to keep them in a sunny location. Since you can choose individual colors in several of the modern series, it is possible to plan some beautiful color combinations using zinnias in landscape beds and containers.

Zinnias are easy to dry, too. The small narrow-leaf zinnias dry especially well and make nice additions to a miniature dried arrangement or shadow box.

Don't let their commonness cause you to overlook zinnias for this year's garden. Peruse a few seed catalogs for some varieties that appeal to you.

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