Zinnias are great to grow for summer blooms.

Zinnias are the work horses of the cutting flower garden. They are easy to grow and have a short time from planting to bloom time. They attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds so are a great addition to a pollinator-attracting garden. I have done some flower show judging at fairs and the first time that I judged zinnias at the Big Fair in Fresno I was amazed at the variety of zinnias as I had only known a few cultivars of Zinnia elegans. There are other species but insufficient room here to describe them all.

Zinnias require rich, well-drained soil in full sun. Zinnias do best when kept evenly moist, and you can feed them with compost or a balanced fertilizer every few weeks for best flower production. For extended bloom, deadhead plants throughout the season or just keep all your vases full. Remove unsightly leaves to prevent the spread of disease and to keep plants looking healthy.

They evolved in the warm climate of Mexico so they are heat and drought tolerant but not frost tolerant and should not be set out before frost time is past. They are best planted after night temperatures reach above 50 degrees F. You can get a head start on the blooming season by starting the seeds indoors or in a greenhouse 4-6 weeks before planting in the garden. Seeds should be planted about 3 inches apart. A sunny windowsill will work and germination takes about 6 days.

Seeds can also be sown directly in the garden; 1⁄2 inch deep with 2- to 3-inch spacing in rows 12 inches apart in well-worked, fertile garden soil in full sun. Gently firm the soil and then keep it evenly moist while awaiting germination. When seedlings become large enough to handle, thin them to 10 to 12 inches apart. In the garden, it is good to provide for air circulation to minimize infection with powdery mildew. Zinnias come in a wide range of colors (except blue) from lime green, red, yellow, pink, orange to white. You can usually purchase a mix of colors or a one-color selection. They also come in a multitude of forms and sizes as described below. Hence they can fit a lot of garden spots from containers to front and back borders.

Petite: ‘Thumbelina’ zinnias generally don’t grow more than 4-6 inches and come in all the colors of the rainbow in a compact, versatile plant that is good in border fronts or containers. ‘Pepito’ and ‘Button Box’ seeds produce dwarf plants that are 10 inches tall. ‘Profusion’ zinnia series is a hybrid of (Zinnia angustifolia x Z. elegans) and it is a low growing choice especially for containers or mass planting. The two-inch flowers are single or semi-double and daisy-formed which cover 12 to 15-inch mounding plants. This All-America Selections award-winning series has cultivars that come in shades of orange, cherry, white, and apricot, all of which partner well with other colorful plants. Profusion zinnias are highly disease resistant and require little maintenance because they are self-cleaning; dropping their blossoms after they fade.

Small: ‘Lilliput’ are 18-24 inches with blooms that are small, round bauble-like that add interest and texture to your garden, or flower arrangements.  ‘Pulcino’ produces 18-24 inch, bushy plants that are early and prolific flowering with double and semi-double blooms. It is also known as ‘Cut and Come Again’ zinnia. 

Medium: ‘Scabiosa’ has finely textured blooms on plant 30 inches tall. ‘State Fair’ has 5-6 inch, double-flowered blooms and a bounty of colors on 30-inch robust plants that are great for cutting and enjoying in the vase.  ‘Peppermint Stick’ zinnias grow to 30 inches and are uniquely striped like a holiday peppermint. ‘Oklahoma’ series are 30-40 inches and can be obtained in several individual colors from white, pink, salmon, scarlet and gold. The flowers are 1.5 to 2.5 inches in diameter.

Large:California Giants’ are 48 inches with flowers 5 inches across; a very productive, large plant for the cutting garden. ‘Benary’s Giant’ zinnia is an award-winning variety producing large 4-5 inch diameter fully double flowers on sturdy 40-48 inch branching stems. ‘Dahlia Flowered’ zinnia grows to 40 inches and has fully doubled flowers 4-5 inches in diameter with tightly packed petals that bend downward slightly at the ends. They were developed in 1919; so definitely an heirloom. ‘Gift’ is an heirloom zinnia that is a Russian contribution with all red color and 36 inches tall with 3-4 inch flowers—a favorite of mine. Happy zinnia gardening!

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website:  http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/.    

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