Zinnias are easy to grow and provide vibrant color all summer in our gardens. In the following are proven tips for color all summer. As spring turns to summer, the garden matures, and we see empty spots as the heat rises; then, we learn to appreciate blooming plants like the easy zinnia and its ability to come to the rescue.
If you appreciate the bright beauty, ease of maintenance, and vase-ready features of the Zinnia flower, thank Johann Gottfried Zinn (1727-1759).
A promising talent, Zinn lived for only 32 years, but he made important contributions to our knowledge of human anatomy and also ran a Botanical Garden when he was only 26. A remarkably versatile man, he was both an anatomist and a botanist. Zinn wrote the first detailed anatomy of the human eye, and on one day before he died in 1759, he took a little package of seeds that the German ambassador to Mexico sent to him and planted them. Then he sent some on to other botanists, and they planted them also.
That first package of Zinnias sent from Mexico was not as beautiful as today’s versions (in fact, the Aztecs made fun of them!), but he persisted, and after his untimely death Carl Linnaeus named the plant after him, and the rest is garden history. In addition, Zinnia is one of those plants in which the Genus and the popular name are the same. This makes it easy because when someone says, ” I have Zinnias for sale, you know what you are getting.”
Easy Zinnias-Proven Tips: Family, Genus, and Species
Like other daisy-like plants, the Zinnia is a member of the Asteraceae family. It is one of the two largest plant families in existence (Orchidaceae is the other), and the Asteraceae family includes about 24,000 species and about 1,500 genera. The family that the Zinnia belongs to exists everywhere in the world except Antarctica and includes diverse plants like daisies, artichokes, and lettuce. Source.
The unique feature common to the huge Asteraceae family members is its composite flowers. What looks like a single flower really consists of many tiny flowers.
But the vivid color, simplicity of management, and long-lasting summer beauty make us interested in the Genus we call Zinnia.
The Zinnia Flower
We favor Zinnias primarily for their colorful composite flowerhead. In this flower form, the ‘petals’ we see are each individually complete ray flowers, and they surround a center consisting of individual, complete disk flowers.
Zinnia is the genus, and there are about 20 species of Zinnia. Due to their great popularity among gardeners, hundreds of cultivars and hybrid plants exist. However, most of those we plant are members of very few species.
(Remember, Genus is the more general category y, and species is specific!) “Latin for Gardeners”
Mal de Ojos, an Inauspicious Start For The Pretty Zinnia!
The Zinnia, however, did not get off to a great start. In Mexico, their native home, the Aztecs called them an “eyesore.” They shared one view with the Spanish, who called them ‘mal de ojos’ when they arrived in Mexico! Described as an unattractive, purplish plant, we wonder why the Ambassador bothered! But botany was a hot new science, and growers persisted. Finally, a hundred years later, French botanists had a breakthrough and, in the 1850s, developed the first commercial double versions of the plant. In the early 20th century, a company called the Bodger Seedhouse in the US developed the first very large Zinnia from a large plant discovered growing wild. This led to the ‘California Giant’ cultivars, and the taste for big and better Zinnias continued to grow.
Why are Genera and species important? Read it here, “Latin for Gardeners” It’s my own description, and I hope it helps.
Three Important Zinnia Species
If you like Zinnias and would like to employ their variety in your garden, this little list will be helpful.
- Zinnia elegans-is the upright and most commonly planted species of the plant. Tall or short, the sturdy stemmed, multicolored, multi-shaped plants we appreciate in the garden or cut for our flower vases are primarily Zinnia elegans.
- Zinnia angustifolia-is a compact, bushy plant that is also called narrow-leafed or creeping Zinnia. It grows about 8-16″ tall and on hairy and branching stems. You will see other types of plants, also called angustifolia; the name will tell you that the plant has narrow leaves. The flowers normally appear in shades of yellow, white, and orange. The blooms are smaller than most Zinnia elegans. You will find members of this species to be heat and drought resistant.
- Zinnia haageana-a small-headed, narrow-leafed species. The one-inch diameter flowers are usually in orange and yellow shades and are seen in single, double, and semi-double forms.
Why These Three Major Species of Zinnia Are Important
Of the roughly 20 species of Zinnia plants we know about, these three are uniquely helpful in our gardens. Each has value to us in its own right, but cross-breeding gives us something special.
When the species are crossed, the Zinnia haageana, adds a bicolor factor to Zinnia elegans, and gives us more interesting color patterns. Adding the Zinnia angustifolia to Zinnia elegans creates a plant with increased flower production and better disease resistance. (See pests and diseases below.)
For example, the Profusion Zinnia series (a cross between the Zinnia elegans and Zinnia angustifolia) has high resistance to disease and, as a bonus, is self-cleaning and has large flowers.
Zinnias, perhaps because of their simplicity and extreme color, have achieved fad status off and on throughout their history. The story about the redecoration of the Gilbert and Sullivan Savoy Opera House is a great example!
The theatre housed the D’Oyle Carte productions of Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas in London. In 1929 the theatre needed a renovation, and the famous decorator they hired took the color plan from a bed of colorful Zinnias everyone liked to admire in Hyde Park. The audience sat in chairs upholstered in Zinnia colors.
This became such a hot topic that women coming to a show would check on the color of their seats and arrive dressed to match their shade of Zinnia!
It is possible to take pleasure from our plants, and a good idea, too! However, we gardeners, like everyone else, do need to know the difference between pleasure and obsession!
Why We Value Zinnias
When we need something to look at in the hot days of summer in our bright sun garden locations, the Zinnia is a perfect solution. Not all of our annual plant favorites are easy to start from seeds, and the Zinnia is easy to grow from seed. The flowers come in an almost dizzying array of colors, sizes, and forms, single, double, semi-double, and dome-shaped flowers.
Popular Varieties Of Easy Zinnia
Zinnias are a large and diverse genus of flowering plants, ranging in size from 6″ to 4′ tall and in all colors except blue.
- Benary’s Giant Zinnia- a large Dahlia-like double zinnia with a 6″ diameter. They are resistant to both heat and powdery mildew disease. You will find these in shades of pink, red, coral, lime green, lilac, wine red, white and orange. Some are multi-colored. These are Zinnia elegans. Use them in various garden locations, and they have an excellent life span in the vase.
- Big Red Zinnia-with six-inch wide heads and three-foot stems. Butterflies, hummingbirds, and finches love their Dahlia-like blooms. They make excellent cut flowers.
- Cactus Flowered Zinnia-with a unique spiked flower petal with curled edges. They epitomize the depth of blossom that we appreciate Zinnias for.
- California Giant Zinnia- each flower is long-lasting; giant is the word as the flower heads can reach five inches and the stems four feet tall.
- Double Zahara Cherry Zinnia-with profuse, long-lasting blooms and a reliable cherry red color, you can use these as bright borders and bouquets.
- Early Wonder Zinnia-use these in a range of colors in a mix of single and semi-double blossoms. The single blossoms are attractive to all pollinators.
- Jazzy Mix Zinnia-look for a wide range of colors from cream to burgundy. The blooms are one to two inches long and bloom repeatedly over the season.
Below are newer cultivars of Zinnia designed to have certain desirable features. New plants are being developed on a regular basis. Don’t consider this list complete, but it will give you ideas of what you can do to make your garden unique.
A Profusion Series Recommendation
I like to read websites from very good gardeners and found this recommendation from the newsletter of the very good site “Susan’s In the Garden”. Notice in the flower section her recommendation for a compact profusion flower.
How To Grow Zinnias-with Proven Tips
How to Plant Zinnias
Plant Zinnias in full sun, spacing the plants according to its instructions. You can plant them to fill in around other plants or make a bed of them. Zinnias perform well when planted directly from seed in the garden. Plant the seeds directly into their final beds. After they sprout, thin the seedlings to encourage the strongest. Plant in spring after the date of the last frost.
Here is how to find your first and last frost dates. Add your zip code.
If you cut the young plants back when they reach 6-8″ tall, they will produce bushier and healthier plants. To do this, pinch or cut the top two inches from the peak of the plant at a leaf node.
How Much Sunlight To Provide for Zinnias?
Pick a full sun planting spot for Zinnias (6-8 hours per day.) When planted in even partial shade, the plants can become leggy, and leaf spot is a risk.
Soil for Zinnias
For best results, plant Zinnias in rich soil amended with compost and organic fertilizer. Use well-draining soil with a pH between 6 and 7. Amend the soil to improve fertility and drainage.
Water for Zinnias
Depending on your climate, water the plants deeply once or twice a week. If you can avoid overhead watering, do so, drip systems are effective for Zinnia plants. Water on the leaves can encourage mildew problems.
With nutrient-rich soil, Zinnias should not require fertilizer. If needed, an occasional well-balanced fertilizer can be used.
Regular Maintenance of Easy Zinnias
Zinnias are fast-growing plants, requiring little maintenance as they can shade out weeds even without mulch. Deadheading spent flowers is a benefit to the plants and their appearance. Check your varieties; some are self-cleaning.
Tall zinnias may need to be staked for wind protection.
When cutting Zinnias for the vase, remember that they are a ‘cut and come again flower.’ Cut deeply on the stem, ensuring long stems for your cut flowers. Remove side branches and leaves. The plant will reward you with new flowers.
How to know if the plant is ready to harvest stems for your flower vases? Grab the stem about 8″ below the flower and shake it a bit. It will bend and fall if it is immature and will not remain straight in the vase. Leave those stems on the plant a little longer. Cut the trimmed stems directly into the water.
Zinnias cut this way should last several days.
Pests and Diseases of Zinnias
- Pests-the Zinnia has few pests, but you will find that aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies can cause damage, especially in hot, dry weather.
You can spray the pests with a pressure hose or insecticidal soap. If using the soap, spray in the evening to avoid damage to beneficial insects and hummingbirds.
- Diseases- Powdery Mildew is the greatest concern for Zinnias, and considerable effort is made in breeding cultivars to have resistance to the disease. Look for white powdery patches on leaves and sometimes stems. Avoid the problem by following plant spacing recommendations, as airflow is important.
This is a good article on dealing with insects and diseases of Zinnias from Clemson University.
This is a brief article from Toronto Master Gardeners on Powdery Mildew with a link for more information from the University of California too.
Companion Plants for Zinnias
Zinnias bloom in the mid to later periods of the summer, often a time when other plants are having a breather from blooming. Good companion plants for Zinnias include some of these ideas: These include plants that make attractive groupings and have similar growing conditions.
- Other daisy-like members of the Asteraceae family, such as asters.
- Cosmos with some antifungal properties.
- Basil is a great way to add a bright green contrast and include an edible component. It is also fast-growing and has antifungal properties.
- Marigolds also have value as cut flowers.
- Alliums will add volume, especially to the dwarf varieties.
- In the vegetable garden, zinnias will attract the beetles from cucumbers.
Ways to Use Zinnias
- Zinnias of all sizes make excellent cut flowers with a vase life of 7-12 days.
- Bees and butterflies are attracted to the flowers. Use varieties that allow the pollinator access to the pollen and that produce pollen. Check the seed package or plant tray.
- Use Zinnias in beds, borders, and along walkway edges. Check the plant’s mature heights before planting. The height range is very wide.
- Use the low versions to soften the hard edges of walkways by planting along the edge.
Zinnias in Containers
It is possible to grow Zinnias in containers. Use a well-draining potting mix and more frequent water and fertilizer than plants in the ground. Keep the containers in full sun, and you will find that the shorter varieties will do better in containers.
Making Color Combinations For The Garden And The Vase
Color is important in choosing Zinnias to plant. Here is some advice about color from a cut flower grower.
Zinnia seed packets are often sold in pre-made color combinations. This will give you an automatic variety just by shaking the pack.
This advice comes from a professional cut flower grower. Her intention was to select colors that are arresting on their own and make an attractive combination when grouped together.
She selects Benary’s Giant, a very large variety of Zinnia elegant, and plants the following colors, lime green, orange, red, blush, lilac, wine, and light pink. She plants each color in its own section and offers a pot of each color for her customers to make their own combinations from. She believes that given these colors, the bouquets never go wrong! Here is a link to Benary’s Giant Zinnia from a seed seller.
With their color, simplicity, and resilience, Zinnias are a valuable addition to the summer garden and last throughout the warm season until frost. They work for all of us gardeners, beginners or experts, and are a cost-effective improvement to the garden.
Happy gardening, and keep in mind the good advice of Gilbert and Sullivan about growing easy plants.
“He did nothing in particular, and did it very well.”-W.S. Gilbert, Iolanthe, (1882) act 2