Sunday, September 10, 2006

Zinnias and Bumblebees!

Zinnias are one of my very favorite annuals to plant, and as anyone who has ever planted them surely knows, they are amongst the easiest of all flowers to grow successfully from seed. Whenever someone tells me something along the lines of Oh, I'd love to grow colorful flowers, but I'm just not good at it ... everything dies on me, I immediately bring up Zinnias.

They truly are THAT easy! And for those who have actually taken my advice and planted Zinnias, I have heard nothing but raves about the range of colors, sizes of flowers and the different shapes of the blooms. These particular examples are a mix called "State Fair Favorites" that I found this year while seed shopping ... they're a larger variety that seems to be topping out at about 3.5-4.0 feet tall, with a range of colors from magenta, red, to yellows and oranges ... with a few pink thrown in just for Olivia (though I must admit that pink Zinnias are probably my least favorite color they exhibit). The most common flower styles range from the "California Giants" types (such as above) with their dahlia like blooms ... to the "Cactus Blooming" variety which has more feathery, almost Spider Mum-like blossoms. But no matter what variety you may choose to plant, they are sure to delight you from July to frost ...

Here are a few planting hints and notes on Zinnias ...
  1. Wait until the ground has thoroughly warmed in the spring before you plant. In our area, I usually wait until about late May or early June to plant them, as they require the soil to be fairly warm before they germinate. You can start them indoors in pots, however, I find that transplants don't seem to flourish as well as those planted in situ, and honestly, I can't justify all the extra effort it would take to start them indoors! They germinate so quickly (generally within a week) and grow so quickly, I think they're best planted where they will grow.
  2. Give Zinnias as much full sun as you can and they will positively leap out of the ground and begin blooming within about a month and a half ... which makes them perfect for huge splashes of color when many perennials are already done. They're not picky about soil, but do make sure they are planted in well-drained soil where they won't be susceptible to root rot from too soggy a soil.
  3. Keep in mind that Zinnias are hot and dry weather lovers ... another feature that is extremely attractive for those of us who have those long, hot dry spells in July and August ... the exact time of the summer they will begin blooming for you!
  4. They don't really have many pests (though rabbits did nibble on some of ours earlier this summer and grasshoppers may sometimes attack them as well), and are also relatively disease free. They are, however, susceptible to Powdery Mildew, which is a result of too humid weather ... it gives the leaves gray patchy spots that though unattractive, will rarely kill the plant. You can also avoid this by only watering them at the base (if need be), as water which accumulates on the leaves also encourages the mildew.
  5. And finally, this is the mantra you should always adopt with Zinnias: Cut and Come Again! The more you cut for the vase inside, the more the plants will branch and become bushier, producing even more blooms in as little as a week or so in prime warm weather! They are a truly guilt-free cut flower that never fails to brighten a room with their sassy fire colors ... Just think, the investment of $1-2 worth of seeds will give you dozens of plants, each of which will, given the right conditions described above, reward you amply until frost.
  6. One last note ... though we are avid seed collectors, we never collect Zinnias, and the reason is quite simple ... they do not return true to form from the previous years. If you choose to collect seeds, you will most likely get mere pale pink blooms that revert to a wilder version of the flower, not at all like those you can get by always planting fresh seed.
So, if you're not converted now and itching to plant these next year, let me just also conclude by saying that Zinnias are sure-fire bee and butterfly magnets! On any given afternoon, we can gaze out toward this patch (planted around the periphery of the vegetable garden in the back) and count on seeing many Monarchs and other butterflies eagerly visiting them ... and when you get up close, as I did a few nights ago, you can catch the bees at work ...


olivia said...

Those are wonderful photos IVG!! And I have to say that I think I like the yellow one the most! :) Wonderful job capturing those bees at work!

I don't have zinnias ... will have to add them to the IVG-Recommended list I have going, especially if they are so easy to grow and so profuse in beautiful blooms. :)

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

I can't believe you've never planted these Olivia! They were one of the first flowers I grew as a kid and I've always had a place for them in my flower gardens because they are so darn easy! And the colors you get are worth the price of admission and the wait! The more you grow them, the more you learn to appreciate their many great qualities, the cut flower aspect being one of the nicest ... they last over a week in the vase! And cheap too if you plant your own!