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Zinnias
Where flowers bloom, so does hope - Lady Bird Johnson

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If you didn't grow any Zinnias this year, put them on the top of the spring wish list for next year, and you will thank yourself over and over all season.  This is a plant that is started incredibly easily from seed, flowers very quickly, has a wide range of flower types and colors, withstands full sun and heat, makes an excellent cut flower, attracts bees and butterflies, and can make the difference between so-so garden bed and a spectacular garden showcase.  Whether a beginner or a seasoned gardener, there is a Zinnia out there for every taste, budget, and style.  Creating a Zinnia garden is the perfect way to teach children about gardening, and they will delight in the big, bright, bold colors. 

Zinnias are another member of the large Aster family of plants and originate in Mexico and the Southwest United States.  They come in a form suitable for every garden situation, including single, double, cactus, dahlia, ruffles, and pompon.   Colors include every shade except blue, and many are multicolored.  Most are prolific bloomers that add beautiful color to the landscape, and many have growth habits that make wonderful additions to  container plantings. The uses for Zinnias in the home garden are almost endless.  Use them as border plants, fillers for bare spots in perennial gardens, or massed in a garden all their own. 

Zinnias are ridiculously easy to start from seed, grow quickly, and adapt well to many gardening situations.  Seed can be started indoors and seedlings can be transplanted easily outside for earlier bloom, or the seeds can be started in the garden after the last frost date when the soil has warmed.  Germination is not as good in cold soil.  Bedding plants are also available, but since the seeds are so easy to grow, the need for buying bedding plants is questionable.  The photo at the bottom of the page shows seeds at about 1.5 weeks and 4 days.  Average soil is good enough for Zinnias, and they will tolerate a little neglect here and there as far as watering and weeding, as long as you don't go to extremes. 

Zinnias do need regular deadheading for best performance.  Never doing this chore will seriously reduce both the number of blooms and the life span of the plant itself.  Although most individual Zinnia plants bloom for many weeks, eventually they do go into a rather rapid decline, turning into an unsightly brown dead-looking plant.  Therefore, the best policy is to start new plants every few weeks during the growing season to replace the spent plants.  Once the plant starts to decline, there's no turning back, so just pull it and replace with a new one.  I know it's hard to let go when there is one sickly little bloom left on there, but you have to be strong!  I personally keep a flat of seedlings going at all times.  As I transplant a seedling to the garden, I refill the potting soil and plant a new seed in its place.  This insures that I always have plants waiting to go when I need them. 

In a Habitat type situation, Zinnias are veritable beneficial insect magnets. As noted above, they will thrive in less-than-perfect soil conditions as long as their minimum sun requirement is met (at least 6 hours a day).

Problems with Zinnias are few, but there can be issues with fungus, bacteria, and mildew.  Mealybugs, spider mites, and caterpillars can also cause damage.   Plant spacing to allow for air circulation, and bottom watering will circumvent mildew problems, and a strong stream of water with or without insecticidal soap should keep mealybugs and spider mites within reasonable limits.  The best pest control, however, is to use other plants that attract beneficial insects that will feed on the pests, such as in companion planting.  A well-rounded, healthy garden rarely has serious insect infestations. 

Zinnias are not a poisonous plant and are safe for gardens frequented by children and pets.  However, they are not a culinary flower, and are not used as food garnishes, etc., though cut flowers do make a colorful and elegant centerpiece for the table.

 

 

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