In last week’s blog post, I discussed creating a pollinator playground garden by planting flowers that support pollinators. This week, I’d like to place a spotlight on one of my favorite plants from this garden, the zinnia. They come in a seemingly endless variety of colors, shapes, and sizes and have won my heart many times over.
Believe it or not, my love affair with zinnias started relatively recently. Back in 2018, when I happened to plant a few seeds in the garden, I was introduced to zinnias. Before that, I wasn’t even aware they existed. However, it didn’t take long for me to become completely smitten with these beautiful blooms that quickly became the workhorses of the garden.
Zinnias are typically annuals, native primarily to North America. They are part of the daisy family (Asteraceae) along with coneflowers, dandelions, daisies, sunflowers, and thistles (yay, thistles!), to name a few. Their petals can take several forms, including a single row with visible center (Single-flowered zinnia), numerous rows with invisible center (Double-flowered), and numerous rows with visible centers (Semi double-flowered). The flowers are further defined based on their shape, including ‘button,’ ‘beehive,’ and ‘cactus.’ The plants also come in different heights depending on variety, varying between 4-40 inches, making them a versatile candidate for any position in the garden bed.
These flowers prefer to be planted by directly sowing their seeds, as they tend to dislike transplanting. However, if you start them indoors, grow them in biodegradable containers that can be placed directly into the garden to minimize root disturbance. For optimum performance, choose a location that has full sun with well-draining soil that is rich in organic material. The ideal soil pH is between 5.5 and 7.5. When planting, pay attention to spacing and make sure to allow room for adequate air circulation. Spacing and watering at the plant base will help prevent foliar diseases such as bacterial and fungal spots, bacterial wilt, and powdery mildew.
Zinnias have an extended bloom time, flowering from late spring until the first frost. Pinching off the top 3-4 inches of the plant when they are 8-12 inches tall will promote bushier plants with more abundant flower production. It will also cue the plants to produce longer stems, which will make them ideal for cut flowers and bouquets. Zinnias look fabulous in bouquets, either by themselves or intermixed with other flower varieties, and have a long vase-life. You can encourage further blooming by deadheading spent flowers, making these plants flower-producing machines! The more you cut, the more they produce, giving you, and the pollinators, an endless supply of gorgeous flowers.
Besides their ease of growing, long bloom time, and abundant blooms, zinnias have won my heart because they are pollinator magnets. Their bright, daisy-like, solitary flowers make them a favorite of butterflies and bees. Interestingly, even though bees cannot see the color red, they will still visit red zinnias, most likely due to the ultraviolet markings on the petals. And because zinnias bloom for a significant portion of the growing season, they are a continuous food source for pollinators, often when other food sources are gone. Last year, I was thrilled when migrating monarchs stopped to re-fuel in my garden in late October. They fed heavily on the zinnias, one of the few plants still producing flowers.
I do not doubt that I will continue to grow zinnias in my garden each season, as I love them for so many reasons. I can enjoy them in the garden or indoors in a bouquet, and I can watch the pollinators enjoy them as well. I hope you consider growing zinnias if you haven’t already. Their cheery blooms will brighten the garden and your life as they have mine.
Source: The Farmer’s Almanac