Zinnia Flowers: A Plant With Many Uses and Abuses

The Zinnia flower – at ease in any garden, thriving on hot weather, a quick source of cut flowers all summer long, plus the zinnia possesses virtues obvious to beginner and expert alike.

The uses of Zinnia plants are so varied and, unfortunately, its abuses so monumental that the practiced gardener is apt to dismiss the whole group as “just zinnias” seen so often they are hardly noticed.
Colorful Zinnia flowers in bloom

Zinnia Plant… The Most Popular Annual?

At one time the zinnia was probably the world’s most popular annual.

The meteoric rise of the zinnia plants, in the twenties, stemmed almost entirely from the introduction of the dahlia-flowered type, which was a true-breeding mutation bearing flowers of enormous size.

In that era of big money, big cars, big aspirations, nothing seemed more natural than that America’s technological leadership should produce the biggest zinnia, too.

When Europe, in the guise of the Royal Horticultural Society, awarded its gold medal to the dahlia-flowered zinnia, the plant breeders started reaching for adequate superlatives to describe the huge flowers.

Big zinnias became synonymous with zinnias; in fact, American gardens are still recovering from that period when “biggest” meant “best.”

Planting Zinnia Flower For Maximum Effectiveness

There is a right way to use these giant zinnia plants for maximum effectiveness, but there are also situations where other, more subtle zinnias will fit the needs of both house and garden more adequately.

A well-designed planting of zinnias in a small yard landscaping project can be spectacularly beautiful, and even the gardener who specializes in exotic plants has occasions to be thankful for a reliable flower bed on which he spends minimum time.

Actually, a good case can be made for a border of nothing but zinnias. Cultural requirements are identical and blooming times close enough to provide solid color throughout the bed until-frost.

Such a border would definitely contain giant zinnias—that’s just where they belong, in a mass.

Along with old favorites, like dahlia-flowered and California Giant, the cactus-flowered type, who’s shaggy-petals catch a mood of informality, which suits the modern home so well.

A proper giant in size and plant habit, the cactus-flowered zinnias are available in red, yellow, white and the full mixture generally called Giant Hybrids.

Huge Zinnias Effective in Landscape

These huge zinnias can be tremendously effective if they are planted to show off their virtues, not their faults. The plant construction gives the clue: they branch low, are relatively open and bear their flowers at the top.

It’s the top that should be shown off, so never plant in a single row, but rather in a block or mass at least 5 feet wide.

Seedlings should be thinned to stand 12 inches apart, or less, and fertilized liberally so plants will develop to intertwine and show a solid color on top.

The back may be masked by fence or wall, but in front, and wherever the sides of the plants will show, smaller zinnias should be used to bring the color mass right down to ground level. This is where the half-dwarfs come in for edging.

Both types of edging plants should stand 6 inches apart to begin with, but should be thinned ruthlessly to 12 inches.

Otherwise they will grow tall, if unable to spread naturally.

Such an all-zinnia border means easy garden work when the dog days of summer.

If the plant habits are studied and the many varieties used accordingly, the homely zinnia becomes a handsome landscape feature. They also are “must have” plants for the butterfly garden.

Recommended Reading: What Are The Best Plants To Attract Butterflies?

zinnia flower

Propagating Zinnia Plants

Zinnia plants are inexpensive and easy to grow. Especially when you propagate them from seeds. You must sow zinnia flower seeds directly to a sunny flower bed to avoid disturbing the developing roots.

Peat pots, pots made of cow dung, and biodegradable containers serve as great starting points for growing zinnia flowers indoors. Plant them four to six weeks before the last frost in your region.

Provide enough space for each seed ideally two feet apart. This allows air to circulate properly around the plants. Moreover, zinnia plants planted too close to each other frequently suffer from powdery mildew and other diseases. Also, avoid overhead watering.

Tall plants and a wide variety of zinnia flower colors come from seed propagation. You can get them in your local garden center.

Zinnia Care

How to care for zinnias.

As overhead watering may get your zinnia plants sick, water them from the base. Use a soaker hose to keep the leaves and the petals dry during watering. Provide a well-drained soil to your zinnia plants.

Mature zinnias and grown flowers are drought tolerant and would need less watering. For as long as you got the placing right, with full sun and proper amount of water, the zinnia flowers will bloom for a very long time.

The peak growth of your zinnia plant greatly relies on deadheading and flower removal. This helps the plant to produce more abundant blooms. To add some color, try growing zinnia plants in your flower garden.

Images: Swami Stream | Tanaka