Today begins a series of posts about the flowers that I found most useful for bouquets during the 2022 growing season. They will appear in the order in which I felt they were most important, which is why I’m beginning with ZINNIAS. I suspect if one asked most flower farmers or cut-flower lovers their answer to “What flower worked hardest for you during the overall growing season?” their answer would likely be the same as mine. There were flowers that I liked better, and flowers that appeared earlier, but without doubt zinnias were the strongest workhorses in the garden overall. In my Zone 5b garden here in slightly northeast, central Indiana there were zinnias to cut from June 11th until our first frost on Oct 4th. And it’s not just that they have a long bloom period, but that their flowers come in such a wide array of colors allowing them to happily blend with and compliment other blooms. They also provide a lot of bulk in a bouquet, so one needs fewer flowers. And, the larger blooms like the “Benary Giant” or “Giant Cactus” series can be the stars of the bouquet, or they can be the supporting cast when the blooms get smaller toward the end of the season. Or there are varieties with slightly smaller flowers like the “Oklahoma,” “Cresto,” or “Queen” series. Even if you are not a cut flower producer, planting even a few zinnias will provide blooms all summer, and attract and benefit many, many types of pollinators with very little work on your part!
I’ve been growing zinnias for many decades. I can recall as a child, sprinkling the zinnia seeds carefully along the long, long row that separated our family’s vegetable garden from the dusty gravel road. Not only did it provide a bit of barrier from the dust, but those colorful flowers on tall stems helped screen what was often not a beautiful view of less than attractive vegetables. We were a super busy farm family, so weeds sometimes got an upper hand and spent vegetable plants were not removed in timely fashion. Beauty was not the goal. Providing enough food for the coming year was the aim, and that was always achieved despite a few weeds and empty rows. Those zinnias were the only non-edible crop on the entire farm!
In 2022 I actually grew 31 different varieties of zinnias in the gardens, not just for cut-flowers but because I was giving a presentation on zinnias to our local garden club and wanted as many kinds as possible. Some types were short, good for containers or edgings, or had unusual flower forms, like “Red Spider, ” “Aztec Sunset,” “Soleado,” “Crystal Series,” “Profusion Series,” “Persian Carpet,” “Magellan series” and others but they are not good for tall bouquets. To see the varieties I grew for cutting, click here.
Zinnias are one of the easiest annuals to grow. They need warm soil, so don’t put them outside or direct seed until the soil is warm. They cannot tolerate even a hint of frost. They appreciate adequate water, and a bit of fertilizer at planting and again mid-season. They vary in height from 8″ to 40″! Most are very good at branching, so give them some space. They are cut and come again flowers and the more you pick, the more they will produce. They are annuals, so don’t expect them to return next spring, but the seed is easy to save if varieties are kept isolated. Or, you can save seed and just get some surprises from the bees cross pollinating work!
Zinnias come in many forms as well. There are singles like the very top photo, with only a single row of petals, tidy dahlia forms with several rows of petals like the “Lavender Queen” in the second photo, shaggy cactus forms like “Inca” above, and the “crested form” which are like a powderpuff surrounded by a single row of flat petals shown below. There are several “crested” varieties available, including “Cresto,” Zinderella, and “Cupcake” but all of them seem to have a very low percentage of actual “powderpuffs” and are more likely to be singles like the first photo. Unlike most flowers harvested for bouquets, zinnias are allowed to open fully, but usually harvested before the golden “ring” (easily seen in the first photo) appears. Once that ring appears the flower will have a very short vase life because it will likely have been pollinated and will begin to form seed and brown. Purposefully, in my gardens some singles (like the orange flower in the very top photo) were grown and allowed to fully open to provide pollen and nectar for pollinators even though that made them poor candidates for bouquets. Zinnias are considered a “dirty” flower. If a few zinnias are put into a glass of water, it soon becomes brown and cloudy from bacteria formed. This can affect not only the vase life of the zinnia but the other flowers in the vase as well, so it’s best to put a few drops of bleach in the water when harvesting and to change the water in the vase daily.
In an attempt to get the earliest zinnias possible, many varieties were seeded indoors in mid-March, moved to the greenhouse in mid-April and transplanted into the gardens under row cover on May 12, which is about our average last frost date. The row cover was used to replace the “hardening off” process of moving plants in and out to adjust to outdoor conditions after having been sheltered indoors for weeks. It’s not so much for protection from cold, but as a protection from wind and direct sunlight that they have not experienced. Open tunnel ends allow a bit of breeze that gradually strengthens stems. Although they showed no visible ill effects, I don’t think they enjoyed going into cool soil which may have set back their flowering a few days. This year, the plan is to put one of the plastic covered berry boxes over the bed in early April to warm that soil before transplanting zinnias into the space.
Some varieties were direct seeded into beds on June 1st when the soil was finally above 60 degrees F. Interestingly, the direct seeded zinnias bloomed just two weeks later than those I’d babied and cared for since March! Lesson learned. This year, only a few of the zinnias (“Oklahoma White,” ” Miss Wilmott” pink, “Lilac Empress,” and “Isabellini” pale yellow) in colors I really need to combine with sweet peas, asters and Dutch Iris will be started indoors and all the others will be direct seeded.
If continually harvested or deadheaded, zinnias will keep branching and producing more flowers up until frost if they are given adequate moisture. A bit of liquid fertilizer in the water, or a layer of compost mid-season will help as well. However, by early September many of my zinnias were looking more tired and blooms were smaller. A few were getting powdery mildew and many of the old, heirloom varieties like “Envy,” and “Whirligig” were getting leaf spots. Zinnias are subject to powdery mildew if overcrowded or if conditions are very humid. Overhead watering can also trigger both powdery mildew and leaf spots, especially if done in the evening.
As usual, this year there is a new plan! That’s a big part of the fun of gardening for me, planning and plotting and then seeing if the results are what I expected and hoped for! There’s a variety of “Yoga” zinnias I haven’t tried before that are non-branching! They are best direct-seeded, closely spaced, one cut and done. I’m assuming that since the plants are not using energy to form branches, they will use that energy to form flowers quicker. (Crossing fingers that that logic is valid!) Note: there is another variety “Super Yoga” that is branching, so choose carefully. I’m going to do a seeding under a berry box as a very early crop in early to mid-May (depending upon weather conditions) and direct seed other varieties on either side of them in early June. When the Yoga are cut, that will provide plenty of space for the branching neighbors to expand. Then I’ll direct seed more rows of “Yoga” as other crops come out to hopefully have fresh, strong large flowers from early September until frost. “Yoga” is 36″ tall, double dahlia form, and comes in strong colors (orange, purple, scarlet, yellow, rose, white, salmon) that will compliment the autumn dahlias, purple millet and amaranths.
Speaking of colors, I can’t finish without mentioning the vast rainbow of colors available in zinnias. White, ivory, cream, pale yellow, lemon yellow, bright yellow, golden, soft orange, bright orange, deep orange, salmon, salmon rose, apricot, peach, pale pink, soft pink, medium pink, dark pink, rose, carmine rose, coral, red, scarlet, deep red, wine, lilac, lavender, purple, violet, lime and bright green. There are also bi-colors like “Zowie” and “Whirligig” and flowers with specks and streaks like “Peppermint Stick” and the “Pop Art” series.
And the revolutionary “Queen” series seems to add a luscious new color or two every year! These are smaller blooms, usually 2-3″ double dahlia form is extradorinary, often muted, antique-looking, dusky color blends. “Queen Lime Orange” is my personal favorite but you may also try “Queen Lime Red,” “Queen Raspberry Limeade,” “Queen Lime Blotch,” Queen Lime Peach,” and “Queen Lime Blush.” My Geo catalog lists 45 different varieties of zinnias, many of which are subdivided into specific colors, so choosing can be difficult.
For 2023, I’m not adding a larger number of zinnias or more space for zinnias because I felt there were plenty of flowers for the number of bouquets I intend to produce. I just need more zinnias that I can actually use! There were lots of zinnias that were nice, but their colors didn’t go with the other flowers available at the time so I’m growing fewer mixes, but more of the separate colors that co-ordinate well. I definitely needed more pale pinks, lavenders, purple and white. I gave a lot of space to “Envy” because I wanted green flowers (love them, and they go with everything!) but many of them were misshapen and they were very prone to disease. They are being replaced with “Magna Pistachio.” The Magna series was excellent in 2022 and I used all of the colors. I grew a lot of “crested” varieties but they were all disappointing so additional members of the “Queen” series will get that space. “Whirligig” was fun but again, prone to disease and too many of the flowers were defective so they are out. None of the shorter zinnias will get space in the potager or Cutting Garden this year, and I’m not growing any of the types with very small “beehive” flowers. They are cute in bouquets, but I’d rather use other flowers with contrasting shapes as fillers to make the bouquets more interesting and unique.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful. Let me know in the comment section…… I wonder what flower will win spot #2?
Thank you. This is just chock full of knowledge as well as encouragement. I do wonder..do you ever have to stake them. Mine this year grew to well over my head and yes I did stake them.
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Zowie! You must have good soil! No, none of my zinnias were more than 3 1/2′ but keep in mind that I was constantly harvesting 18-20″ stems for bouquets so that kept them at a reasonable height…no staking required even with our winds. Also, I don’t water zinnias often so their roots go deep…Thanks for commenting!
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Hi Carolee, Cindy Little ( my garden buddy) and I used to visit your gardens regularly. We also miss seeing you at Herb Day in Champaign, IL. Your blog really resonated! Your Zinna’s are absolutely stunning. We planted more zinnias this year too but nothing like your variety. Garden blessings in 2023! Sara
Sara Holmes BS RA LMT NCTMB Botanical Healing Arts Aromatherapy and Massage Instructor http://www.botanicalhealingarts.comhttp://www.botanicalhealingarts.com ________________________________
I keep in contact with Chuck Voigt and he comes to visit occasionally. He did one of his “singing in 100 gardens” here and all my friends and neighbors really enjoyed it. I too miss Herb Day, and was just looking at the stack of folders I’ve kept from all those years! Best of luck in 2023!
I also love zinnias, but don’t have a large garden so only grew a few in a pot last year. I did scatter the seeds so we’ll see what germinates this spring. Hoping for the best!
I saved some seeds as well, just for fun from the Queen Lime Orange and am interested to see what results! I grew some Zahara zinnias in pots last year for near my front door which now gets full sun since I pruned the shrubs drastically and they did great. May do that again!
Zinnias are one of my favorite cutting flowers which I grow in the garden. Such a variety and so easy to grow. A couple of years ago my granddaughter and I saved the seed heads, let them dry, and sprinkled them along hedgerows and the edge of the woods. They came up in some of the strangest places. Such a wonderful surprise!
That sounds like fun! Maybe I’ll do that with some of my saved seeds…I have lots of celosia & zinnia envelopes…way too many to grow for the gardens!
I haven’t tried growing Zinnias – another excellent suggestion from you. Thank you
Zinnias are SO EASY! Do give them a try. You will love them.
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Thank you. I will.