full garden of zinnias

Zinnia, your heat-loving, brightly adorned friend

We all have that friend—the one the heat never seems to bother. The one who hates the snow and shivers when it drops below 80 degrees. They wear bright, contrasting colors and lots of patterns. They have that attitude that they can get through anything. If you don’t have that friend, then you probably are that friend. And we all love you to pieces!

Flowers are so often like people we know—welcome to the wild, colorful world of the zinnia.

Once considered ugly by the Spanish explorers who first encountered it in what is now the southwestern United States and Mexico, the scraggly little wildflower was unfairly named mal de ojos, “sickness of the eye.” But the German physician and botanist Johhann G. Zinn (from whom the flower gets it name) liked so much he brought it home to study and cross-pollinate, creating the wide spectrum of flowers we now know. It was so easy to grow and so hardy, that Europeans referred to the zinnia as the “everybody flower.” The Victorians liked them so much, they decided they should represent thoughts of absent friends. Today, it has become a very popular cut flower and garden plant, and why not? It grows from zones 2 to 11! (To put that into perspective, there are 13 growing zones.)

isolate pink flower zinnias with long stems and leaves on a white backgroundIf you are a fan of daisies, then you will love the zinnia. The two are related, but the zinnia comes in many, many more colors—just about every color except blue and black, in fact. There are single and double-petal varieties as well as two-toned, multi-colored, and even striped blooms. You will find these blooms from early summer to the first frost, so you can see their bright happy faces for several months out of the year.

Invite your summer-loving friend in for a visit

Company is good for about week, and zinnias know when they have worn out their welcome. They will last about a week as a fresh cut flower. They are inexpensive and available all summer. Plus, if you have allergies, zinnias won’t exacerbate them. They have made multiple appearances on lists of plants and flowers least likely to trigger sneezing fits.

To get the most from them, buy them as locally as you possibly can, so they don’t have to travel far to see you. Since they have hollow stems, they can bend and break easily. However, you can tip the flower upside down and fill these living straws with water to keep the stems strong and prevent them from bending. Look for upright, firm blossoms that are about three-fourths open. Check the middle of the flower. You want a clean middle with very little pollen. As cut flowers, they can be quite delicate, so your florist will take extra care not to bruise them, as should you as you arrange them.

You will know your visit is coming to an end when the edges of petals turn brown and feel soft. The middle will get bigger, and you will start to see more pollen.

Growing outdoors

Zinnias are best as cut flowers when they are cut as close to the source as possible, so why not grow your own? Like your summer-loving friend, zinnias love hot weather. However, they are really adaptable, too. If you plant them too early, they will be fine, but don’t expect rapid growth. They will still wait for the heat before they start to grow. They are drought-tolerant and deer-resistant, so if you forget to water them for a day or two during the hottest part of the summer, they will be fine.

They will grow anywhere from eight inches to four feet tall and produce blooms as small as one inch and as large as seven inches across, depending on the variety you find. Zinnias need full sun, so the south side of your home is perfect for them. Plant them in large groups in borders and edges. You can deadhead them to encourage more blooms—or don’t, and they will reseed themselves. When you are ready to bring some inside, cut them above the double leaves and watch as you get two new stems with buds.

To plant zinnias outdoors, loosen about six or eight inches of soil, and plant the seeds about a quarter-inch deep, half a foot apart. They hate water on their leaves and petals, so avoid mildew (especially if you live in a humid climate), and water them at the roots. Enjoy them (and the butterflies and hummingbirds they attract) all summer.

Growing in containers

A hanging basket full of creeping yellow zinnia.Don’t you just love your easy-going friend? So relaxed and flexible, like summer time should be. The zinnia is so relaxed and adaptable, it will be every bit as happy living in a container as it will in a garden. So head over to your local greenhouse for a package of seeds or a small starter plant.

Any type of container will do, provided it has plenty of drainage, so look for lots of holes in the bottom of whatever pot you buy. Material and shape don’t matter much, so find what makes you happy. Size is relative to the variety you want to grow. The 8-inch dwarf varieties won’t need a very big container, but the 4-foot tall varieties will, in order to reach their full potential.

Zinnias can survive in just about any soil, but since they prefer to be on the dry side, look for a light, organic planting mix with peat moss. You may even want to drop a layer of pebbles down in the bottom before you add the mixture.

If you are using seeds, fill your pot with the soil and poke them about a quarter-inch into the soil, about six to eight inches apart.

If you are starting with a small plant or plants, decide how many of them will be sharing a container, fill it about two-thirds full, and dig small holes just the right size for the root ball of the plant. Pour more potting mixture into the pot until it is full and the root balls are covered, and then pat it down gently. Remember, zinnias like plenty of drainage so don’t pack it down.

Once your seeds or your plant is in the dirt, water it well—until water runs out the bottom. After the water has stopped running out, pick up the pot and test its weight. If it is still light, then the soil did not get evenly soaked. Try it again until the pot feels heavy. Put it in a sunny spot. Keep seedlings moist, and allow plants to dry out between watering sessions.

Plants and Petals can help you find local sources for zinnias

At Plants and Petals, we love our come-what-may summer friends and the zinnias of whom they remind us. And we are passionate about connecting you to the local plant and flower professionals who can help you foster the joy of all things growing and pretty. Visit our website for a directory of people who will understand you—and all your quirky friends.