Cut and Come Again Zinnias

by Julie Barnes

In hot, hot weather heat-and-drought-tolerant Zinnias are always dependable. Thriving in sunny locations with low humidity and sparse rainfall, these annuals liven up gardens flaunting every color imaginable, except for blue, in an array of shapes and sizes. Like dahlias or chrysanthemums, zinnias exhibit single, double, semi- double, or cactus blooms in heights ranging from 6 to 48 inches tall to match any need. Most gardeners recall growing zinnias in their childhood. They are a reliable choice for a novice gardener or even to spark children's interest in gardening where their large seed is simple to sow. In addition to being one of the easiest flowers to grow, zinnias are attractive and make excellent cut flowers.

Zinnias are members of the Asteraceae (Compositae) Family. The genus Zinnia was named after Botany professor Johann Gottfried Zinn, who first labeled the flower in 1753. Original zinnias were small weedy wildflowers with dull purple blooms that came from Mexico. Spanish explorers considered them to be so ugly that they referred to them as "eyesores." In the 16th century when "eyesore" seeds were brought back to Europe, the flower was considered to be so dreadful no one wanted it. Botanists worked hard for many years to finally cultivate a beautiful looking flower from these seeds and by the 18th century, zinnias were commonly found in Victorian gardens. After that, zinnias became popular in the United States as breeding efforts lead to the development of more outstanding varieties which still continue today.

Strong stems, especially in taller varieties, make Zinnias outstanding cut flowers. Classified as cut-andcome-again flowers, snipping blooms often encourages plants to branch out with new shoots. Once a flower stem is cut above a pair of leaves, two more stems with flower buds should then take its place. Cut flowers can last up to 7 days if harvested as soon as buds open and when petals are tight.

In warm, rainy, or humid climates Zinnias are prone to powdery mildew. In cool climates, it will often attack plants in late summer or fall when chilly nights cause moisture to condense on the leaves. To keep this fungus at bay, overhead watering should be avoided and plants need spaced adequately to provide good air circulation. The spread of mildew on zinnias can also be reduced by spraying them with a protective coating of a baking soda solution (1/2 teaspoon baking soda in 2 quarts of water with a few drops of liquid soap). Growing powdery mildew resistant Zinnia varieties may help to get around this problem as well.

Zinnias are best planted in areas of full sun in average well drained soil. Since they are hot weather plants they come alive in warm temperatures while languishing under cooler conditions. Even though plants can be found in local garden centers, growing them from seed offers the best choice in zinnia varieties. Seeds can either be sown directly in the garden or else indoors five to six weeks before the last spring frost date. They will germinate in five to ten days generally blooming three months later.

In Victorian times, certain flowers had a special meaning to communicate feelings. A Zinnia conveyed thoughts for remembering an absent friend. These colorful annuals are an amazing sight to behold, eye catching to us instead of "eyesores." Like the gift of friendship something to cherish