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Jessica Walliser

Zinnias: A perfect flower for people and pollinators

Jessica Walliser
| Saturday, May 5, 2018, 4:14 p.m.
Several different types of zinnias planted together make a real impact in the garden.
Jessica Walliser
Several different types of zinnias planted together make a real impact in the garden.

Zinnias are an annual flower that deserves a spot in every landscape. Whether your garden is cottage-style or formal, there's a zinnia that will enhance it.

Though they're sometimes considered old-fashioned, there are dozens of new zinnia cultivars on the market that range in size from just a few inches tall all the way up to five feet in height. The short types look terrific edging garden beds or accenting vegetable garden plantings. The tall types are great for tucking in between perennials or shrubs in borders or foundation beds.

And zinnias aren't just prized by humans for their cheery colors, they're also relished by a broad array of pollinators. From bees and butterflies to beetles and hummingbirds, zinnias are a garden favorite. On sunny summer days, it's not unusual to find multiple species of pollinators sipping from a single zinnia patch.

As if those weren't reason enough to grow zinnias, there's more. Zinnias also happen to be very easy to grow. Yes, you can go to the garden center and purchase starter plants, but zinnias are incredibly easy to start from seed. You don't need a fancy grow light system to get these flowers started; just sow the seeds directly into the garden in mid to late May according to seed packet instructions.

Planting starter plants from the nursery allows you to have mature, blooming plants faster, but zinnias started from seed planted directly into the garden don't suffer from transplant shock, they're far less expensive, and you have a greater variety selection when starting from seed.

Some types of zinnias are prone to developing powdery mildew, a fungal disease that causes a white, powdery growth to cover the leaves. So, whether you plant from nursery-grown transplants or seed, be sure to select a variety that isn't susceptible to this pathogen.

Here are some of my favorite modern zinnias that are oh-so-easy to start from seed.

Profusion zinnias: These mildew-resistant zinnias are short in stature but big in bloom! They're a cross between two different zinnia species and they're not just resistant to powdery mildew, they're also heat, drought and humidity tolerant. And you don't have to deadhead them. Standing at just a few inches in height, these small-statured zinnias bloom all summer long and come in a diversity of bright colors, including orange, deep pink, apricot and white.

Star or Mexican zinnias: Another short zinnia variety that blooms prolifically, star zinnias are smothered in inch-wide flowers all summer long. They look great in pots and window boxes, in addition to adding a burst of color to in-ground gardens. These zinnias are super drought tolerant, too.

Magellan zinnias: This series of zinnias look like the classic old-fashioned zinnias but they max out at about 14-18 inches tall. They don't require staking and they bloom like crazy. You do have to deadhead them, though, to encourage more blooms. This series comes in several different colors, including cherry red, orange, yellow, pink and deep scarlet and the blooms are several inches across.

Zahara zinnias: This little, tough-as-nails zinnia is just 12 inches tall. Medium green foliage is covered with inch wide, double or single-petaled flowers. Though Zahara zinnias come in a wide range of colors, I'm especially fond of the bi-colors, including the pink and white petals of one called “Starlight Rose.”

Zinderella zinnias: This new variety may just stop you in your tracks. At first glance, the flowers look like a double coneflower. Shorter, densely packed petals center each bloom and are surrounded by a skirt of longer petals giving the bloom a pompon look. The brilliant color choices include red, lilac, peach, orange and hot pink. Each bloom is about 3 inches across. They look as good in a vase as they do in the garden. Plants average 4 to 5 feet in height, so keep it toward the back of the flower bed.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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