Photo and article by Donna Iverson
Zinnias will grow in poor soil and need little watering. The seeds sprout quickly and reliably to produce beautiful colorful flowers that bloom into fall. And they will grow in a weightless environment.
That’s right. They are grown on the international space station. And whether you are a beginning or experienced gardener, you can depend on zinnias to beautify your garden or yard with every color in the rainbow except blue.
A member of the Aster family, zinnias are native to the southwestern United States. In its native form, the zinnia is a small yellow or orange perennial flower with single petals. Because of that, the zinnia was never popular with American gardeners until as late as the 1920s. It was then that a horticulturist John Bodger hybridized the zinnia producing zinnias that were oversized and double-petaled. These giant zinnias competed in showiness with the rose and dahlias. With that modification, Zinnia seeds sold off the shelf and remain popular today.
Plant zinnia seeds in May and they will produce annual flowers throughout the summer until frost. Zinnias also make long-lived cut flowers, lasting in a vase from seven to twelve days. Heat doesn’t bother them and they will flourish in a xeriscape garden. Zinnias also are a great addition to a pollinator garden attracting butterflies, lady bugs and hummingbirds. They deter whiteflies and are not toxic to dogs, cats and horses.
As far back as the 1500, the zinnia was grown by the Aztecs, and was brought to Europe around that time by the Spanish. In 1798, the first zinnia seeds were offered for sale to colonists, but never gained popularity for another one hundred years. The zinnia is named after Johann Zinn, a German botanist who first described the plant in scientific literature in the mid-1700s.
There are about 20 zinnia species, most of them with the larger double-petals with names like Canary Bird, Cactus Chrysanthemum, and Persian Carpet. The petals are edible and the seeds reportedly can be used to make tea. But caution should be used, as some people may be allergic.
If you have children, zinnias are a perfect flower to grow as they quickly result in a bed of flowers that would delight any youngster. Order or buy seeds as soon as they become available in the spring.