Short or tall, Zinnias dazzle in the garden and the vase


I can’t think of an easier flower to grow than zinnia. When I was a kid we always had the old fashioned tall growing types. I think my mom still has some pictures of my sister and I standing next to them and they were taller than either of us.

We never bought plants or seeds. All we did was save seeds from year to year in a paper bag and we had a mixture of every color imaginable. All we needed was an area with plenty of light.

Zinnias thrive in nearly any type of soil. They prefer a well-drained sandy loam with plenty of organic matter, but they tolerate most soil types and moisture regimes. When seeding it is best to wait until soil temperatures get near 60 degrees.

That was a push in Maine, but Mom was never in a hurry. We often didn’t get them in the ground until early July and we still had tons of them. It seldom pays to try to stretch the season.

There’s another thing I always noticed about zinnias. They attract butterflies, lots of them. That’s something that was always cool for a young kid.

It’s nice to have pretty flowerbeds, but zinnias have more attributes than that. Flowers hold in a vase for as much as a week. Proper cutting increases their useful life, sometimes even more than that.

Flowers should be re-cut at an angle under water and placed in tepid water initially. I know people naturally think flowers should be placed in cold water, but when water is cold plants don’t imbibe it as quickly. Therefore they become less hydrated.

Changing the water during the week is helpful also as are floral preservatives. If water gets cloudy it should be changed more often. Cool water is fine for subsequent changings.

Profusion zinnias are the dwarf types, and they emerged on the market in the mid-1990s. They have several advantages over the older types, particularly for flowerbed use. They are profuse bloomers and due to their shorter height they blend better with most other bedding plants. They also are fabulous in mixed pots.

Another advantage at least for garden centers is that they can be established successfully as plants. The taller types have such a short useful shelf life that it’s not worth growing seedlings to transplant. They become too leggy too quickly.

Profusion zinnias make an instant garden. They also are nice for bud vases and other short table arrangements. I know in our house large table arrangements eventually get knocked over.

As if their beauty weren’t enough zinnia flowers are also edible and can be used to garnish a salad. They also make a citrus-like tea. This tea helps with constipation.

Spider mites and aphids are the most common insect pests. Both can be controlled and frequent inspection is the first step. Sometimes all that’s needed to control them is a good bath with dish soap. Imidacloprid is a systemic insecticide that works good too, but don’t eat the flowers if you spray.

Good selection of profusion zinnias

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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