Zinnias: Mississippi's magnificent summer bloomers.
Summer days in Mississippi can be long, hot, and sultry. Garden flowers struggle, and even the most dedicated gardener's enthusiasm may wane in the oppressive heat. Ah, but there is a tried and true flower, the zinnia, that defies the dog days of summer and blooms with unabashed abandon to gladden the heart of many a discouraged, dispirited gardener.
Zinnias are heat-tolerant annuals that add color and zest to the summer garden. They have long been a mainstay of Mississippi gardens, and, chances are, your grandmother grew them. Inexpensive, accessible, and easy to grow, zinnias have been a staple of Southern gardens, both modest and sophisticated, for decades. Zinnias, no doubt, were an affordable flower for Depression-era gardens and World War II Victory Gardens, and, in July and August, they were the flowers that adorned country churches on Sunday mornings. Zinnias have been an integral part of our gardens and our history for years.
Depending on the cultivar, zinnias will grow two to three feet tall. There are several different varieties, and they come in a vast array of colors including, yellow, white, gold, pink, red, orange, purple, and green. The blossoms may be single or double, and they may range in size from large to small. Zinnias can be grown in just about any sunny location and can be grown in containers.
Zinnias are excellent cut flowers with a long vase life, and if the water is changed daily, they will last an inordinately long time. If for some reason you did not plant any zinnia seeds this year or if your garden is too shady, almost every farmers market has gorgeous zinnias for sale.
The virtues of this amazing flower are many, but I especially love zinnias because they attract pollinators, which every healthy garden so desperately needs. They are a magnet for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Zinnias literally bring the garden to life and give it color and movement. One does not really need a green thumb to grow zinnias, so why not try growing your own?
There are numerous cultivars of zinnias. Find the right one for your garden and for your needs.
My grandmother grew her zinnias in her large vegetable garden. She appreciated the hardiness of the zinnias, but they were never held in as high esteem as her roses and irises and gardenias. In fact, many folks called them "Old Maids," and I am not sure that was a compliment. But every August when the crops were laid by, and it was "Homecoming" or "Decoration Day" at the family cemetery, we would go to the garden and cut zinnias to decorate the graves of my ancestors. She would apologize and say, "The zinnias are all I have."
My grandmother, no doubt, would be amused that zinnias have found a respectable place in the garden and are sold by florists. If zinnias are all you have this summer, there is no need to apologize. You are blessed. Plant zinnias, and remember your ancestors. Every day this summer you will have flowers, and every day will be a "homecoming."
How to Grow Zinnias
WHERE AND WHEN--Plant zinnia seeds outside when the soil begins to warm in late spring, and all danger of frost has passed. However, in Mississippi, successive plantings of zinnia seeds will keep the flowers blooming until almost Thanksgiving. It is not too late to get started. If you are too impatient to wait for seeds to sprout, almost every garden center will have zinnia plants ready to bloom.
WATERING--Overhead watering is usually not recommended for zinnias because it encourages powdery mildew. However, if the zinnias have lots sun and good air circulation, a sprinkler system that runs in the mornings on really hot days may not be too detrimental.
FERTILIZATION--Zinnias certainly do not have to be coddled, but they do appreciate a little fertilizer, but not too much. Less is better.
CUTTING--Cutting and deadheading flowers will keep zinnias blooming all summer long. If you are using zinnias as cut flowers, cut early in the morning and immediately immerse in a bucket of water. Cut the stems at an angle just above a bud head, and before arranging them in a vase, strip the stems of lower foliage. Do not store in the refrigerator, and floral preservative is really not necessary.
PROBLEMS--Probably the most prevalent zinnia problem is powdery mildew, but rather than spray, since you want to keep attracting pollinators, thin the plants to improve air circulation or plant a new crop.
SAVE THE SEEDS--I have a garden friend who plants his grandmother's zinnia seeds every year and, if only for nostalgic reasons, they are indubitably the loveliest of all. To save seed, let the flowers dry on the stem. Lightly crush the flower heads to collect the seeds and store in a cool, dry place. Pass the seeds along to your garden friends.
CUT & COME AGAIN--This old-fashioned zinnia will not disappoint or fail to delight. Butterflies will find your garden irresistible! As the name implies, cut them and they will bloom again.
BENARY'S GIANT ZINNIAS--These zinnias have large, double flowers and are absolutely gorgeous, especially if you are growing them for cut flowers. These come in many colors and are magnificent.
PERSIAN CARPET--This variety is bi-colored and in deep gold and red tones. If those colors complement your garden, this is the zinnia for you.
OKLAHOMA SERIES--This zinnia is large, has a profusion of blooms, and is disease resistant.
PROFUSION--The Profusion zinnias are ideal for containers.