Zinnias are economical and ideal for hot and dry summer gardens.

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Zinnia 'Magellan' mix. Picture courtesy BallStraathofZinnia 'Magellan' mix. Picture courtesy BallStraathofThese bright and beautiful summer flowers and have not only earned their place in our gardens for their good looks. Read on to see what these special plants have to offer.

Zinnia 'Zahara' mix. Picture courtesy BallStraathofZinnia 'Zahara' mix. Picture courtesy BallStraathofZinnias are cheerful summer flowers which are ideal for hot and dry summer gardens, blooming in nearly every bright colour imaginable.  They must be one of the easiest summer flowers to grow from seeds sown directly into garden beds, where they grow quickly and reliably, making them most economical and a great choice for beginner gardeners and old pros alike.  

These natives of Mexico are so beloved by gardeners that breeders are continually coming up with new and exciting cultivars for the garden, and they are now available in a diversity of flower colours and a variety of sizes and flower shapes, some with flower heads up to 15cm across. They bloom from late spring until the first hard frosts, and are available in white, cream, green, yellow, apricot, orange, red, bronze, crimson, purple, pink, and lilac.

Zinnia flowers come in a number of shapes, including ‘beehive’, ‘button’, and ‘cactus’, and there are double, semi-double and dahlia-like ‘pompon’ flowered varieties. The plants also come in different heights that range from dwarfs not exceeding 15cm in height to cut flower beauties that grow 90cm tall.

In the Garden:

From petunia pink to daisy yellow, zinnias come in every eye-catching hue (except true blue), and because both single and mixed colours are available, you can match them with your favourite perennial or annual flowers, as well as foliage plants. They are also invaluable in herb and vegetable gardens, attracting many pollinators. They look especially beautiful when you sprinkle your seeds among a mixture of flowers such as dahlias, marigolds, asters, and petunias.

Zinnia 'Profusion' mix. Picture courtesy BallStraathofZinnia 'Profusion' mix. Picture courtesy BallStraathofIn the symbolism of flowers it is said that zinnias symbolize thoughts of absent friends, and for those who are present, they are sure to spark loads of admiration from family, friends, and casual passers-by alike. Other creatures love them too, and wherever they are planted butterflies bees and other pollinators will be attracted to their cheery flowers.

Zinnias are popular for cutting gardens and will brighten up any bouquet. The dwarf varieties are beautiful in mixed containers, window boxes and hanging baskets, and are also reliable border plants, while the taller varieties are perfect for the background of a garden bed. There’s really a zinnia for every garden!

Cultivation/Propagation:

Zinnias grow best in climates with long, hot, dry summers, and grow well throughout South Africa because they are extremely heat tolerant and water-wise. However, in humid regions they are susceptible to fungal diseases, but new and improved varieties like 'Zahara' and ‘Profusion’ are available that are more resistant to rust and other fungal diseases.

Zinnia Double' Zahara' Raspberry Ripple. Picture courtesy BallStraathofZinnia Double' Zahara' Raspberry Ripple. Picture courtesy BallStraathofGrowing zinnias from seed might be one of the easiest gardening tasks of the year. As soon as the weather warms up in spring they are sown directly into garden beds, where they will germinate within four to seven days in soil temperatures between 20 and 24°C, and the plants should start flowering within 8 to 10 weeks after sowing.

If you prefer to buy zinnia plants in seedling trays from your garden centre, to ease their transition in the garden, prune the plants back by one-third, then sit back and watch your zinnia patch mature and flourish. If you sow or plant zinnias every couple of weeks at the beginning of summer, this will extend their flowering period.

Choosing a location that gets full sun is essential for them to bloom at their fullest potential. Zinnias are adaptable to most soil conditions, but the ideal soil will be well-drained and fairly rich in organic matter. Soil with a pH between 5.5 and 7.5 is ideal.

Sow as per the instructions on your seed packet and cover with soil as they require darkness to germinate. Keep the beds moist but not soggy until germination takes place.  Once established zinnias are quite drought tolerant and should be watered judiciously. To maximize growth and blooms fertilise lightly with any good product for flowering plants, and to encourage the plants to produce more blooms, cut off the old flowers regularly - a process called “deadheading”.

Zinnia 'Zahara' Double Fire. Picture courtesy BallStraathofZinnia 'Zahara' Double Fire. Picture courtesy BallStraathofZinnias are summer annuals and will die with the first hard frost.  If you want them to reseed, let the last flowers of the season mature fully and scatter their seeds.

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

Bacterial and fungal spots, powdery mildew, and bacterial wilt may affect zinnias. Minimize wetting of foliage and space the plants properly to allow good air circulation around the leaves.

Caterpillars, mealybugs, and spider mites may also cause problems. Some leaf damage is not an issue, so avoid spraying unless there’s a true infestation.

Toxicity:

Zinnias are not a poisonous plant and are safe for gardens frequented by children. They are also safe to plant around animals because they are non-toxic to dogs, cats and horses. However, they are not a culinary flower, and are not used as food garnishes, etc.