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Stay with the old standby of a zinnia

Lilliput zinnias make for a nice border with their miniature blooms. John Zvirovski / The Sun

Through the years, many popular flowers seem to come and go with the trends and colors of the season. Some are old standbys whereas others are only popular for a few years and disappear. Many of the ones that always seem to remain are petunias, marigolds, daisies, snapdragons and geraniums. Others seem to be popular one decade and then rarely seen for years to come.  

The zinnia seems to be one flower that was very popular in the past when I was growing up. As the years have gone by, I tend to see less and less of them in the gardens today. There was a time when I had not even grown a zinnia myself for over a decade, but times have changed.

I think one of the reasons I did not plant it was because I was always disappointed by its development and blooming ability. Of course, I had to bang my head against the wall wondering why I could not grow a decent one in the garden. All I could remember was how nice they looked in my memory from the past. Well, common sense finally took hold and I realized the locations I was planting them in did not receive the high light requirements in which they are accustomed.   

A few years ago, I spotted a pretty plant in a nursery and decided to buy it for a container. The container happened to be in full sunlight and on top of a pedestal. It was one of the prettiest zinnias I have grown! Then I was looking at my neighbor’s garden and they had grown numerous of them, and they were all gorgeous and full of bright flowers. The common denominator in both equations was they were getting the full sunlight they required.   

Zinnias like to be directly sown into the garden when the soil temperature is at least 50 degrees to assist in germination. Once they sprout, the plants are on their own and will take off in no time. They prefer a minimum of 6 hours of daylight and an organic soil. They will tolerate poorer soils but have an aversion to highly alkaline soils. After the plant is about 6 to 8 inches tall, pinch the ends to promote a bushier and healthier plant full of blooms. As the blooms fade, clip them off to promote continuous bloom throughout the season. Their leaves are typically lance-shaped and broad and have the texture of light sandpaper.  

The zinnia can be wonderful for borders, midsections or even the backgrounds of a garden, depending on the variety you are planning. For the borders, try the Lilliput or Dreamland Series, which grow from 10 to 12 inches in height. The Lilliput have small 2-inch flowers covering the plants whereas the Dreamland Series has large 4-inch blooms that are astounding along your garden’s edge. They come in red, pink, rose, yellow, purple, lavender and white.

The stunning Aztec Sunset variety will amaze you with its unique qualities. At only 10 inches tall, it develops beautiful 2- to 3-inch double blooms in bicolor shades of burgundy, yellow, orange and brown - a standout along the garden’s edge because of its autumn shades of brilliance.  

For the midsections of your garden, try the Profusion Series with 2-inch single and double flowers or the Magellan Series with 4- to 5-inch double flowers. Both grow between 12 to 15 inches in height and are quite bushy. These come in all the mainstay colors along with coral, apricot, ivory and cherry.  

The next stage is in the upper midsections of the garden with the Zahara Series that grow from 12 to 18 inches in height and produce single 2 ½-inch flowers of vibrant colors. You can try the Zahara Doubles also that have similar characteristics with its numerous-petalled flowers. The Candy Mix will grow from 18 to 24 inches in height and produce a scabiosa-style flower.  

For the backgrounds try the Giant Cactus Flower Mix with its huge 4- to 6-inch blooms atop 20- to 30-inch stems. The flowers have long needlelike petals similar to the cactus dahlias. The stunning large flowers of the Big Red variety will produce 5- to 6-inch double flowers on top of 3-foot plants. And don’t forget to add the eye-catching Uproar Rose variety with its large 5-inch double flowers of magenta rose.

Zinnias are great attractors of butterflies and hummingbirds. They are rarely affected by insects, but on occasion can be attacked by spider mites. A good spray from the hose and these can be kept under control. They should also be planted in an area of good air circulation, as they can be susceptible to mildew on the leaves. Overall, these are amazing annuals with few negative problems in the garden. Not only are they resilient, they are very easy to grow.  

There are so many different types you can choose from, yet they seem to be fading from the garden scene. I, for one, have begun planting these great annuals again now that I realize what I was doing wrong. There is something about this flower that just stands out among so many others, but yet, I have overlooked them for so many years.

Like many other plants in the landscape, some of the most common ones of the past need to come back onto the scene to show their true colors. After all, it is probably the reason it is one of the few flowers that stand out in my mind as a child. If I can remember something from that long ago, then it must be worth having around for many years to come.

Begin to refamiliarize yourself with these great heirlooms of the past. They may change in varieties and some new colors may be added with time, but overall, they never lose their identity in the garden landscape.