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In the Garden: Bright and easy, zinnias are annual favorite

Sun., May 26, 2013, midnight

The Zahara series of zinnias, including Double Fire shown here, have a mounding growth habit and eyecatching double blossoms. (Susan Mulvihill)
The Zahara series of zinnias, including Double Fire shown here, have a mounding growth habit and eyecatching double blossoms. (Susan Mulvihill)

Even though there are a lot of appealing annual flowers on the market, zinnias have always been my favorite. I love their bright colors, their easy-care nature and that they make wonderful cut flowers.

Annual flowers grow, bloom, produce seed and die in the course of a single growing season, while perennials come back year after year.

For a long time, I grew the standard California Giant zinnias (Zinnia elegans), which are tall plants with single, brightly-colored flowers. Then Cactus zinnias – with their pointed, somewhat disheveled-looking petals and wild colors – quickly captured my fancy. Not long after that, Whirligig zinnias sporting bicolor flowers found their way into my garden.

About 15 years ago, I first saw the Narrow-Leaf, or Thread-Leaf, zinnia (Z. angustifolia) at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga. It was love at first sight for me. While I found their compact, mounding growth habit attractive, it was their small, perfect flowers in orange, yellow or white that particularly caught my eye. The plants’ profuse blossoms brightened up the beds they were planted in.

Unfortunately, it was many years before this plant, or even seeds, became available to gardeners, especially on this side of the country.

Once the Profusion series of these zinnias hit the plant scene, it became an annual tradition for me to scoop them up at local greenhouses and squeeze them into my flower beds. Plants with orange or white blossoms were readily available initially but when Profusion Cherry came out, that immediately became my favorite. They look fabulous when paired with Salvia Victoria Blue or Blue Bedder.

Surely I should be a content zinnia gardener by now, right? That’s what I thought – but it doesn’t mean I stopped looking.

Last fall, while visiting Portsmouth, N.H., I toured the University of New Hampshire All-America Selections display garden. In addition to seeing many varieties of attractive annuals, I came across one of the newest types of zinnia that I instantly knew I must grow in my garden.

It’s the Zahara series (Z. marylandica), which includes burnt-orange Double Fire, Double Cherry, Double Strawberry, white and magenta Starlight Rose, orange and yellow Sunburst, and perky Zahara Yellow.

I haven’t been able to locate any Zahara seeds or plants locally yet, but online companies like Park Seed (, Harris Seeds (, Burpee ( and Territorial Seed ( sell the seeds. White Flower Farm (, Garden Crossings ( and Burpee have plants available on their websites.

No matter which type of zinnia suits your fancy, they all have the same cultural requirements. A member of the aster family, they love sunshine and are even drought tolerant, requiring just an average amount of water. They attract bees and butterflies and are low maintenance with long-lasting flowers. They are also considered deer-resistant.

All zinnias can be planted from seed or as seedlings now that the danger of frost is past.

Profusion and Zahara zinnias will reach about a foot in height and should be spaced 8 to 10 inches apart. California Giants, Cactus and Whirligig zinnias grow 2 to 3 feet tall and require about a foot between plants.

I enjoy adding zinnias to my vegetable garden for bright splashes of color and to attract bees for pollinating the flowers on my tomato, pepper, eggplant, squash and melon plants.

If you haven’t grown zinnias yet, consider giving them a try. You just might cultivate a love affair with this easy to grow, crowd-pleasing plant.

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via email at Visit her blog at for more gardening information, tips and events.

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