Zinnias

They bloom in vivid colors from summer until frost, are a snap to grow from seed, and attract birds and butterflies to your yard.

By Pam Ruch and Lauren Sloane

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Save for a Bright Future
You might think that seed saving is a complex challenge best left to advanced gardeners. Not true when you're talking about zinnias. It could not be easier, and when you save seeds, you not only get the colors you want (and only the ones you want), but you can also select seeds from the healthiest plants. Do this, and in a couple of generations of seeds, you will have developed your own strain of zinnias selected to perform well in your conditions.

Right now, in early fall, is the time to give this a try. Get a few envelopes and a pencil—don't forget the pencil because, trust us, you will not remember what is in the envelope. Simply clip off a dried flower head from each color that you want to save. Pull the flower apart and remove the seeds inside, or simply put the whole blossom in the envelope. Seal and identify the color. Keep it in a cool, dry place until it is time to plant next year. That's all there is to it. Now you are a seed saver!

Perfect Partners
If there's one thing that's better than a hearty border of cheerful zinnias, it is a plot of zinnias accompanied by a partner that shows them off to their best advantage. Try these winning combinations:

'Benary's Giant Lime' and Verbena bonariensis

'Big Tetra Mix' and Alternanthera 'Purple Knight'

'Cut and Come Again' in mixed colors and red fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum')

'Persian Carpet' and 'Blue Horizon' ageratum

'Profusion Orange' and Salvia farinacea 'Victoria'

'Star White' and black-eyed Susans

'Zowie! Gold Flame' and 'Purple Majesty' millet

What do you know about zinnias?

  • The zinnia got its name from 18th-century German botanist Johann Gottfried Zinn, who wrote the flower's first scientific description.
  • Zinnias are native to Mexico, where Aztecs originally dubbed these flowers mal de ojos ("hard on the eyes").
  • When zinnias were introduced to Europeans, the flowers were referred to as "poorhouse flower" and "everybody's flower" because they were so common and easy to grow.
  • Dwarf zinnias can be as short as 10 inches tall; the giants reach up to 4 feet.
  • Zinnias were once popularly called "youth and old age" because old blooms stay fresh as new blooms open.
  • The luminous 'Magellan Coral' zinnia was honored as a 2005 All-America Selections Winner.
  • From 1931 to 1957, the zinnia was Indiana's state flower. (It was replaced by the peony.)—L.S.
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