by Nita Holstine  


  Zinnias are the flower that gets started when all the rest are finished up. They are not a cool weather plant, but with regular watering and fertilizing they will delight you all summer long.  Few other flowering plants can withstand our extreme heat and  keep blooming.

  Some instructions call for starting the seeds early in small containers to set outdoors when the night temps have warmed.  Don�t do it unless you can give them protection. They won�t do nearly as well as seeds sown where they will grow.  They will stay wilted as the hot sun hits in the afternoon. Spend your time preparing your flowerbed.  We don't have not soil but sand and add as much humus as possible. The sand doesn't really mix with the added humus so much as it just separates, and in a rain storm, just washes away. Raised beds will all have empty corners where the sand and soil drain away. I like to bury the organic material about 6 to 8 inches deep with the soaker hose where the plant roots will be growing. The top of the soil never needs to be damp except when you are just getting the seeds to sprout.

  All the seed brands and companies we tried had very good germination rates and planted about 6� apart for the large varieties was plenty of space. I have had super germination from volunteers of the previous year's blooms.  If you try the dwarf varieties, remember that they won�t have long stems if your are expecting cut flowers.  Plant the dwarf types closer together so they can fill in a bed. Some will be as big as 3 feet but I have found that being so short makes it difficult to trim and gather blooms.

  The very best flower bed was on the east side of a barn complete with soaker hose. The Zinnias had protection from the harsh North spring winds as well as the worst of the hot summer afternoon sunshine. When I added a soaker hose to the existing bed, the number of blooms doubled. What a pleasant surprise.

 Vases can be very pretty and you can find bargains at yard sales. The florist shop at the local grocery has a great selection at good prices.  When the blooms are at their peak, I fill every tall glass and jar I can find.  Zinnias do come in a wide variety of colors but I was surprised by the shades of each color and delighted to find endless combinations, white and yellow accenting the darker reds, purples, oranges. 

  As you pick your beautiful blooms, do it early in the day or at least after the sun is off of them, never when they are stressed or dry. If they are limp, wait until they are well watered and it is cool. Cut at an angle with sharp scissors.  I�ve heard of using a bucket of water to stand the flowers up in as they are cut.  I try to cut just a few dozen at a time, get them inside being careful not to crush the blooms; take off all the leaves and get them quickly into water.  Move into vases with colors of choice after all beds have been tended.  A big bouquet of yellows and oranges looks so nice in our bathroom.  The variegated types are an unusual contrast and my current favorite for my desk. 

  Zinnias will attract hummingbirds, bees and lots of butterflies.  Never leave the blooms on until they die unless you are wanting matured seeds for saving. The plant thinks its trying to finish its seeds and will start to shut down.  You don't generally get any good usable seeds from hybrids. I have drying silica and plan on