Zinnias are just what we need this summer

I double-dog dare you not to smile when you see a patch of zinnias. They are irresistibly bright and cheerful. Seriously, flowers that are colorful and easy to grow — that makes me smile.

Let’s start at the beginning. Zinnias grow quickly from seed, so there is no need to start them in trays prior to placing them in the soil. After the last frost, the best thing to do is simply pick a sunny spot and plant the seeds directly in the soil. Aim to place the seeds at a shallow depth, about a quarter-inch deep, and space the seeds 6 to 8 inches apart. Water regularly and you should see seedlings in a week, and colorful blooms in about two months.

There are many different varieties to choose from. A quick search on the Johnny Seeds website showed 35 different zinnia seeds for sale. That’s a lot of choices.

Single, double and semi-double are the three main types of blooms. Single is a simple row of petals around a visible center. Double has numerous rows of petals and you can’t really see the center. Semi-double is a good choice, with numerous rows of petals and clearly defined centers.

Next, think about how big is too big and how high is too high for your space. If you have the room and really want to make a statement, the giant 4-foot-tall zinnias are showstoppers. I like a mix of color, and have heard it referred to as a zinnia quilt because of the many combined colors.

My favorite example of this size zinnia is in the West Virginia Master Gardener’s Demonstration Garden at the State Fair of West Virginia. Year after year, this bed of tall flowers and colorful blooms provide the backdrop for countless photos, questions about the variety (Benary), and really pure amazement at their beauty.

But not all gardens need 4-foot-tall zinnias. In the front garden of the little house on a big hill, I have planted a mix that should reach about 2 feet tall. I put these near the front of my bed to enhance the garden border. In the past, I have planted creeping zinnias — they were wonderful and filled in the space quite nicely.

A little more about planting and growing these beauties — they need sun, and lots of it. When the seedlings are up through the ground and about 3 inches high, you may need to thin them out. Keeping the plants 6 to 10 inches apart will improve air circulation and prevent disease. Zinnias are prone to powdery mildew late in the season. Watering the soil and not the leaves will help, and although you don’t want the mildew, it shouldn’t harm the blooms.

Deadheading or clipping off the spent flowers will encourage more blooms and keep your garden tidy. A shot of fertilizer every now and then will also help produce more flowers. Because they are annuals, it’s fun to sow new seeds every week to extend the blooms in your garden.

These plants are deer resistant, attractive to pollinators and can be beneficial when planted with vegetables. Think about adding them near zucchini or Swiss chard.

Don’t forget to add zinnias to your cut flower arrangements. When harvesting, cut the stems at an angle just above the bud joint. Strip most of the leaves, especially those below the water line, to keep the water clear and the stems healthy.

Because they are annuals, zinnias will not return with the same plant the following year. They are frost sensitive and will die after the first cold snap, but if the blooms are left to dry out, the seeds may drop and produce new plants. You can also gather the blooms, either dried on the stem or cut off, and when fully dry crush them to gather the seeds. Store the seeds in a cool dry spot to plant next year.

Don’t be shy when thinking about adding color to your garden. There is a type a zinnia for just about anywhere you might like easy color. Think about smaller varieties for your containers and garden borders, or go big and plant with full gusto. You will love the results and I bet they will make you smile.