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Short or tall, Zinnias dazzle in the garden and the vase

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Friday, May 19, 2017

I can’t think of an easier flower to grow than zinnia. When I was a kid we always had the old fashioned tall growing types. I think my mom still has some pictures of my sister and I standing next to them and they were taller than either of us.

We never bought plants or seeds. All we did was save seeds from year to year in a paper bag and we had a mixture of every color imaginable. All we needed was an area with plenty of light.

Zinnias thrive in nearly any type of soil. They prefer a well-drained sandy loam with plenty of organic matter, but they tolerate most soil types and moisture regimes. When seeding it is best to wait until soil temperatures get near 60 degrees.

That was a push in Maine, but Mom was never in a hurry. We often didn’t get them in the ground until early July and we still had tons of them. It seldom pays to try to stretch the season.

There’s another thing I always noticed about zinnias. They attract butterflies, lots of them. That’s something that was always cool for a young kid.

It’s nice to have pretty flowerbeds, but zinnias have more attributes than that. Flowers hold in a vase for as much as a week. Proper cutting increases their useful life, sometimes even more than that.

Flowers should be re-cut at an angle under water and placed in tepid water initially. I know people naturally think flowers should be placed in cold water, but when water is cold plants don’t imbibe it as quickly. Therefore they become less hydrated.

Changing the water during the week is helpful also, as are floral preservatives. If water gets cloudy it should be changed more often. Cool water is fine for subsequent changings.

Profusion zinnias are the dwarf types, and they emerged on the market in the mid-1990s. They have several advantages over the older types, particularly for flowerbed use. They are profuse bloomers and due to their shorter height they blend better with most other bedding plants. They also are fabulous in mixed pots.

Another advantage at least for garden centers is that they can be established successfully as plants. The taller types have such a short useful shelf life that it’s not worth growing seedlings to transplant. They become too leggy too quickly.

Profusion zinnias make an instant garden. They also are nice for bud vases and other short table arrangements. I know in our house large table arrangements eventually get knocked over.

As if their beauty weren’t enough zinnia flowers are also edible and can be used to garnish a salad. They also make a citrus-like tea. This tea helps with constipation.

Spider mites and aphids are the most common insect pests. Both can be controlled and frequent inspection is the first step. Sometimes all that’s needed to control them is a good bath with dish soap. Imidacloprid is a systemic insecticide that works good too, but don’t eat the flowers if you spray.

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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