Zinnias provide simple, beautiful blooms

One of the easiest ways to add a burst of color to your garden is to plant zinnias in the spring. The flowers grow quickly, require minimal maintenance, and come in a variety of styles and brilliant hues.

Zinnias are native to the warmer climates of Central America, Mexico, and the southwestern United States, but are hardy enough to grow in a variety of different areas. The University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension, says the flowers may be flat, beehive-shaped, or cactus-like. The flowers are perched on stems that can grow up to three feet tall.

Taller varieties work well for cut flowers and bouquets, and can also serve as a backdrop for shorter plants. Zinnias will also work well for edging and in containers such as window boxes or hanging containers. They're a good choice for butterfly gardens, and can attract hummingbirds as well.

The best way to grow zinnias is to start from seed. The Old Farmer's Almanac says the plant will grow quickly, and is unlikely to endure being transplanted. Angela England, writing for the home design site The Spruce, says that if you want to start growing seeds indoors you should use peat pots or other methods allowing you to transplant the entire pot to the garden soil outside.

Wait until the last frost has passed before directly sowing seeds. The University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension says zinnia seeds can withstand cooler temperatures, but won't start to grow appreciably until outside temperatures start to exceed 50 degrees.

Choose a site with full sunlight. The Old Farmer's Almanac says zinnias prefer a temperature range of 74 to 84 degrees, so radiant solar heat can help keep them healthy.

Zinnias aren't too picky about soil types. However, the seed company American Meadows says proper drainage is essential, since seedlings can rot if the soil is too damp. Fertile soils amended with compost will also provide an ideal growth medium for zinnias.

Seeds only need to be planted about a quarter-inch deep. The Chicago Botanic Garden says it's even possible to simply sprinkle seeds on the soil and let them grow. Once the seedlings reach a height of about three inches or develop four leaves, thin the plants to allow for better air circulation. Depending on the variety, the seedlings should be six to 18 inches apart.

Be careful when watering the plants. American Meadows says zinnias can benefit from a few deep waterings per week, drenching the soil to a depth of six to eight inches. Zinnias will be more resistant to drought once they are established.

Deadhead the flowers, removing spent blooms, to keep the plant more compact and encourage additional flowering before the end of the season. You can also stimulate more flowers by pinching the tip of the plant while it is still young.

About two months will pass from germination to flowering, and the flowers will last about two months afterward. England says you can make multiple plantings of zinnias, staggering them so they'll bloom at different times. The University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension says you can also establish taller varieties in the back of a plot with shorter varieties up front.

Zinnias are relatively self-sustaining. The Chicago Botanic Garden says they may benefit from an occasional application of balanced fertilizer, but often won't even need mulching.

Excessive moisture can promote diseases such as powdery mildew or bacterial wilt. The Old Farmer's Almanac says zinnias can also be vulnerable to pests such as caterpillars, mealybugs, and spider mites.

Zinnias are annual plants, so they'll only last one season. However, it's possible to harvest seed from the flowers to use in subsequent seasons. The Chicago Botanic Garden says you simply need to let the flowers dry out and then gently crush the seed heads to release the seeds.

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