Know your flowers – Zinnia

Zinnias are one of the easiest flowers to grow, as they grow quickly and bloom heavily. Zinnia flowers can create a massive burst of color in your garden

First discovered as a scraggly wildflower by Dr. Johann Gottfried Zinn, a German botanist, who was  intrigued by the little stalwart flower and brought it home to Europe to study. Dr. Zinn started cross breeding these zinnias with other zinnias he found. Many forms were created by hybridization.

Zinnias are annuals, so they’ll grow for one season and produce seeds, but the original plant will not come back in subsequent years. They have bright, solitary, daisy-like flowerheads on a single, erect stem, which makes them great for use as a cutting flower or as food for butterflies.

The zinnia flower has several meanings including thoughts of friends, endurance, daily remembrance, goodness and lasting affection.

TYPES OF ZINNIAS

The most popular zinnia species is Zinnia elegans, which has been bred to produce a great number of unique varieties.

There are three main kinds of zinnia flowers: singlesemidouble, or double. The distinction between these forms comes from the number of rows of petals and whether or not the center of the flower is visible:

  • Single-flowered zinnias have a single row of petals and a visible center.
  • Double-flowered zinnias have numerous rows of petals and their centers are not visible.
  • Semidouble-flowered zinnias are somewhere in-between, with numerous rows of petals but visible centers.

In addition to these forms, zinnia flowers come in a number of shapes, including “beehive,” “button,” and “cactus.” The plants themselves also come in different heights: taller varieties are best for the background of a garden bed, while shorter varieties work well along a border. There’s really a zinnia for every garden!

Top-Performing Zinnia Flowers and Tips for Growing Them

Single to fluffy double flowers top “Royal Purple’s” tall (36 to 40 inches) plants. This zinnia blooms in shades from lilac to a deep, dark purple, changing shades slightly as it ages. These are quick growers, flowering within a couple of months from seed. When growing most zinnias, some pinching while young will keep the plants stocky and full although perhaps a little shorter. Keep them deadheaded for flowering all season.

Zinnia ‘Old Mexico’

“Old Mexico” is an old zinnia, but it has lost none of its charms. This zinnia species (Zinnia haageana) is a compact grower. The plants are about one to one and a half feet tall, but they hold up double and semi-double flowers that are up to two and a half inches across.

Mexican Zinnia
  mr_coffee / Getty Images 

Zinnia ‘Thumbelina’

“Thumbelina” is billed as a dwarf zinnia that is supposed to grow only to 6 inches tall, but many gardeners report it tops out at a good three feet. This is probably because breeders have been “improving” the seed over the years. Whatever the height, the button-sized flowers (one and a half inches across) bloom in a multitude of bright, charming colors including red, yellow, orange, white, lavender, salmon, and rosy pink. The flowers persist for a long time, but deadheading or even shearing will keep them in bloom all summer.

The full, bushy plants can be prone to aphids, so plant them in an open spot with lots of air circulation.

Bright red flowers atop green leaves and stems
 Barry Winiker/Getty Images

Zinnia ‘Peter Pan Cream’

The “Peter Pan” series of zinnias is one of the fastest to start blooming, often only six weeks from seed. This 1978 All-America Selection comes in lots of cheery, bright colors as well as this gentle cream. “Cream” varies in shade from milky white to buff. The flowers are double to semi-double and about three to three and a half inches across, and the compact plants only reach a height of about 1 foot tall.

Zinnia "Peter Pan Cream"
 The National Garden Bureau

Zinnia ‘Yellow Ruffles’

The “Ruffles” series is known for its glowing shades of soft colors and fluffy double petals that look, well, ruffled. Besides this bright, buttery yellow, there are “Ruffles” in pink, white, and peach.

Zinnia "Yellow Ruffles"
 The National Garden Bureau

Zinnia ‘Red Sun’

It can be hard to track down seed of “Red Sun,” a 1978 All-America Selection, but it’s worth looking for. The flowers are huge pompoms, fully double and four to five inches across. The glowing red color stays bright as the flowers age, but keep deadheading it for season-long bloom. The plants reach two to three feet tall, but a little pinching back keeps them from getting top heavy, flopping, and needing staking.

Close-Up Of Red And Orange Flowers
 Tharathip Onsri / EyeEm / Getty Images

Zinnia ‘Peter Pan Flame’

Zinnia “Peter Pan Flame” was a 1980 All-America Selection. It shares the features of Peter Pan “Cream” and is an excellent example of the brilliant colors zinnias are capable of delivering. “Flame” looks a bit like a strawflower, but the petals are not dry and stiff. However, it does make an excellent, long-lasting cut flower.

"Peter Pan Flame"
 The National Garden Bureau

Zinnia ‘Giant Double Mixed’

The “giant” in “Giant Double” refers to the size of the flowers, which can be four to five inches across. You will generally find these sold in a mix of colors, all with dahlia-like blossoms. The plants grow to about 2 feet tall and benefit from both pinching and deadheading. This is an older series of zinnia and can be prone to powdery mildew

Zinnia "Giant Double" Mix
 The National Garden Bureau

Zinnia ‘Magellan Coral’

This 2005 All-America Selection grows in a compact clump that reaches a height of about one to one and a half feet tall. Zinnia “Magellan Coral” is covered with dahlia-like pompom flowers in a dusky coral. Although deadheading will keep new buds forming, it isn’t really necessary. New foliage is continually emerging, keeping the plant’s tidy habit and prolonging the bloom period. This plant is a perk to have in the flower garden.

Zinnia Magellan Coral
 Mark Levisay/Flickr

Zinnia ‘Queen Red Lime’

An occasional single bloom might find its way into the semi- to fully double flowers of “Queen Red Lime” (Zinnia elegans), making the mix of colors even more interesting. The outer petals are a soft maroon, and they get paler and paler as they move toward the lime-colored center petals. The flowers look almost papery and somewhat Victorian. Most Zinnia elegans varieties are tall plants, and “Queen Red Lime” is no exception, topping out at 40 to 50 inches.

Zinnia "Queen Red Lime"
 The National Garden Bureau

Zinnia ‘Crystal White’

Zinnia “Crystal White” helped put zinnias back on the gardening map. “Crystal White” was a 1997 All-America Selection for its gentle color and eruption of blooms. Being in the Zinnia haageana species, it has a compact habit and small, half-inch blooms—but many, many of them. “Crystal White” will happily bloom all summer, but it benefits from a midseason shearing to freshen the whole plant. Don’t worry, it will recover within days.

“Chrystal White” grows into dense plants that grow to about 1 foot tall and exhibit excellent powdery mildew resistance.

Zinnia "Crystal White"
WISDOM
  • The small, narrow-leaf zinnias work well in hanging baskets and make for nice dried flowers, too.
  • It’s said that zinnias symbolize thoughts of absent friends. Learn about more flower meanings here
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