A Good Year For Zinnias

Planting the summer garden in front of the shop this year was more about less than anything. Every supplier of seasonal plants was inundated with customers from the very first hint of spring. Plants I had custom grown, labelled sold, and roped off for gardens to be planted in June were a constant target of gardeners anxious to provide both beauty and interest to their outdoor spaces early in May. My plants needed feeding, watering, and a watchful eye. My grower sold through his entire June crop in May. He was not the only one. Astonishing, this. No wonder my stock of reserved plants looked inviting. I am not a fan of planting tropical plants in cold soil. But choosing to wait to plant had consequences. Needless to say, we were scrambling for material the entire month of June, and July was even worse. By the time all of our client’s work was complete, it was well in to July. So we planted the front gardens with what was left from what we had custom grown. Several varieties of white zinnias and angelonia “Steel Blue” would just about fill these steel raised planter boxes.

For the border, we managed to find some white petunias, and mixed them with the double pink cascade grandiflora petunia “Orchid Mist” – also custom grown for us. Those frilly petunia puffs are reminiscent of the tissue paper flowers made for homecoming floats in the 60’s. Given that association, it’s easy to see why those plants had not been snapped up sooner. Their habit of growth is awkward, lanky, and lax. The dead flowers persist on the plants for a long time. In spite of their shortcomings, I like double petunias. Every seasonal plant has their place in the sun. Paired with a stiff growing plant that can provide structure and support, double petunias in pink or white can be plenty gorgeous.

It was not surprising that we still had tall growing zinnias available in June. They cannot be planted too early in the greenhouse, as once the seed germinates, they grow fast. Timing crops to be ready when the weather permits and people want to shop is the black art of the greenhouse growing business. No planting crew wants to haul annuals to a jobsite that are 2′ tall in a four inch pot. I want my zinnias short and stocky. So the large growing zinnias were not available until later in the planting season. Few gardeners have the self discipline to delay planting a summer container until the zinnias are available.  Who would risk it, knowing the other plants to go with might be sold out by then. I am familiar with this logistical problem. If zinnias are well grown, and at a perfect stage to transplant, they are green. Meaning the plants are not in flower. A bench full of zinnias is an ocean of green leaves. If you are looking for a particular color, you have to read the tags. All these things work against the zinnias flying out the door. It is not really a May-ready plant.

For as simple as the big flowered tall zinnias are to germinate from seed and grow, they are heir to no end of troubles. If you are interested, see the following from the Handbook of Florist’s Crops diseases, pages 1-31.  common fungal and bacterial diseases of zinnias  Some growers want no part of this trouble, and chose to grow only disease resistant varieties such as the Profusion series. Gardeners don’t care for high maintenance annuals either. Lisa M, who does a terrific job of maintaining our seasonal plants and anything that grows on the shop property, prunes selectively to improve air circulation, squishes the sucking insects (notably grasshoppers) that transmit virus and disease via their chewing, and removes any leaves that show signs of bacterial leaf spot – and so on.

A well grown zinnia is a sure sign of high summer in the cutting garden. They don’t call the medium height zinnias “cut and come again” for nothing. They last impossibly long as cut flowers. Floret Flowers grows them by the semi truck load for the cut flower trade.   Floret Flowers   They come in just about every color imaginable, except for blue. They are old fashioned flowers, for sure. It is the one flower I can distinctly remember from my Mother’s garden some 60 years ago. Yes, the dahlia flowered varieties have a stiff and awkward look about them, but how I love their down to earth cheer and charm.

They are not at all showy like roses, dahlias, foxglove, peonies, delphiniums or orchids. They look most at home  with the daisies, sunflowers, feverfew and cosmos. The kitchen garden is an ideal place for them. It is tough to plant them meadow style with other looser growing seasonal plants in my zone, as they resent close quarters. Once you are not able to reach them to clean them up, the leaf spot, mildew and other mayhem will start to consume them. Someday I will try them with amni majus, Gaura lindheimeri, or the grass Bouteloua gracilis “Blonde Ambition”. The angelonia is a pretty decent partner. I would do that again.

A few weeks ago, the boxwood in front of the shop got their yearly haircut. The precision with which this is done is astonishing. M’s crew is a gifted lot, with an impeccable instinct for up and down, true and square. It’s as if the horizon line is embedded in their genes. The geometry of the boxwood is in sharp contrast to the zinnias.  Only a deftly pruned hedge of boxwood could make a planting of zinnias look graceful.

But the real purpose of this post is about the weather.  This year has been very hot and dry. Overall, the humidity has been low. Perfect conditions for growing great zinnias. Perfect conditions for growing all manner of seasonal plants that revel in dry heat. People may be wilting, but the seasonal flowers are very good looking this year. If you happened to plant some zinnias, that planting is exceptional right now. As no gardener has any control over the weather, the big idea here is about spending some time with the National Weather Service about their prediction for the summer in your zone, ahead of choosing what you will plant. The perfect time to grow zinnias is when a summer season will be perfect for growing them. If weather predicting sounds too tedious, then plant lots of everything. You are bound to hit the jackpot with something.

Those good years for crocus,magnolias, roses and hydrangeas are memorable. Memorable, as no gardener can count on a good year coming their way. All the terrible years for zinnias do not deter me from planting them. But this year, it was just about all I had available to plant. I do not think of the natural world as being the least bit just. This year I got lucky. lime and yellow zinnias

pink and orange zinnias

Benary Giant orange zinnia

  Pot full of zinnia “Zesty Fuchsia”

Container featuring zinnia Magellan pink

If for no other reason, stop in to see the zinnias. They are quite something this year.


  1. Your zinnias are stunning. I love them too! Planted some in Waterford and they’re gorgeous. My seeds up north didn’t make it due to lack of water unfortunately.
    What a beautiful summer we’re having!
    Thanks for sharing your heart Deborah!!!

  2. Judy Zatsick says

    This is a nice post that illustrates how gardeners must be respectful of what comes our way in any given year, and how we need to be flexible. Amazing results! Bravo.

  3. Nella Miller says

    I would be there in a heart beat Deborah…With the border closed indefinitely I miss my American family and places to travel…the zinnias look gorgeous! Stay well and happy gardening!!! Nella

  4. Nice to read an article by a professional landscaper that discusses zinnias and petunias. Common plants among us amateurs but not much discussed by the pros.

    Zinnias give me the illusion that I know what I am doing. Plant a flimsy seed and it germinates and quickly produces a flashy attractive flower in short order.

    The one place have not had good luck with zinnias is where I live now–Northern Michigan toward lake Michigan. The sandy beach soil may not be to their liking.

  5. Laura Tonar says

    Beautiful! The colors and your combinations! I have noticed spectacular zinnias this year on the west side of the State. Love them and they are great for drying. Thanks for sharing

  6. When I was growing up on the farm sixty years ago we always had zinnias around the house. My Grandma would put bouquets of them along with petunias on the harvest table. They have always been a favourite flower of mine. Seeing yours today has brought back beautiful memories of my Grandma. She loved flowers so much.
    Your zinnias look fabulous!!

    • Always loved zinnias, and yours are fantastic. I’d like to put in a vote for the cactus flowered varieties, and the little old fashioned singles. So beautiful!

  7. Beautiful and I’m sure the butterflies are enjoying them as well.

  8. Marie Simon says

    Just beautiful! Zinnias are my new favorite plant!

  9. I was lucky enough to arrive at your shop when you had placed a few extra zinnias into the retail greenhouse for sale. I scored over a dozen plants and filled pots en masse with them and a weedy patch of garden in front of my studio. It was a last ditch effort to plant these forgotten spaces late in the game but very rewarding now-and the bonus is that I’m using the planted zinnias at my studio as cut flowers for arrangements.

  10. Barbara Ottolino says

    Thanks for the information on plant combinations – ALWAYS very useful. You help me plan for next year! Your blog is the absolute BEST. Thank you for your generosity. You are an inspiration.

  11. This is the first year I’ve planted zinnias from seed. I did so after hearing a well-known gardener here in CT say it wasn’t too late back in June. She also advised to plant seeds every week for succession of bloom. I realized my first blossom last week! Looking forward to having zinnias for quite a while yet. Love and look forward to your posts! Thank you.

  12. I have always been fond of zinnias. Yours are lovely!

  13. Terry Ryan says

    How are you keeping your pea gravel walks so weed free …without using Round-up?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Terry, The gravel is pretty deep. And there is landscape fabric over the soil, and under the gravel. best, Deborah

  14. My zinnias are doing great this year, too! I love them so much. I have Benary’s Giant, State Fair, and Queen Limey Red. All doing so nicely.

  15. Meribeth Wulff says

    About the above photo of the Detroit Garden Works building, specifically the roof top planter boxes, what is the name of the plant with the wonderful green upward thrust?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Hi Meribeth. That is elegant feather grass. best, Deborah

      • Meribeth Wulff says

        Thanks, Deborah. I’m a landscape designer in the New Buffalo, MI area. Is this Karl Foerster, Overdam, Brachytrichia, or maybe the species? I’ve never seen any of them with such strong vertical green. Could it be the optimum sun they’re getting? I appreciate your responses very much,


  16. This post was a much needed lift today.
    In my desert southwest town, we are missing the monsoons and hope of rain. At the beginning of the summer I filled my flower bed with zinnias for the first time ever. Despite the oppressive heat, and even a few days of a kink in the automatic watering system, a handful of these mighty blooms continue to thrive. Dead flowers make everything seem worse, especially right now when we’re so hunkered down hiding from this virus. But a few of these few sturdy pink zinnias simply will not give up.
    Mine don’t look as vibrant and elegant as yours in the photos, but by golly they are a hardy flower!

    Your planted pots are just beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  17. I always enjoy your posts on zinnias, as they seem to do much better there and it makes me happy to see them thrive.

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