By Debbie Bosworth
If you’re new to growing annuals and itchin’ to add some color and bring more pollinator’s to your homestead look no further than the easy Zinnia. Bees and Butterflies love them and they won’t disappoint the gardener in you either.
The first year I grew Zinnias I started some from seed in my greenhouse in late March thinking that by the end of May I would have a whole slew of seedlings to plant out in my raised beds. Well, most of them didn’t germinate. I nursed along the ones that did and after the danger of the last frost (May 31st for Northeast gardeners) I planted those seedlings and a few seed packets of cut and come again Zinnias The seeds I sowed directly caught up to the greenhouse grown seedlings and pretty soon I couldn’t tell which was which. All that fussing I did over them in the greenhouse wasn’t really necessary and didn’t make them grow any faster. Not to worry! There is no such thing as failure in gardening. It’s all “trowel and error”. I learned that Zinnias prefer warm soil and weather for best germination. Note to self: direct sow Zinnias in the future. See? Easy peasy!
You can direct sow zinnia seeds a couple of ways. You can broadcast them in a bare patch of ground among other established perennial’s and shrubs or even in your veggie patch for a big splash of summer color. If broadcasting all you need to do is lightly rake the soil where you are going to cast your seeds making sure the top two inches are loose and free of any clumps of clay or soil. Scatter your seeds, cover with top soil or aged compost, and water lightly. Keep your seeds moist but not soaked until you see little sprouts coming through the soil. Once the first set of leaves is visible you can thin to one seedling every 6 inches. Continue to water every few days, unless it rains. Zinnias don’t require daily watering unless grown in a pot or in very hot, dry climates.
Another option to broadcasting is to plant in raised beds (which I prefer). Make a few straight rows end to end 12 inches apart and about 1 inch deep. Hold the seeds in the palm of your hand and pluck out two or three at a time dropping them in the row about 2-3 inches apart. Again, thin to every 6 inches to avoid too much crowding and powdery mildew. The seed packet may advise thinning to every 12 inches but I like to cram them in as close as possible for maximum blooms!
Some of my favorite varieties are Cut and Come Again (for masses of non- stop blooms), Art Deco (attract Painted Lady Butterflies), Cactus, and this year I’m trying Binary Giant and Green Envy.
Zinnias require very little once they start growing in the way of care. Plenty of sunshine and regular watering, (either by rainfall or hose) is all they need to get off to a roaring start. But that doesn’t mean you can just forget about them. Those tender seedlings need you now more than ever!
Once they put on the first few sets of leaves hungry slugs and snails will soon follow. They love munching on new sprouts of corn, strawberries, lettuce, hostas and a wide range of annual flowers so you’ll want to kick them to the curb at the first sight of any gnawed leaves. You’ve probably heard of the organic solution to killing slugs called, The Beer Trap. You get a small container like a tuna can or small yogurt container, bury it so the surface of the container is just even with the top of the soil and fill with beer. You want to place your containers near the base of your plants so the unsuspecting slugs will fall in for a surprise swim on the way to your precious plants. I’ll admit I’ve never tested this out so if any of you have- I would love to hear your results! Because I don’t want to risk losing even one of my flowers to slugs or other garden pets, I opt instead to use an organic pesticide for treating pests. Sluggo Snail and Slug Control is safe for pets, plants and wildlife. Unlike other snail and slug control products which are based in metaldehyde, Sluggo contains iron phosphate which is actually a plant nutrient that biodegrades into the soil. Slugs and snails feed mostly at night and the early morning hours so the best time to apply the bait is in the evening hours just before tucking your garden in for the night! Apply the recommended amount around the base of your plants and surrounding areas. Follow application instructions and re-apply as necessary. Your flower garden will be healthy, slug free and beautiful!
I hope you’ll give the easy zinnia a try in your garden this year. Of course they make beautiful bouquets too! Simple arrangements like the one above make the perfect hostess gift for summer gatherings with friends. I found the printed notepaper and ribbon at Michaels. What could be more homespun than a hand written note and a homegrown bouquet?
Debbie Bosworth writes from Dandelion House in Plymouth MA. She lives with her sweet husband, a teenaged son and daughter, and her mother. Max, the Corgi is her constant garden companion (and chief cherry tomato thief) and also watches over his small flock of backyard chickens. Debbie is a contributing writer for MaryJanesFarm Magazine and Community Chickens and you can visit her on Facebook.