EVERY FLOWER INSPIRES an emotion. Roses evoke romance, spring daffodils feel like a new beginning, end-of-summer chrysanthemums might trigger a touch of melancholy. And zinnias? Well, zinnias just make us happy, bobbing their brightly colored heads on the breeze from early summer to mid-autumn.
Growing in masses on their own or popping up among the perennials, zinnias sound a cheerful note anywhere they’re planted. “Their blooms are amazing,” says Jesse Darling, general manager of Jericho Nurseries in Albuquerque. “On top of that, they handle the sun in the southwest pretty well.”
While perennials bloom year after year, some only for a few days or a week, zinnias, like all annuals, must be replanted every year but bloom continuously, painting the garden with color all season long. They’re also good pollinators, attracting birds, butterflies and bees.
And oh, what color! Zinnias come in every shade of red from the palest pink to the deepest burgundy, as well as yellow, orange and lots of pretty hues in between. “Peach zinnias are a favorite among our customers,” Darling says. “Another is senorita, which is a salmon color.”
His own favorite, he confesses, is green envy. “I’m a sucker for green flowers, because they’re unusual.”
Whether you sow seeds or use plants that have already been started at the nursery, wait until the danger of frost has passed, says Tom Jones, who goes by T.J. and is store manager at one of Payne’s Nursery’s two Santa Fe locations. “If you live in Albuquerque (zones 7a and 7b), that’s in April,” he says. “Here in Santa Fe (zone 6b), it’s more like mid-May.”
Check your soil before you plant. “If your soil is sandy, mix in some compost,” Darling advises, to help hold moisture.
Set seeds or plants 10 or 12 inches apart. “Zinnias need good air flow,” Darling explains. “If they’re too close together and it’s 95 degrees–plus, they’ll look like they’re melting no matter how much you water them.”
Jones advises watering early in the morning and avoiding getting the foliage wet. “Mildew can form if you water them at night,” he cautions.
Use a fertilizer that’s high in phosphorous to keep those blossoms coming, and, Jones says, deadhead—that is, cut off spent flowers—to encourage more flowers. “They should bloom all summer long,” he says.
As for where to plant them, it’s a matter of taste. “I like them all by themselves,” Jones says. “I might put some marigolds around them. Or I grow them in pots, so I can control the water better and move them around.”
Darling suggests mixing them with perennials. “They add a nice showiness to the perennial bed,” he says, and they make good companions for any number of perennials, including coneflower, salvias, yarrow and autumn sages.
Whatever varieties you choose, and wherever you plant them, vibrant zinnias will bring cheer all season long.