Try zinnias for hot summer color and longevity

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 24, 2000

In the 1520s, Spanish invaders of Montezuma saw highly developed Aztec gardens that were horticultural marvels. Along with dahlia, sunflower and morning glory, zinnia was another of the exquisite flowers they were introduced to.

In 1753, zinnias first arrived in Britain via Paris. The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus named the plant in honor of his professor of botany, Johann Gottfried Zinn of the University of Gottingen. In 1796, plants and seed of Zinnia elegans were brought to Britain from South America. In naming this particular zinnia species, Linnaeus referred to it as elegant. Those zinnias were the beginning of the tall, hybrids we grow in our gardens today.

The first double flowering varieties became available in France in 1856. Unfortunately, this was not a stable strain. This zinnia arrived in America in 1861 but was a disappointment since two-thirds of the flowers turned out to be single. By 1864, double flowering zinnias were available in colors such as scarlet, orange, red, purple and salmon.

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Zinnias symbolized simplicity in Victorian times. In The Language of Flowers, the zinnia represents &uot;thoughts of absent friends.&uot; Other fond and curious names for the zinnia include, &uot;old maids,&uot; &uot;cut and come again,&uot; &uot;youth and old age,&uot; &uot;Brazilian marigold&uot; and &uot;medicine hat.&uot;

Although there are several zinnia species that will grow well in the Miss-Lou, the big flowered, double varieties are my favorite. My Mother sowed seed of the old-fashioned &uot;State Fair&uot; mix each year when I was a child. To me, it meant that summer was finally here. I couldn’t wait to see the huge, colorful flowers. Mom continues the tradition and sometimes when I visit her and my Dad, a comforting vase of zinnias is on the kitchen table.

The zinnia is an easy to grow annual that can be direct sown into the bed where it will bloom. Seed can also be started in small pots and transplanted later. Basically, zinnias like full sun and perform best in rich, well drained soil. Available in a variety of colors such as clear rose, rich purple, golden yellow, salmon, crimson and orange, zinnias give a rich effect in the garden. Few other annuals can rival the zinnia when planted in bold masses for distant effects.

Sequential plantings can result in higher quality flowers over a longer period of time. By direct sowing or setting out transplants in successive plantings every two or three weeks, you are practically guaranteed to have zinnias summer through fall. Seed can be sown for the next few months since they will flower into October, at least.

The name &uot;cut and come again&uot; refers to the fact that if the blooms are cut or dead-headed, the plants will usually reward you with even more flowers. The colors of zinnia flowers show up well under artificial light and combine well with other flowers for beautiful bouquets.

Both large and small zinnia’s continue to be popular today and are wonderful plants for beginning gardeners. Zinnia’s are certainly a tried and true southern garden favorite, and can add a bit of nostalgia to the garden.

I appreciate the comments and stories concerning the recent columns in which turfgrass was discussed. Thanks especially to Mrs. Paul Doherty and to Chris Gibson for sharing with me the pleasures of a zoysiagrass lawn. Ricky and I can’t wait to visit each lawn and walk barefoot (hand in hand).

Gardening Miss-Lou Style is a weekly column written by Traci Maier of Natchez. She can be reached at Fred’s Greenhouse at 445-5181 or by email at