GGW Plant Pick of The Month- Zinnia

– Posted in: Garden Plants
Zinnia elegans 'Uproar Rose'

Zinnia elegans 'Uproar Rose'

Twenty-five years ago, as an adolescent, I developed an unexpected friendship with an elderly woman who lived down the street. Mabel Hart Crooks had an elaborate yard, filled with beautiful blooming plants. She was in her mid 90’s and needed some help with maintenance- mowing, weeding, pruning and occasionally planting. I was 13 and wanted the money! I credit her with sparking my interest in plants and gardening.

I recall my first experience sowing annuals from seed was under Mrs. Crooks’ supervision. They were zinnias, April’s GGW Plant Pick of the Month.

The popular dahlia-flowered zinnias Mrs. Crooks and I grew were introduced in the 1920’s. However, Zinnia elegans, the most well known of the 20+ species in the genus, was first hybridized in the 1700’s by European plant breeders. They successfully transformed the dull, purplish wildflower into brightly colored double forms. Today, zinnias are available in single, double and semi-double flower forms, range in size from dwarf, intermediate to tall, and are available in every color but blue.

Zinnias are native to Mexico and Central America and require rich, loamy, well-drained soil and full sun. They are drought tolerant once established, preferring hot and dry weather. So don’t overwater!

Many cultivars are prone to powdery mildew. I recommend thinning seedlings or spacing bedding plants to allow for good air circulation, and trying to avoid overhead watering.


Zinnia angustifolia x elegans 'Profusion Orange'

Better disease resistance has been developed by crossing Z. elegans and Z. angustifolia, resulting in Zinnia angustifolia x elegans. Several cultivars of this hybrid are All-America Selection (AAS) award winners, including ‘Profusion White’, ‘Profusion Orange’ and ‘Profusion Cherry’.

Zinnia angustifolia x elegans 'Profusion White'

Zinnia angustifolia x elegans 'Profusion White'

I can tell you from personal experience, the ‘Profusion’ series zinnias are non-stop performers. I enjoy massing the dainty plants around bold architectural foliage, such as that of cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) and elephant ears (Colocasia ‘Illustris’). I also like to play with height variation by interplanting masses of ‘Profusion White’ with vervain (Verbena bonariensis).


Zinnia elegans 'Zowie! Yellow Flame' with Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'

Mrs. Crooks would have loved the 2005 introduction Zinnia elegans ‘Zowie! Yellow Flame’, another AAS award winner. ‘Zowie! Yellow Flame’ has a unique bicolor pattern with magenta-pink centers and yellow petal edges. It is stunning when paired with Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ or Salvia farinacea ‘Evolution’. Cut flower trials at the University of Maryland found that ‘Zowie! Yellow Flame’ had a vaselife of up to two weeks!

One of my favorite zinnias is ‘Uproar Rose’ (first photo at the top of the post).  The 36″ tall plants produce massive 4″ to 5″ wide magenta flowers. ‘Uproar Rose’, like all zinnias, attracts butterflies to the garden. Do you have a favorite cultivar?

Zinnia marylindica 'Zahara Yellow'

Zinnia marylandica 'Zahara Yellow'

Last year I came across Zinnia marylandica ‘Zahara Yellow’ at the Missouri Botanical Garden in the Lois Whiteside Franklin Flower Trial Garden. I like the soft yellow color and intend to grow it this year. Have you trialed a new cultivar our readers should know about?

If this is your first time visiting GGW Plant Pick of the Month and you’d like to participate, simply post your comments below and a link to your own site where you’ve posted photos of zinnias and comments about your experiences working with the plant, successful planting combinations, etc.

Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff has practiced garden design since 1995. He trained as a Botanist at Eastern Illinois University. Woodruff attributes his unique design aesthetic, naturalism with a twist, to early college exposures to a diverse range of plants and environments (collecting trips in local prairies, field excursions to bogs in Canada and treks through forests of the Northeast). He also maintained the campus greenhouse, where he fell in love with tropicals. In recent years, influences on his designs include travels abroad to Europe, Asia and the Yucatan peninsula as well as observation of the work of great plantsmen such as Piet Oudolf and Roy Diblik. Woodruff’s designs often combine grasses, prairie natives and perennials with lush tropical foliage and seasonal blooms. This harmonious blending of plant material that is not conventionally grouped together is the ‘twist’ that makes his style unique.
Adam Woodruff

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Les April 9, 2009, 7:10 am

I second your endorsement of the Profusion series. I grow them on a west facing slope which is the hottest, driest part of my garden. They begin blooming shortly after being planted, and this past November I reluctanly pulled them out even though they still had color. I like to mix them with darkly colorful sun coleus and feathery celosia. If you are interested you can see some picks from GBBD last August here.

Les. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and photos. I use zinnia and cockscomb in combination as well.


jodi (bloomingwriter) April 9, 2009, 7:24 pm

You’ve convinced me…they’re totally amazing, with their jewellike colours. Guess I’ll add some to the garden too.

Jodi. Thanks for your comments. You won’t be disappointed with zinnias!


Nicole April 9, 2009, 8:14 pm

I too love zinnias, I have childhood memories of my mother growing the giant cactus and small pompom kinds, and of how delighted we were both with those forms. Too bad people in the Caribbean hardly grow annuals anymore-I guess its just too easy to have the year round blooming perennials.. This article highlights the many forms of zinnias-almost like different flowers-I am certianly going to incorporate zinnias into my new garden.

Hi Nicole. Thanks for your comments. Please keep us updated on how zinnias perform in the Caribbean. I’m curious about the powdery mildew issue.


Bren/ BGgarden April 9, 2009, 11:05 pm

Wonderful Macro of that zinnia. I am going to look for that color this summer. LOVELY! Thank you for sharing.

Thanks Bren. My good friend TJ Salsman is a very talented photographer and shoots a lot of my work!


Ted April 10, 2009, 8:24 am


For the last few years I have been collecting the spent zinnia flowers in the Fall to save the seeds. In the spring I just crush the dried flowers over some soil and viola I have zinnias again!

Good morning Ted! Thanks for sharing your experience. Zinnias are one of the easiest plants to grow from seed.


Gail April 10, 2009, 12:28 pm

Love them…and so do the bees and butterflies. My favorite is Zinnia elegans ~Shades of Pink (Seeds of Change). I’ve a few posts on Zinnia but here’s a favorite

Thanks for your post Gail. Beautiful photos!


Ellen April 11, 2009, 7:26 am

Hi Adam!
Zinnias are wonderful for Butterflies! One flower form I just read about was pom pom shaped flowers…it is reported they are a favorite for Butterflies. The most requested at Bowood was State Fair Zinnias.

Hi Ellen. Thanks for your comments! I’ll have to check out ‘State Fair’ this season.


Eva April 11, 2009, 4:41 pm

Zinnias are my plant pick of a lifetime! I’ve always loved them, but when my now 31 year old son was five, he wanted to plant some “pickin’ flowers.” We got a packet of mixed flowers and had beautiful boquets all summer. Zinnias are still his favorite. Last year I planted mixed varieties along my white wooden fence. They were enormous, growing through and hanging over the fence. People would stop and gawk as they drove by. When I finally cut them down the stems were so big I couldn’t cut through them with my shears. They were 3 inches around at the base. I had plenty of pickin’ flowers, and they’re coming up by the hundreds this spring. I can’t wait!

Eva. Thank you for sharing your experience with zinnias. I’d love to see photos of these ‘monsters’ this season.


Henrietta April 15, 2009, 2:10 pm

I have grown zinnas for years and save seed from year to year but I also add to my collection by buying different zinna seed. I love watching the various butterflies alight on them. Also, I give zinna plants to some my friends. It is my yearly gift to them.

Henrietta. I collected seeds last fall and gave them to the Master Gardener program in our community. I think giving away seeds is great way to encourage others to garden. Zinnias are a perfect choice! Thanks for sharing your experience.


Heirloom Gardener April 19, 2009, 10:18 pm

I love zinnias, for the same reason as Eva above. My children just love to cut them. Here is a post about them (with pictures) from last September:

Lovely photos! Thank you for sharing.


healingmagichands April 20, 2009, 10:10 am

I love zinnias! I have no idea what cultivar I am planting since my seeds were passalongs from one of my massage clients.

But you are SO right about how much the butterflies love them. I do not know how many excellent photos of local butterflies I have gotten simply because they are ecstatic about zinnias, but it is quite a few. Proof of the pudding can be found on this post:

It is such a lovely day today and the weather looks like it is going to stabilize into warmth, so I intend to plant my zinnias (seeds I saved from last year) today.

Thanks for sharing your wonderful photos of zinnias and butterflies!


dsc6 May 9, 2009, 12:22 am

I have always loved zinnias, but never planted them because I did not consider them self-seeders. However, when the Profusion series first came out, they caught my eye. Last year, I was taken by Double Cherry Profusion, bought a couple of flats, and I am hooked forever. These flowers have so much value added! The color is most intense upon first blooming, and fades slowly along a continuum of color which prevents a large stand of these annuals from looking like a ‘bedding annual’ bed. Each plant will have a variety of cherry shades from intense almost-magenta to faded pink. And they don’t need to be dead-headed. (I tried the coral shade, but wasn’t so impressed. )

Thanks for your comments! I agree, Profusion Double Cherry is a winner. The range of cherry rose shades on each plant is a nice bonus.


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