Bright and Beautiful

June 26, 2008

By Jean Wofford,
Victoria County Master Gardener

Edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
Popular for their various flower forms, zinnias may be single, double, or semi-double.
Single-flowered have just one row of petals with the center of the flower exposed like the pink zinnia in the upper right of the photo.  Contrary to it is the double-flowered with so many rows of petals that the center is almost hidden as shown on the pink zinnia on the upper left side.
Zinnias are one of the most popular flowers to grow for several reasons.  They have vibrant colored blooms, they are very easy to grow, are good for cut flowers and will bloom until frost.

They are a great choice for beginner gardeners because they grow very readily from seeds.
A Bit of History

According to Susan Mahr, Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin in Madison, zinnias originated from the Southwest U.S., Mexico and Central America.  The zinnia was named around the 18th century by the German botanist, Dr. Johann Gottfried Zinn, who wrote the first description of this nondescript wildflower that grew in the Mexican deserts during that time.

The original wild zinnias were small, weedy dull purplish-red, daisy like flowers with single petals and a protruding cone in the middle.  It took almost a century before European breeders seriously began developing it as a garden plant.  Early varieties were introduced in the U.S. in 1796, with double forms appearing in the mid 1800's, but the plant didn't really take off until 1920, when Bodget Seeds Ltd. introduced the dahlia-like flower.  They were called giant dahlia and California giant and were a mutation of Mammoth. 

The large, flat flowered heads and multiple colors started a new trend in the habit and form of zinnias. California giant even won a gold medal from the Royal Horticulture Society of England.

Zinnias Today

Hybridizers have turned this lowly wildflower into one of the most popular bedding plants today.  Zinnias now come in a wide array of flower forms, such as, single, double or semi double.  Single flowered zinnias have one row of petals and the center is exposed. 

The double flowered zinnias have so many rows of petals that the center is hidden.  There are also different shapes. 

Beehive types have small blooms with stacks of flat petals that actually resemble a beehive.  Button type flowers are similar to beehives except flatter blooms.  The edges of the dahlia flower zinnias are large and flat, usually semi double which means the flowers have many rows of petals but the center can be seen.

Where to Plant

Zinnias sort of dictate the best place to be planted.  They are good for edgings, massed in borders or beds. 

The taller varieties make excellent background plants.  Many varieties make good, long lasting cut flowers.  Some of the smaller varieties will grow well in containers.   Most begin to bloom when still very small and continue until frost.  Zinnias are also very attractive to many species of butterflies.


The Peter Pan series are dwarf hybrids.  Very large slightly curled double flowers, up to 5 inches wide, are on compact 12-inch plants.  Seven separate colors are in this series and have been recognized as All American Selection winners.

The ruffles series was developed for cutting flowers.  The 2 1/2-inch flower heads are all shaped with ruffled petals.  They are on stiff upright stems and grow up to 30 inches tall.

One series has smaller single golden or orange flowers with yellow stripes and very narrow foliage.  The compact plants grow up to 12 inches and can spread to 2 feet.

In 1999 the profusion series came out.  They are tolerant of heat and humidity, disease resistant and are compact growers.  They have blooms from 2 to 3 inches across.  I love these little jewels because they very readily reseed in my garden.  I started with a few small pots and now have many times more than I started with.  These are my kind of plants.

Zinnia elegans is the most common zinnia and comes in heights up to 3 feet with single or double flower heads.  They are from 1 to 7 inches across.  They bloom in all colors, from shades of red to pink, cream to yellow gold, orange to salmon, white and there is even a light green one. 

Some flowers are solid colored while others are multicolored.  Flower shapes vary from round domed or ball shaped to dahlia or chrysanthemum-like flowers. In the 1950's they were bred to produce larger flowers on stronger stems.  Soon after, hybrids were developed.  They display vigorous growth and increased disease resistance.

Growing Bright Beautiful Blooms

Choose a sunny, well draining location. Work the soil until it is very loose and friable.  Add some composted manure or slow release fertilizer and mix thoroughly.  Rake the soil until it is smooth and sprinkle with water.  If time permits, do this a couple of days before planting. 

If zinnias are started from seeds, there are many varieties to choose from.

Seeds can be sown directly into the bed or start early in starter pots.  Either way is good.  The seeds need to be planted about 1/2 inch into the soil.  After the seeds are planted, very carefully sprinkle with water. Do not let the soil dry out, but don't keep it soaking wet either. 

The seeds usually start to sprout in 5 to 7 days. And before you know it, bright beautiful blooms fill the space where the seeds were sown.
The zinnia elegans variety comes in almost every shade other than blue; there is even a green chartreuse color. They also vary in flower shapes and heights.  When planted in mass, they provide a bright and beautiful patchwork like these at the entrance to DeTar Hospital Navarro in Victoria.
Profusion variety zinnias are tolerant of heat and humidity, disease resistant and are compact growers.  They have blooms from 2 to 3 inches across and do very well as an alternative to the larger flowered zinnias in smaller spaces.

Select seeds vs. plants for more variety.
Watch for aphids.
Powdery mildew can be a problem without proper airflow.
Catch these problems early.


Most widely grown flower in America
One of the easiest flowers to grow from seed
Profusion zinnia recognized as an All American Selection