Think Zinnia for Sunny Summer Color
By Patricia Diaz, from the February 2005 Newsletter
There are two kinds of flowers that, for me, definitely say sunny summer – calendula (or pot marigold – not to be confused with African or French marigolds) and zinnias. Both are fuss-free and give so much beauty to your garden.
Calendulas are a hardy annual and are native to southern Europe. They are a wonderful re-seeder and come in gorgeous shades of oranges and yellows. You can plant them directly in the garden or in mixed beds and containers. Since they have nice long stems, they also make great cut flowers. They like the cooler summer temperatures and do their best blooming in late spring and early summer. The variety Pacific Beauty is more resistant to summer heat than other varieties.
One of the nicest benefits of calendula, other than their beautiful color, is their soothing and healing purpose. Calendula was used during the Civil War in dressed wounds to speed healing. Today, you can purchase many calendula products, including soaps, skin creams, and salve used for minor cuts and burns. AND you can eat the flowers and leaves! In medieval times they were commonly used in soups and salads. You can also dry the flowers and use them as a “poor person’s” substitute for saffron. In potpourri, the dried leaves add great color while imparting no additional scent to your mixture.
You can plant calendula in full sun or partial shade and the plants tolerate most garden soils as long as you have good drainage. You can start the seeds about 6-8 weeks before the last frost or purchase seedlings at your local nursery. Seedlings need to be planted about 12 inches apart.
Calendula grows to about 1-2’ tall with flowers that are 1-4” in diameter. The most commonflower colors are oranges and yellows, but you can also find pale cream, gold, and apricot.
My other great summer favorite flowers are zinnias. There are SO many varieties and colors that it’s pretty hard to decide which kinds to plant! Another easy to grow plant, the seeds germinate quickly, the plants thrive on heat, they don’t need staking usually, and they don’t require a lot of water or fertilizer. No fuss, just enjoyment!
To grow zinnias from seed, sow directly into the ground in a full-sun area. While average soil is acceptable, adding compost and all-purpose fertilizer yields better plants. Sow the seeds 2-3” apart in rows that are 12” apart or intermix with your other garden plantings. Barely cover the seeds with soil, as they need light to germinate. Keep the soil moist until you see the seedlings (about 5-10 days). Thin to about 10-12” apart. Snails and slugs like the seedlings so protect them while they’re small. Water frequently at ground level until they reach several inches tall, then you can water less often but more deeply. If you prefer to buy nursery starts, dig a planting hole larger than the plant’s root ball, setting the plant in the hole so that the top of the root ball is even with the surrounding soil. Firm soil and water well.
Here are some suggestions for different kinds of zinnias:
ZINNIAS FOR CUTTING – Z. haageana is one of two types of zinnias perfect for cutting. ‘Old Mexico’ is a double flowered, mahogany colored flower; ‘Persian Carpet’ has orange and deep red flowers; Z. peruviana, also a zinnia for cutting, has tiny flowers in brick red or soft gold and the flowers make great dried blooms, even drying right on the plant! Z. elegans is also a cut flower favorite with long stems and large flowers. They can be prone to powdery mildew late in the season, however. Benary’s Giants (mildew resistant) come in a wide range of colors, as do the Yoga series; Splendor are scarlet, pink, orange or yellow; ‘Envy’ are a wonderful lime green’ ‘Candy Cane’ and ‘Candy Stripe’ both have striped flowers.
SPREADING ZINNIAS – Z. angustifolia (the Star series) have shorter stems and therefore aren’t as good for cutting. They are usually 12-18” in height and are wonderful for beds and borders. They flower quickly and are nearly maintenance free. The most common varieties are Star with white, gold or orange flowers, and Profusion with orange or cherry pink flowers.