“Year Of The Zinnia” is not just a marketing ploy

April 14th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Zinnia 'Zahara Sunburst', one of many easy-to-grow Zahara zinnias.

I know that these “Year Of” promotions start off as initiatives by the seed trade to help the seed companies to sell more packets. Fair enough, we all know that’s what’s going on. But they’re useful for gardeners too. These ventures, like this year’s Year Of The Zinnia, like The Year Of The Bean, inspire us to take a fresh look at the plants involved and perhaps discover some new varieties and new ways of growing them.

For years we were put off growing zinnias because, when we grew them like other half hardy annuals, they often failed. They dislike root disturbance when they’re small so, when we pricked them out into trays, they simply died. Or, if they survived and grew on, they keeled over when we took them out of their trays and split them up for planting.

But when the new generation of bushy dwarf varieties including ‘Dreamland’, ‘Profusion’ and the state of the art Zahara Series came along, they proved to be less fussy. Ideally, I still think they’re best sown in cells. Germination is very good so one seed per cell is fine. Sow from now till mid May, keep them frost free and cool and plant out from the end of May with minimal disturbance. But you can sow them direct next month too.

One really good way to grow them, I’ve discovered, is in containers – but not in mixed containers as we usually see them but as specimens in terracotta pots. Three plants can go in a 30cm pot, five in a 40cm pot, and I suggest a compost with some John Innes added for better drainage and nutrient retention.

‘Zahara Sunburst’ (above) with its rusty orange and yellow tones is ideal in terracotta and ‘Zahara Double Yellow’ too. Just be sure to stand the pots on pot feet to ensure good drainage. Soggy compost will kill them.

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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