Dazzling colours of zinnia flowers
Published on: Sunday, August 11, 2019
By: Eskay Ong

A plot of zinnias with doubles, singles and semi-double flowers.
AMONG flowering ornamentals that are suitable for the exposed or outdoor areas, the zinnia is a variety that is certainly one of the most striking and outstanding.  With large, gorgeous and brightly coloured flowers whose petals come in doubles, semi-doubles or singles, the ornamental is sure to brighten up any stale, old and neglected garden.

In fact, the flower’s colours are so bright and amazing that it could engender wonderful feelings of joy and happiness, especially if the sight is enjoyed early in the morning.  As they say, a happy early beginning is the start of a great day.

Interestingly, although zinnias are sun-lovers, they are nevertheless also easily grown in semi-shaded locations with partial or diffused sunlight. This means balconies and window sills as well as interior gardens with reflected light should be able to carry a number of the plants in pots or planters.  

If such plants are height-restricted, they can even be decorated with round limestone pebbles of various colours at the base.  Throw in a few blinking or non-blinking LED lights among the stones and the scene could become a wonder to look at, especially at night. 

Since zinnias do not require much in terms of brawn to grow and care for them, it would therefore be very light work to put a few plants in the garden, or in pots to show some colour.  It is most suitable to set them along the fence and should make a very thick and colourful hedge if they are planted in double rows.  


As the plant is naturally short, it normally stays within 1.5-2.0 metres in height. This, therefore, makes for a good barrier from sneaky and prying eyes from the surroundings, thus preserving some degree of privacy for the occupants of the house.

Zinnias may be age-old ornamentals but its popularity has never faded.  The flower colours are highly varied and this may include red, pink, maroon, orange, yellow, white, etc.  There are even some with stripes, speckles, or tinges of a second or third colour.  In the local ecosystem, one does not need to go far to see zinnias, as a drive around housing estates or kampungs would show that there are many gardening enthusiasts who are still keen on growing such plants.

As a garden ornamental, zinnias are herbaceous to semi-woody annuals, and as such, the plants have to be replanted within a year or slightly longer, or whenever they have aged sufficiently. It is easy to tell when this is so because generally, the plant tends to become more and more unattractive as they age.  

It is difficult to appreciate something that has become scrawny, skinny, scraggy, sinewy or shrivelled unless replanted and renewed. Well, nature is still and will always be the master despite all the hype about anti-ageing magic potions.

Although zinnias are half-hardy in nature, the plant, surprisingly, behaves quite hardily even though only scant attention is paid to it. The ornamental usually grows with a main central stem, with a great number of lateral shoots growing out from the leaf axils.  

At the terminal end of each shoot, the flowers are borne.  Usually each shoot bears a solitary flower, although occasionally, more than one flower do issue from it.

All over the zinnia plant, numerous tiny epidermal hairs can be found.  These are located on the leaves, stems and flower stalks.  The tiny hairs are quite tough although not prickly, and that is why the leaves sometimes feel rather rough to the touch.

Basically, zinnias are warm-weather plants but in the cooler regions of the world, it can still be grown especially during the spring or summer months where there is sufficient heat for normal growth and development as well as flowering.  

Greenhouses with climate-controlled facilities are perfect to grow such plants even in countries that snow heavily. With the application of high tech and modern gadgets, nothing is impossible.

Within our state, zinnia growers are a fortunate lot because our warm climate is most suitable for the cultivation of the plant, and as such, there is no reason why gardening enthusiasts should not try growing the lovely ornamental – for a change, at least.



Different types of zinnias

Zinnias come in many forms.  There are numerous varieties or strains that are popularly cultivated.  These are varieties that usually come in the form of seeds which are packed in air-tight aluminium foils and they are available in most supermarkets and agricultural supplies outlets for a couple of ringgit per packet.

By far, the most popular varieties are the double-flowered types, especially those dahlia, pompom and giant flowered types.  These varieties such as the Giant Fantasy, California Giants and Giant Dahlia, are very popular because of the extraordinary size of the blooms and the enormous number of petals in each flower.  A well-grown zinnia of such a variety can easily produce blooms that may reach a whopping diameter of 10 cm or more.

Apart from the doubles, there are also the semi-doubles and singles, which is the least popular but no less colourful.  The flower petals may be of a single, uniform colour, or it may be striped and mottled in various combinations spread out radially in a whorl of petals surrounding a seed head.

Flower petals may also be compactly and tightly set or interwoven, especially in the double flowers, or they may be feathery and loosely arranged to give an airy and fluffy appearance such as those in the giant cactus flowered hybrids within the Giant Fantasy group. 

On the other hand, Zinnia Lilliput bears flowers that are of the double type but are much smaller in size. These are the lilliputs or midgets of zinnias where the flowers seldom exceed 2.5cm in diameter.

Among the various varieties mentioned, zinnias may also come as dwarfs, semi-dwarfs, or normal giants.  These are differentiated by the maximum height that they are able to achieve before dying out.  Normally, dwarfs are very cute and chubby and usually grow to about 15-20cm in height with plenty of flowers measuring about 5-7 cm across.  The normal giants may reach 1-2 metres in height with flowers that measure a hefty 10cm in diameter.


 A double-flowered zinnia of tree Pompom type.

Growing zinnias at home

Growing zinnias do not need much brawn to work out something that brings joy and satisfaction.  There is nothing much too to think hard about when embarking in this direction.

This is because zinnias are so much easier to grow compared to, say, growing roses.  Virtually all the environmental requirements are there, such as good sunshine, warm temperature, sufficient rainfall and gentle breezes.  Just get some good seeds, a few simple tools and sufficient good topsoil, and within 5-8 weeks, there should be plenty of colourful and beautiful flowers to enjoy or to be shared with friends and relatives.

As a bonus, growers of the zinnia are often rewarded with large bundles of cut flowers.  Surprisingly, zinnia flowers are able to last quite a number of days in the vase.  Just go and cut the flowers with a long flower stalk, and before placing them in a vase, make sure to make an oblique cut at the end.  

Also, the water in the vase must be kept clean at all times, which means it needs changing every alternate day, or even daily.  If it is observed that there is a sticky and slimy goo, then another cut should be made which should be a neat, clean cut and not one that is jagged and shaggy.

Zinnias are greedy feeders and therefore, you should start off with a good quality topsoil, preferably one that is enriched with fertilisers and manure. It must be well-drained and friable, and must be readied a week before sowing of seeds.  

However, marginal or unimproved soils are still able to support a fairly good crop of zinnias although the quality of flowers and foliage may not be as attractive as it should be.

Irrespective of whether the zinnia is grown in beds or in pots, the seeds are usually sown directly with a few seeds at each point.  This effort is made easier if the spot where the seeds are to be sown is cleared of weeds or rubbish.  

If the seedlings are not overcrowded, thinning is unnecessary.  Once the plants are growing steadily, they should be given a liquid feed once in two to four weeks, or if this is not available, granulated fertilisers may be applied. 

Compost or fine, dry grass clippings may also be applied as a mulch to conserve moisture and keep the root environment cool. This prevents caking and the formation of a crust layer that may hinder the emergence of the tender young seedlings.  When using dry grass clippings, it is necessary to collect the clippings from cut grasses that have not yet flowered or seeded.  

Otherwise, there will be a lot more work later on to get rid of weeds that have sprouted from the seeds.

Composts and soils mixed with decomposed organic matter may be obtained from agricultural shops in town and also along Gaya Street Fair every Sunday.  But many nursery or garden outlets have, in recent years, set up business along roads leading to outlying districts selling ornamental plants, tree saplings, fruit trees and garden necessities such as topsoil, compost, mixed soil, clayey lateritic soil, etc.  

The latter type, if properly mixed, is a wonderful planting medium as it is clean, unadulterated and carries no garbage such as weed seeds.  Look for the honest folks to get good and genuine deals.  Believe me, there are still many honest people out there.



Caring for your zinnias

Once the plants are set and growing, little needs to be done except regular maintenance work such as weeding, feeding, watering, and perhaps, some pruning and staking. The first flowers should start to appear within as early as the fifth week, but by the seventh to eighth week, all the plants should show flowers.  Those that don’t are surely goners.

One of the most important things to do is to never overwater. This is especially noteworthy is areas that are not so well-drained or where the incidence of waterlogging or stagnation is high. In such instances, overwatering may cause the stems to go soft and wobble and rot away at the collar.

All dead or dried-up flowers should be cut and removed, at least to reduce unsightliness. This is done by pruning away the entire length of the flower stalk to allow for the next lower pair of shoots to grow and develop.  In this context, skilful pruning should be able to induce the production of a lot of flowering shoots, which therefore add greater value to the plant – and your garden as well.

To encourage bushiness or compactness, terminal shoots must be removed at the desired height. Due to its dichotomous branching peculiarity, the result arising from such removals would be a pair of lateral shoots issuing from the next lower axils. If such deshooting is systematically carried out, the plant could be moulded into a very compact and bushy form with lots of flowering shoots.

Fertilisation should be carried out at least once in two to four weeks. Use a soluble fertiliser whenever available; otherwise, granules such as NPK compounds or manure would be just fine.  

If nothing is applied, the plant will not die right away as it can tolerate marginal soils, but instead, it will just hang on there while getting by and subsisting on rainwater and oxygen, and ageing and wrinkling terribly to become a gaunt, ugly and haggard old hulk.

When removing the weeds, it is best to carry out surface tilling at the same time, that is, getting two birds with one stone.  Surface soil tilling is easily done by using a small hand fork, and if this is timed to fit in with the application of fertilisers, then it is just like getting three birds with a single stone.  Awesome! You never know, fortune tends to smile on people who least expect it.

After a period of time, earthing-up is necessary.  This is due to runoffs from rainwater or from the garden hose that carry away the soil to lower levels.  In time, the roots may be exposed and thus weaken the position of the plant.  

When this happens, staking becomes necessary in order to prevent the plant from toppling over, as is often the case when the plant has a large crown and is top-heavy.

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