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Growing Zinnias

Zinnias are the backbone of our farm. Long after we are done flower farming, we will keep growing them, and I encourage you to give them a try! One of the most frequent questions we receive at the St. Norbert Farmer's Market is "What is that flower"(when referring to zinnias), and the follow up is almost always "Well my Zinnias don't look like that." In my opinion, zinnias are one of the most underrated flowers. Especially here in Manitoba, where they are easy to grow! Whenever I'm asked what flowers, someone should grow for a cut flower, my response is always zinnias. It's also my response when someone wants to add colour to their garden and is looking for annuals in particular. So how do you get your zinnias to look like ours? It's not hard, but we'll give you some tips.

The most important step in growing great zinnias is choosing the right seed. If you're wanting big show stopping zinnias, and you purchase a package of Oklahoma zinnias, you're going to be disappointed. If you want something tall to frame the back of your flower beds and you purchase profusion zinnias, you'll never see them. Reading the description of the seeds you are purchasing is important. This should probably go without saying when it comes to seed purchasing, but you always need to read the information either on the back of your package, or if ordering online, beside the picture. No excuses, that information is important!

Pictured: Zinderella Pink

We purchase the majority of our seeds from Stokes, and Johnny Seeds. Their seeds are accessible to everyone, but you will have to place your order early to ensure what you want is in stock. (We have started ordering in fall after our season is done rather than waiting till the new year.) Our favourite zinnia variety is Benary Giants. This makes up the majority of our zinnia field. Benary's are the biggest zinnias. In our short growing season, they can grow up to 5 feet tall, and can be loaded with blooms the size of your hand! We grow every colour available, and we love all of them. Our second favourite variety is Oklahoma zinnias. These are significantly smaller flowers (smaller than your palm), and shorter in height (around 3.5 feet tall), but equally as beautiful. They aren't available in quite as many colours, but we absolutely love them. We grow a few other specialty varieties as well. Most we purchased from Floret Seeds or Stokes. The ones we love are Little Flower Girl Mix (Pale pink slightly smaller than oklahomas), Sahara mix (burgundy, cream, yellow, and red very small zinnias), Candy Mix (the best hot pinks, oranges, and other brightly coloured zinnias), Zinderella's (fluffy with a different shape than your typical zinnia), and my new favourite Unicorn Zinnias (zinnias with the most unique colouring thats almost impossible to describe). We also like Profusion zinnias for pots or in gardens for borders or pops of colour at the front.

Pictured: Benary Giant Salmon Rose

Once you've chosen your seeds, make sure you're planting them in the right spot. Zinnias love full sun, lots of heat, and air movement. They, like most plants also need adequate soil drainage so if you have heavy soil like us, make sure it's sloped so that the plants won't sit in water if you get heavy rains.

Now that you have a great spot for them, wait until the risk of frost has passed (for us that's the end of May/first week of June), and direct seed them into the ground! We like to till the soil immediately before seeding to loosen it up, and also get a head start on any weeds that may be coming. Don't till too early (days or weeks before seeding) it dries out your soil. Zinnias don't like to be transplanted, and although we do start some of ours in the greenhouse, we do it simply for security in case we have a late frost. The timeline of when zinnias bloom when they are transplanted vs direct seeded is actually only a few days. Not worth the extra effort for most people in my opinion. Make sure you read the package for depth directions. Pop the seeds into the ground, cover them up, and water the area. Be sure to use a sprinkler or watering can with a gentle rain fall head so that the seeds don't get washed out. Sprinklers do the best job here because they get the whole area damp which will help it retail moisture longer. If you're expecting rain, you can skip this step, just remember seeds require moisture to germinate. Without it, they are just sitting in dry soil waiting for rain and sometimes that can be weeks which will really set back your bloom time.

Zinnias in the right conditions grow quickly. In a few weeks you should be able to pinch them. Don't skip this step!! Once they are 9-12inches tall, snip off the top 1/3 to1/2 of the plant right about the 2nd or 3rd set of leaves. This will help your plant branch out and you will have way more blooms long term. We usually do this twice, and even chop off any early buds so that the plant can focus on growing for the first little bit instead of flowering.

If you're planning on cutting stems to take in, make sure they are ready. The stem should be stiff all the way to the flower. If it is wiggly (very technical term), give it more time. If you are cutting stems, cut them long. This encourages the plant to continue making long stems. Also cut as closely to a set of leaves as possible. If you're just wanting the plant to look beautiful in your garden or yard, dead head any blooms that are past their prime. This encourages the plant to put energy into more blooms instead of seed. The best part about zinnias is that the more you cut or deadhead them, the more they bloom! So don't be shy with the snips, you're actually helping them.

We give our zinnia's fertilizer about every 3-4 weeks to help them keep blooming. Try to avoid doing this during a heat wave.

Pictured: Unicorn

Zinnias require moderate amounts of water, but do best when given more water less often. Try soaking them (a good soak is typically about an inch of rain... enough to soak down to the roots. If you're unsure, stick your finger in the ground beside your plant to see how far the water is going), and letting them dry out in between waterings. We water once a week, or during a heat wave as often as once every 3-4 days. Bottom watering is best (drip line, hose, watering can...), but sprinklers work too. Always water early in the morning to avoid damaging the flowers and to prevent disease.

Zinnias are susceptible to fungus and disease. To avoid this, keep them well ventilated (an area they get some wind but not so much that they fall over), and not too wet or dry. Like us, stressed plants get sick more easily so keep them happy with moisture, sun, and wind and they should stay happy for you.

We hope this helps you grow some beautiful zinnias this season, let us know how it goes!

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