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Zinnias Reign Supreme In Mississippi Gardens
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
2000 has been declared the year of the zinnia, but we beat the National Garden Bureau to the punch. Zinnias were the queen of the show at the Fall Flower and Garden Fest held last October at the Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station in Crystal Springs.
As part of the field day, we grew about 16 varieties of zinnias (zinnia elegans). A large portion of our planted trials was called the Benary Giant Series of tall plants with large flowers. They definitely caught every visitor's eye.
I told Benary seed representatives in California last April how much Southerners love zinnias but that foliar diseases put a damper on them. I suspected a sales scam when they said their series was superior. They recommended their Benary Giant with 4-inch flowers and the Oklahoma series with blooms in the 2-inch range.
They sent seeds for trials and those of you who visited the Experiment Station had the opportunity to see them firsthand. I didn't realize until recently that the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers recognized the Benary Giant Series as the 1999 Fresh Cut Flower of the Year award winner.
There are few, if any, field-grown, cut-flowers produced in Mississippi. A few here, some roses there, but little else. Cut flowers require not only a market but also little things like post-harvest physiology ñ in other words, handling, cooling, shipping and storage.
The zinnias we seeded in June and transplanted into the field on July 13 were blooming to beat the band by mid-August. I started having heart palpitations figuring they would be long gone by the mid-October Fall Flower and Garden Fest.
It was awesome to see these midsummer planted zinnias still looking strong for the field day and producing flower after flower for more than 75 days. We were growing them for show, not for cut flowers, and we did deadhead them to keep them producing.
By watching gardeners at the field day, you could tell that red is still a much-loved color. The varieties Crimson Monarch and Scarlet Flame were photographed like they were movie stars. These two varieties reached about 39 inches in height and had flowers 4-inches wide.
Purple lovers found Dream and Purple Prince with flowers reaching 4-inches exciting. White Weips with its 2-inch flowers was considered among the best for the sheer number of pristine white flowers.
The foliar disease pressure was light even though we planted them much too close together, which is a common mistake in the home landscape. These large zinnias need plenty of spacing ñ 24 to 36 inches is preferable.
Properly handled zinnias will last a week in the vase. Cut your flower stem just above a pair of leaves and within days two new stems with flower buds will take its place. Cut in the early morning, selecting blooms that haven't fully opened; they will continue to open indoors. When you are cutting in the garden, take a bucket of water with you and place the stems in it as you cut.
It would be easy for a cut flower farmer to get these varieties, but it is a different story as a homeowner. They are sold in seed packs as Giant Dahlia Blue Point Zinnias and probably other names, too. The main emphasis should be on how good these zinnias are as a midsummer and even late summer crop for the landscape or for cut flowers.
Even if you do not want flowers for cutting, these tall varieties are well suited to the back of the border. If you want shorter varieties but with the large flowers, then by all means try the Dreamland series. Don't forget the Mississippi Medallion winning narrow-leaf zinnias, or zinnia angustifolia. Other states have followed suit, making this the plant of choice in promotion programs.
It is not time to plant, but time to prepare soil and plan this year's flower garden. Visit your garden center to look at their seed displays and find out what will be available as transplants.