When the Spanish discovered Zinnias growing in Mexico in 1519, they called these colorful, multi-petalled flowers “mal de ojo,” Spanish for “evil eye.” The name derives from the startling appearance of the flower’s large, unusual center which is edged with tiny, yellow, star-shaped flowerets. Named for the mid-18th century German botanist Johann Gottfried Zinn, Zinnias are in the spotlight this year, which has been named the Year of the Zinnia by the National Garden Bureau.
An old-fashioned garden favorite that attracts butterflies, zinnias can add a splash of warm color to your garden landscape. Easy to grow, these charming flowers require only moderate attention from gardeners. Zinnias should be planted in a sunny area where they will receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight every day. Zinnias grow best in fertile, well-drained soil and should be watered regularly to keep the soil evenly moist. While heat tolerant, zinnias should be watered more frequently during hot weather. To help prevent mold and disease, water plants during the morning so the leaves will have time to dry off before nightfall.
Zinnias come in both tall-growing varieties and dwarf plants. Low-growing dwarf zinnias make colorful border plants and are often mixed with Marigolds (Tagetes) with spectacular results. Tall zinnia varieties make a particularly beautiful garden display when grown with Leucanthemum (Leucanthemum), also known as Shasta Daisies. The bright white petals of the Shasta Daisies provide a stunning contrast to the colorful zinnias, making their multiple colors pop. Tall zinnia varieties should be staked as soon as the stems begin to sprout. Zinnias are top-heavy with large flower heads that grow on slender stems. Staking will prevent the stems from bending or breaking under the weight of the plant’s heavy blooms.