Oh my zinnias — Experimenting with 'Zahara Double'
Our vegetable garden is shrinking. Not in area, but in the number of things we grow.
We used to have a large bed of Buttercrunch lettuce, but much of the crop rotted for lack of consumption. I love fresh Big Beef tomatoes, but even one plant produced too many.
The only thing we freeze is roasted tomato garlic sauce, and while I grow the necessary garlic, it’s cheaper and easier to buy Roma tomatoes at the farmer’s market than to buy plants or grow them from seeds.
So now all that’s left in our garden are annual and perennial herbs, small salad tomatoes, French green beans, and bell peppers.
We decided to grow flowers for cutting in the empty beds. Dahlias were moved into one bed, and daffodils planted in another. There was still more space to fill, so we pored through seed catalogs for additional candidates.
And while my flower arranger historically dislikes zinnias, a newer variety with gorgeous double flowers caught her eye, so we gave it a try. Here’s what happened.
The variety we chose was Zahara Double, described as about 12-inches high and wide, and mildew and drought resistant. We found seeds for three different colors online — yellow, cherry and bright orange; the latter two had been All America Selections winners.
In early April, I planted seeds indoors an eighth of an inch deep in a peat-based seeding mix; covered the seed flat with clear plastic; placed it in a tray with a half-inch of water; and provided gentle bottom heat. At least I thought it was gentle — germination was poor for cherry and yellow, and non-existent for orange (perhaps the heating mat was set too high.)
But the seedlings that emerged grew nicely and were installed in the garden after the last frost date in mid-May. By early July, we had great looking plants that bloomed beautifully all summer. Powdery mildew and other pests were no-shows. Inconsistent rainfall and summer heat didn’t bother them at all.
Zahara Double would be great for a sunny border or as a brightly colored low hedge. The yellows were especially showy and outperformed an adjacent group of Inca marigolds.
But we were looking for cut flowers for arrangements, and the stems on these zinnias were not quite long enough. So next time we’ll pick a taller variety. And I’ll try not to cook the seeds.
Jim Janke is an Extension Master Gardener volunteer in Haywood County. For more information call the Haywood County Extension Center at 456-3575. © 2017 NC State University.