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Annual flowers to sow, grow and cut

Two favorite, zinnias and cosmos, are easy-to grow annuals to bring colors and joy in your sunny garden and arrangements

1. A to Z with zinnias

Zinnias are the perfect flowers for resilience and bright rainbow colors all summer long. They are the favorites of butterflies and bees but unfortunately of Japanese beetles if you are afflicted by them. They also have a very long vase life.

Zinnias may reach up to 48″ high depending on the variety,

Tested varieties in 2020:

‘State Fair’ offers a mix of darker colors, up to 5 inches blooms, 3 feet tall. Great germination rate and tolerance to heat make this variety the best for the mixed border. No need to stake if in full sun and regularly pruned. Easy to find in the seed display at the nursery and hardware store.

‘Benary’ series is my choice for novelty zinnias. The 4′ tall stems may need staking if not pinched. They display large flowers rich in texture, available in mix or specific colors, including orange, magenta, lilac and pink. I tested the ‘Benary Lilac’ last year and it provided quite a show!

‘Envy’ is an heirloom lime green dahlia-like zinnia, slightly more tolerant to shade than other zinnias. Its 3 inches blooms are stunning in arrangements. Two similar varieties found at specialty flower farms are ‘Queen Lime’ and ‘Queen Lime Blotch’ also tested and loved in 2020.

‘Senora’ has a lovely peach color on disheveled, smaller flowers. Very nice at first but less productive when the hot weeks of Summer hit.

‘Candy Stripe’ displays stripes of contrasting color on each smaller flower. Needed a lot of staking in a shadier spot.

‘California Giant’in mix has larger, very colorful, flowers and needs staking. Low germination rate from my package (50% and less) and less liked flowers for arrangements.

‘Pumila Mix’ is a big producing of smaller flowers in very bright colors, very tolerant to heat.

New varieties to try in 2021:

‘Benary Bright Pink’, a neon pink in the Benary series.

‘Berry Tart Mix’, a mix of vibrant colors from ‘Cherry Queen’, ‘Coral Beauty’, ‘Meteor’ and ‘Scarlet Flame’

‘Oklahoma Pink’, a more petite, double, bubblegum-colored.

Culture notes:

Leave enough space between the plants to avoid diseases, 9-12 inches apart.

Pinching and cutting blooms are recommended for upright stems and continuous blooming. Pinching may be done at the 1 foot stage above a set of leaves or later.

Cut flowers when they are fully open. Try the “wiggle test”: hold the stem 8″ below the flowers and shake. Cut only when it does not bend, and above a set of leaves.

Deadheading is important if flowers are not cut.

2. Crazy for cosmos

The graceful cosmos are the perfect cottage garden flowers. Coming in different formats, the varieties offer smaller heights for container growing or very tall ones for the back of the border. Their lovely shades between white, soft pinks to darker pinks make lovely bouquets mixed with perennials or zinnias. In some gardens, cosmos can self sow the next year if allowed to come to fruit.

Tested varieties in 2020:

‘Early Sensation Mix’, the classic long-stemmed daisy-like white and light to dark pink 3″ flowers.

‘Xsenia’ is a lovely dark pink with hues of rust orange in the center, turning antique pink as it ages. At a compact 2′ tall, it is perfect for the edge of the border.

‘Popsock Pink’ is a delightful mix of single and double, delicate, frilly pink flowers, with a powderpuff center, on 2′ stems.

New varieties to try in 2021:

‘Velouette’, an attractive 32″ bicolor in white with dark pink stripes.

‘Daydream’, a smaller plant in stature (9-12″) with paler pink and a darker pink throat, selected for container growing.

Culture notes:

Pinch stems early to encourage branching. Tall stems may need to be supported.

Cut flowers for bouquet as soon as they open. Pruning and deadheading may be helpful.

For the cut flower garden, it is recommended to sow successively over 3-4 weeks.

Tips for sowing annuals

  • Sow indoor only if you can provide sufficient lighting (natural in a heated greenhouse with at least 6 hours direct sunlight or plant-appropriate artificial lighting).
  • Sow outdoor only when all risk of frost is gone.
  • A good compromise is sowing in cell trays or plugs, indoor next to a window or in a bright sheltered space, and then gradually harden the plants outdoor for part of the day until the nights are frost free. I use a plastic car shelter and a mini-greenhouse made of patio door.
  • If you sow in trays and plugs, you may use damp perlite and then thin/transplant the seedlings in small pots or directly in the garden. Nurseries and hardware stores also sell the convenient Jiffy Miniature Professional Greenhouses which include a tray, a protective dome and 72 pellets.
  • Because I am so busy in the spring, I prefer using plug trays filled with prox-mix + mycorhizae, sowing two to three seeds in one cell, thinning the seedlings if needed after germination and transplanting the rooted hardened little plants when they show a few sets of leaves.
  • Count the number of plants you need for the space you have. Usually a 9-12 inches distance is recommended but check for the varieties you have bought. Sow at least 20% more or sow again after 14 days if germination rate has failed you.
  • Prepare name labels with dates before sowing and put the label the minute you have sown. It may be helpful to write also the color and height.
  • Keep all seed envelopes together organized by year of buying and succeeding sowing dates. When the envelopes are empty, write an X on them. Annuals are best sown the year you buy them but you may want to try older seeds even if the germination rate is lower.
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1 Comment

  1. March 15, 2021 at 2:52 pm

    Great info! I will have to plant some zinnias. I think they would do here.