Zinnias, a favorite of summer weather

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Zinnias are one of my favorite annuals, and a true herald of hot, summer weather. Last summer my front garden bed was full of zinnias, but this year I skipped them in lieu of lantana. Still lovely, still annual, but presenting a different wow factor. They’re like London instead of Paris … both dazzling, but you’ve only got room in your schedule (and pocketbook) for one.

Fortunately, I put on my smarticles and reached out to Maggie Zwilling, who is a goddess among Mother Nature enthusiasts. Maggie is a perennial fan of this annual crowd pleaser that’s adaptable to most soil conditions, prefers full sun and is deer-resistant.

“I’m not a tidy gardener,” Maggie told me, “nor do I care if colors don’t match.”

If you know Maggie, then you know she does not take any crap from anybody … or, as it seems, any flower. You also know she’s got great taste and an artistic eye. “I’ve been planting zinnias for a few years,” she said. “I always throw a few seeds between my perennials and mark the area with plant markers.”

Zinnias make great companion plants, which means they play nicely with others. Zinnias grow to be about eight to 12 inches tall, and fill in the space above lower plants with attractive height and a burst of color.

“If they grow too close to the perennials,” she said, “I just thin them out.”

Because she has a lush bounty of established perennials, Maggie’s garden beds are always ready. “I usually throw out some fertilizer in the spring and again a little later — even into the fall,” she said. “But I don’t think you have to throw out fertilizer just for the zinnias. They can take a lot of abuse. Trust me, I know!”

If you’re an enterprising and patient gardener, you can harvest seeds for the following year. “Zinnias are great for reseeding themselves,” she said, but if you’re going to harvest them yourself, “make sure they’re good and dry. Take a seed head and crumble it into your hand; if the seeds separate easily, they’re good enough to store. I store mine in an envelope in a cool, dry place.”

Pay attention as the second half of the summer comes into focus, because the zinnias are in their element, waving their jazz hands and attracting all the right bugs.

“One of the reasons I love growing zinnias is because I love the wonderful colors and varieties they come in,” Maggie told me. “When they’re in full bloom there’s nothing better than just watching the butterflies and moths flittering around going from flower to flower.”

What’s flowering in your garden now? What are your favorite annuals?

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