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Already planning for spring? These zinnia tips can help liven up your flower garden

Cristen Clark gives some tips on growing zinnias and saving their seeds for another year.

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Cristen Clark shares tips she learned about growing flowers. Cristen Clark, special to Agweek
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The past year of gardening has been a labor of love for families all across the Midwest. This year was the first year I had ever planted a large garden. The idea of this garden was in the works for quite a while as an idea for a promotion I got to participate in with the Iowa Food and Family Project and Earl May Garden Centers.

The plan was for me to plant a small garden to feed around four people. My small garden evolved into 5,500 square feet of vegetables, flowers and sunflowers. My 9-year-old son, Barrett, loved gardening with me, and both of us enjoyed growing flowers more than anything else in the garden. Next year we plan to grow fewer vegetables and double the amount of flowers. It is quite miraculous that a tiny seed to grow something so beautiful.

This past season my son and I focused on quick growing, bountiful annuals for his cut flower garden. We live in zone 5b and some varieties we grew were various colors of zinnia, pink cosmos, aster, blue and white nigella, gladiolus, marigold of various kinds, bachelor’s button cornflowers in blue and deep burgundy and we even managed to get some “Bells of Ireland” seeds to grow!

The “Love in a Mist” and “Love in a Mist Miss Jekyll White” nigella flowers were a favorite that came from the garden this year. This flower has the most delicate looking blooms and intricate looking foliage; if there’s anything a person should witness in their time as a gardener, it is this flower. It is truly beautiful and does keep well as a cut flower in shorter smaller arrangements. The dried seed pods are also highly sought after for dried arrangements.

The most useful flowers were any of the varieties of "calendula," or marigold as we all know it. There’s an old wives’ tale that says marigold varieties repel some pests from the garden, and the staff at Earl May sent 70 marigold plants with me to plant around my large garden. I will have to say, I think it worked! We didn’t deal with any rodents bothering the seed at all. I plan to plant several varieties again next year. My favorite, off-the-beaten-path marigold variety is “Indian Prince Calendula.” They have beautiful dual colored petals and work nicely for a cut flower too!

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The easiest to grow, and most prolific flowers were the favorite of many, the zinnia. I planted about 10 different varieties of zinnia flowers. The “Queen Lime Red” and “Peppermint Stick” were the favorites of everyone who visited the garden all summer. Zinnias are easy to plant, fun to grow and bring a smile to the faces of everyone who enjoys them in a bright, cheery cut flower arrangement.

I’d never considered saving seed for next year’s flower crop but as seed prices go up, it seemed to be the right thing to do. Plus, I’ve learned a lot during the harvesting process and plan to share my seeds with friends and give some as gifts to family and my children’s teachers during the holidays. Sometimes the simplest gifts are the best gifts!

Today I’ll share a bit about saving zinnia seeds. I learned these tips from the parents of Gretta, a friend of mine here in Iowa. Her folks have been growing and saving zinnia seeds for decades, so I’ll share their “recipe” for growing a successful zinnia plot!

Tips for Growing Great Zinnias and Saving Seeds

  • Find a sunny area to grow zinnias.
  • Broadcast the seeds over a tilled raked area. Cover with soil loosely and water.
  • Keep weeds down by planting zinnias in rows about 18 inches apart. Compost between rows for weed control. The distance between rows will also encourage air flow that is helpful for zinnias which are prone to different molds and mildews on their foliage.
  • When flower blooms start producing, cut zinnias for arrangements. Make long cuts, this signals the flower to grow more blooms. Deadhead spent blooms that are still on the plant.
  • Keep an eye out for Japanese beetles, they love zinnias. If you have to use a means to mitigate pests, make sure you use it when the bees aren’t feeding on the flowers.
  • Fertilize every 3 weeks with a bloom boosting fertilizer if you have poor soil quality.
  • Don’t overwater, zinnias are easy to grow and can withstand drier conditions.
  • These flowers will bloom from July to the first hard frost.
  • Once the plants slow down, you can leave spent blooms on the plant to die back. Once the spent blooms are dry and losing their dried petals, you can pop the head of the flower off. Set them in boxes or on trays in a warm dry area until they are completely dry.
  • Store flower seed heads in an old cotton pillow case in a cool dry area like a basement. When ready to separate seeds for gifts or planting, pull seed from the pillow case and set out to separate.
  • Amend soil in the fall or early spring by adding compost.
  • Take lots of photos of your flowers so you can enjoy them all year long!

Cristen Clark lives on an Iowa farm where her family raises corn, soybeans, pigs and cattle. She loves cooking and writing, and sharing contest winning recipes with people she knows. She can be reached at cristen@foodandswine.com or at foodandswine.com.

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Cristen Clark

Related Topics: FOODRURAL LIFE
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