Zinnias spacing and control of volunteers help please

rosiewSeptember 6, 2010

I keep reading about all the wonderful things y'all are doing with hybridyzing, etc. Here's my situation: have tons of zinnias, all sizes, shapes and colors, that volunteer in my gardens. They're wonderful and the butterflies adore them. BUT I'd love to trial some of the ones I've seen here. How can I control all the volunteers?

I'd also like to know what you recommend re spacing. Mine that are crowded now are getting leaf diseases.

Your advice will be so appreciated.

Rosie, Sugar Hill, GA

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"How can I control all the volunteers?"

If it is convenient, I let the volunteers bloom, to see if they might possibly be anything special. When I was gardening in Maine I actually had a couple of "breeder" quality zinnias appear among my volunteers. In Maine, the volunteers had already proved that they could survive as seeds in solid-frozen earth for several months.

However, from my viewpoint, as soon as a volunteer has bloomed with an "uninteresting" bloom, it is a weed, and I remove it. I also "cull" the zinnias that I have planted myself. I want my garden space to be occupied by exceptional zinnias and by selected "breeder" zinnias.

"I'd also like to know what you recommend re spacing. Mine that are crowded now are getting leaf diseases."

Crowding promotes leaf diseases, because it denies the lower leaves their needed sun exposure. As the weather gets cooler you can spray your zinnias with something like GreenCure to delay the onset of foliage diseases. We had a rain last night, so I am going to spray my zinnias with GreenCure later this morning.

As for spacing, the more sun exposure the better. I would like to have my zinnia plants three feet apart or more (for easy access for pollinating them), but that isn't always possible. Occasionally two good zinnias will come up close to each other and I just leave them and try to clear away all the zinnias that aren't "good" in their immediate vicinity.

When I "cull" my zinnias, I just pull out the "bad" ones as if they were weeds, except in the case when the bad zinnia is close enough to a good zinnia that pulling out the bad zinnia will damage the root system of the good zinnia. In that case, I use a hand pruner to snip the bad zinnia off at the ground level.

In previous years I had a big compost pile just for zinnias, but zinnia compost can contain disease organisms, so now I just package my discarded zinnias to discard them in the trash pickup as garbage. I am doing the same thing with tomato vines in case they carry tomato diseases.

But I must confess that I have a lot of zinnias that are too close together right now, and their lower leaves, the ones that can't get sun, have already died off. Maybe I will do better next year. I would like to have by best zinnias at least three feet apart.

I enjoy looking through my zinnias to see what characteristics they have. You might want to look at your zinnias closely today, because you might have something interesting out there right now. If you intend to save seeds from a zinnia plant, mark it in some way so that it will stand out after all the zinnias are dead and brown. Also, you can save seeds from zinnias before the heads are completely brown. Just bring them in and spread them out on an old newspaper to dry. You can leave the flower on the zinnia plant and just pluck out the petals with the "ripe" green seeds, like in this picture.

With some practice, you will learn to tell the seeds that contain a baby zinnia plant embryo from the seeds that are just empty shells.

I use Ziploc Snack bags and 3x5 cards to store my dried seeds.

I write descriptive information on the 3x5 card for my own reference at a later time. If you have any more questions, please don't hesitate to ask. I and others will be glad to help you. Zinnias can be very interesting, and a lot of fun.

(not associated with any product or vendor mentioned)

    Bookmark   September 7, 2010 at 10:58AM
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ZM - Many thanks for all your info.

First question for you - why do you say zinnia compost can contain disease organisms? I've already put dozens of huge spent plants in my compost area!

Spacing of 3' is something I'll try for next season. Mine are very tightly planted now. Will definitely have to be more selective with so many fewer plants.

Thanks also for the tute re viable seed. Wonderful to know.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2010 at 11:13AM
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"...why do you say zinnia compost can contain disease organisms? I've already put dozens of huge spent plants in my compost area!"

Chances are pretty good that those big zinnia plants had at least some zinnia diseases, including fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases. I'm no expert on composting, and although some of my piles get very hot in the central zone, perhaps hot enough to kill diseases and insect eggs, the outer zones of my piles don't get hot enough to self-sterilize. An expert composter would probably turn the pile and add new green stuff to cause all of the material to get hot.

I would suggest not using your zinnia compost on your zinnias. Or, if you do use it, till it into the soil or otherwise mix it into the soil thoroughly before you plant zinnias in it. And try to keep your new zinnias from coming into direct contact with old rotted zinnia material.

My current compost pile contains only dried grass clippings for the browns and green grass clippings for the greens. There is some poke weed material in there too. I'm thinking about adding some rotten apples. But no zinnias or tomatoes.

With regard to the 3-foot spacing, I still plant my zinnias fairly close together, with the expectancy that I will thin them a lot at first bloom when I cull out everything that doesn't appeal to me.


    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 12:37AM
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