It can be fun to breed your own zinnias
I think that some of you out there might find that it is fun to breed your own zinnias. You could easily start now by tagging a few of your favorite zinnias, since they are probably in the process of going to seed this fall. When a seed head and it's stem attachment point becomes brown, it is ready to "harvest". Bring it inside to dry and after it is dry, you can take it apart to recover your seeds for next year.
You can accomplish a lot by simply saving seeds from your best zinnias. Each year your zinnias will get better and it may not be long until they are better than anything you can buy.
You don't have to cross pollinate to be successful with home zinnia breeding, but hybridizing can add a new dimension to the hobby and, as I told oxmyx in the Anomalous Zinnia message thread, it isn't hard to do. It's really interesting to see your very own hybrid crosses opening up for the first time.
Of course, I always enjoy the anticipation of any new zinnia opening, but it really adds to the experience when it might be a new zinnia color, or even a whole new kind of zinnia.
When I was a kid on our Oklahoma farm, I tried unsuccessfully to cross zinnias and marigolds, but I also made a few successful crosses between zinnias, and I really liked that. Later in Fort Worth we had a garden where I did some zinnia breeding, but I was working full time and didn't have a lot of free time to devote to the hobby. During subsequent career moves we were renters and didn't have access to gardening space. But I am retired now, living here in Maine, and last year, it all "came together" when gardening space for zinnias became available, and I could renew my zinnia breeding hobby.
Last year I planted Burpee Burpeeanas, Burpee Hybrids, Whirligigs, and Park's Pastel Scabiosa Flowered zinnias. I made several dozen crosses last fall and saved enough seed to fill the garden this year. I started some of my hybrids early under lights late in April and early in May. Some of them were actually blooming when I set them into the garden in early June.
I immediately began crossing some of my hybrids with each other and by planting partly green seed I started a second generation as a fall crop, which I re-crossed and am saving seed from now. With a killing frost possible at almost any time here now, my zinnia patch is definitely in the "end game." But I already have enough seed to continue the hobby next year.
Crossing F1 hybrids with each other, or saving selfed seeds from F1 hybrids, produces some very unpredictable results. I have filled a compost pile with rejects, but there have been some interesting "keepers" as well. So, as they say on the TV reality shows, "expect the unexpected."
I'll be posting several pictures of interesting specimens that have appeared this year. Zinnias are fast growers and bloom relatively quickly, so you don't have to wait long to see your results. Other ornamentals, like daylilies, iris, roses, etc, require you to wait years, not a month or so, to see your new flowers.
This specimen is a hybrid between two hybrids. It owes its petal form to one Whirligig grandparent, its flower size to a Burpee Hybrid grandparent and to a Burpeeana grandparent, and its subtle two-toned color pattern is a combination of factors from all four grandparents. I designate good specimens as "breeders", give them special attention, use pollen from them, and save seeds from them.