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Vermont Garden Journal: Zinnia Varities For Your Summer Garden

Zinnias start flowering in mid-summer and continue until frost. They are a favorite of hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.

It's Memorial Day weekend and time to plant annual flowers. If you're looking for a no-nonsense, garden workhorse that will fill you flower needs, grow zinnias. This South American native isn't the most attractive flower in the pageant when grown in the wilds of Mexico, but once brought back to Europe and bred, it's become a stalworth. There are so many different colors, shapes and sizes that I grow a couple dozen each year.

If you're looking for a tall, cutting zinnia or one to stand tall in the back of a border try the "Benary Giants" or "State Fair Mix." These grow three-to-four-feet tall with four-to-six-inch diameter blooms. For a wilder look, try the three-foot tall cactus-type zinnias with spidery flower petals. Butterflies love all of these varieties. For shorter landscape zinnias try the two-foot tall "Zahara" series. For dwarf varieties in containers or in the front of a garden, you can't beat the "Profusion" series. These plants only grow one-foot tall, in elegant mounding shapes with a wide range of flower colors.

The keys to growing zinnias are heat, sun and dryness. Plant zinnias now from seed or transplants in a full-sun location on well-drained soil. The lighter the soil the better and don't overwater them. To avoid the dreaded powdery mildew disease, select disease resistant varieties, such as "Oklahoma," and space plants further apart. You can also spray Serenade organic fungicide when you first see signs of the disease.

Zinnias start flowering in mid-summer and continue until frost. Cut flowers all summer for bouquets but leave some for the hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. You can easily save seeds of non-hybrid varieties, such as "California Giants," in fall and sow them next year.

Now for this week's tip: don't be in a rush to plant basil seedlings yet. They like the heat. But if they're already in the ground, protect them with floating row covers until the temperatures warm consistently.

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