How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Zinnia
People are concerned about the recent decline in native pollinators. This has highlighted the need to grow more native plants in our yards. Great idea! But most gardeners want colorful plants in their yards. Never fear – native zinnia are here! Native pollinators are programmed to look for certain flowers – like white zinnias.
Do Zinnias Come Back Every Year?
First of all, these lovely native zinnias are perennial, and live for many years. Better yet, both species will bloom for months, providing a steady splash of color in your landscape. Since they are native, they are used to living in the somewhat challenging conditions of the Southwest and need very little care or fuss. Best of all — they need little to no extra water once established.
Pick from These Two Varieties
There are two species of native zinnia readily available in the nursery trade in the Southwest – desert zinnia (Zinnia acerosa) and prairie zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora). The care for both is highly similar.
Desert zinnia has white flowers, and is native to Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Texas, where it is found in hotter, dryer sites than its cousin. The desert zinnia can survive on 8 to 20 inches of rain a year.
Prairie zinnia has golden flowers, is found in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, and prefers the cooler prairie areas of these states. In the wild it gets generally 15 to 25 inches of rain a year, and can survive colder winter temperatures than its desert cousin.
Confusingly, Zinnia grandiflora, the prairie zinnia, is often sold as “desert zinnia” because nurseries want gardeners to know it needs little water. In Colorado, they sell it as “Rocky Mountain zinnia,” to highlight its native status.
Where Is The Best Place To Grow Zinnias?
Zinnias love to be planted in well-drained soil and water to help them become established. Note that both of these perennial species need well-drained soil. If you live in an area of clay soil, be sure you add ample drainage material to their soil – sand and compost – when you plant them.
These plants are great in a low-water landscape to help “fill in” spaces, like around boulders, or under trees that offer filtered shade like palo verde. Plant native zinnia as a groundcover or as a border. Consider them as an alternative to the frost-tender lantana. Both species discussed here are excellent for attracting many of the smaller native butterflies.
Can Zinnias Be Grown By Seed?
Plant these as seed. It’s a quick way to get these natives established in your yard. If some live near you, simply collect a handful of the papery flowers and plant them! Scrape a shallow hole about a quarter inch deep, sprinkle the seed in, and cover with soil. You need to cover seed to hide it from the voracious seed-eating birds. Add water once a week, and soon you will have a number of lovely plants.
Both species of native zinnia (along with others) grow along our Southwestern roads – planted by highway departments. They are so easy to grow from seed that they are often included in revegetation mixes.