Zahara zinnias are raking in awards in plant trials here and abroad. All-America Selections and Fleuroselect are among the organizations to bestow awards on these new zinnias.

Everyone loves their bright colors, of course. But what makes Zahara zinnias really stand out is superior resistance to disease. If you’ve given up growing zinnias because yours always got sick and died by mid summer, it’s time to try again.

Getting rave reviews are the new so-called double varieties, packed with extra petals. Choices include Double Zahara Fire, an eye-popping orange, and Double Zahara Cherry, a deep cherry-red.

The Zahara series also includes some award-winning singles. Color choices include yellow, scarlet, rose, white and orange. In addition to individual colors, Zahara zinnias are also sold in delightful color mixes, including Raspberry Lemonade and Bonfire.

Zinnias make long-lasting cut flowers. The more you cut, the more they bloom.

Butterflies are another great reason for growing zinnias.

Gardeners set on growing tall, long-stemmed plants with 6-inch blossoms for flower arrangements are likely to be disappointed with Zahara zinnias. Still, Zahara blossoms measure a respectable two-and-a-half inches across, larger than those of other disease-resistant series. Considered a bedding-type zinnia ideal for growing in garden beds or in containers, the plants grow up to 18 inches tall and wide.

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Zahara zinnia plants are widely available at garden centers. If you prefer, it’s not too late to start with seeds.

All zinnias are quick and easy to grow from seeds planted directly in the garden. Blooming begins in about six weeks and continues until frost.

Zinnias are natives of Mexico and, given a choice, they would prefer a hot, dry summer to one that is cool and wet. They grow best in full sun, out of the path of an overhead sprinkler.

You won’t find disease-resistance in any of the tall varieties with giant flowers that resemble dahlia or cactus blossoms. To help keep this kind of zinnias healthy, allow 18 inches between plants so air can circulate freely. Also remove the flowers as soon as they fade.

When early plantings of spinach or lettuce vacate their space in the garden, I often scatter seeds of fancy-flowered zinnias in the empty spots. Not only do the flowers brighten my vegetable garden, but these zinnias also tend to stay healthy — the vegetable garden is one place I never resort to overhead watering, in order to prevent leaf spot and other common fungus diseases of tomatoes, peas, beans and other vegetables.

Jan Riggenbach writes her syndicated gardening column from her home near Glenwood, Iowa. See www.midwest

gardening.com for more information. 

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