30 August 2011

Zinnia-mania

In the past I viewed zinnias in the same way as marigolds and petunias. They were easy annuals that grew and flowered nonstop through the summer, became ungainly toward the end of summer, and then succumbed to fall disease or needed to be taken out because of their old age. Let's hope I don't have the same fate in my old age.

The Tall Zinnias
However, I have since appreciated one trait that zinnias have over the other two: they make a good cut flower, and come back after cutting. The flowers can also last a while on the plant like marigolds, and come in more color varieties. For the last few years I planted Violet Queen - a supposedly purple (but more pink) tall, double flowered variety (Zinnia elegans). Like most zinnias, some were double flowered and some were not.

This year with the Violet Queen [past photo] seeds running low, I ordered yellow Canary Bird zinnia to plant amongst the remaining 'purple' Violet Queen and keep them company in the side garden. Most of the purples did not germinate- (if a good photo of both together develops later this year, I will post it.) The yellows flying solo in the front garden receive more sun. The soil is also better there, having been worked on for more years. I can report that Canary Bird is a winner.

More of the blooms are double-flowered than the violet. They also began blooming a bit earlier than the violet, and have more branching with blooms than the straighter violet. The color is spectacular, I believe because the blooms are the same color as the anthers and stigma. This is one worth planting again.

The Short Zinnias
One year I purchased a mix of a few babies called Mexican Zinnias (Zinnia augustifolia) or narrow-leaf zinnias: white, yellow, and orange in the mix. Without me knowing, they reseeded themselves behind my back and came back the next year in the two places where they had been the previous summer. I was tearing out the infants as weeds since I did not recognize them. The leaves on the seedlings looked similar to a salvia growing nearby, so I let a few grow to see if they were weeds or salvia. Yellow zinnias began blooming.

I also stopped decimating the volunteers in the other bed where they had been growing the previous year. Orange flowers began to emerge there. Since then, I have kept the yellows in one bed, and the orange in another along the walk, and they reemerge every year from their own seed. I give a few away and transplant a few when starting growing in the spring. Funny, but none of the whites reseeded and came back.

This year, after about 5 years of remaining separate, a few yellows came up in the orange bed. What audacity and impudence. I will attribute this to an increase in butterfly and bee activity last fall, beginning about this time of year. Although I would prefer a uniform color, I let it happen. Zinnia augustifolia needs to grow before exposing the flower color. By then, they is too big to think about ripping out. And at this size, they do not like being transplanted.

The plants start out very, very slowly in the spring and develop for a month. Another month of growth producing leaves, a few blooms pop out. Then all of a sudden in midsummer heat, they explode and go wild, developing into the masses you see in the photos.

What I really like about these, in addition to the reseeding, is their ability to naturalize and neatly spill over the edge of the walk like the alyssum without becoming a nuisance. They do not make good cut flowers, since their habit is one of a tumbleweed. Their beauty is in numbers. I tried saving orange seed and starting indoors this spring. I had some success, but the germination rate was not good.

For The Record:
  • Heavy clay soil with gypsum & organic amendments
  • Full sun is best
  • Small amount of fertilizer
  • Tall zinnias tend to develop powdery mildew in autumn when temps cool
  • No pests or disease on the dwarf zinnias


Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: Mexican zinnia, zinnia, cosmos, salvia, sunflowers, rain lily, rudbeckia, daylily
  • Harvested: 2 peppers, 4 tomatoes
  • Removed: Cherry tomatoes, cucumbers

15 August 2011

August 2011 Bloom Day

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day
What's blooming in the garden on the 15th of the month.
Mass blooms are highlighted this month. First up is the cleome that ate Alexandria. This out of control monster does a good job of scaring away the neighborhood kids. Dwarf sunflowers cower in fear at the other side of the yard. Across the walk are some Mexican zinnias continuing to spread and merge into one large clump.

The hedge of cosmos feeding the bumblebees are showing their age with fewer blossoms and thinner plants. My canary yellow zinnias are new this year and live up to their name. If I can only keep the finches from plucking off the petals to get at the seeds, they would be spectacular.

And the sweet alyssum is flowing and oozing onto the brick pavers, providing a delicious fragrance and giving some contrast to the frog - my garden bling.

Find other garden bloggers' bloom days at the blog May Dreams Gardens.

Cleome hassleriana

Helianthus annuus "Waooh"

Zinnia agustifolia

Cosmos sulphureus

Zinnia "Canary"

Lobularia maritima

Garden Calendar:
  • Harvested: 8 cherry tomatoes, 3 cucumbers, 2 chilis, 2 tomatoes

10 August 2011

Peppered With Promise

This year I found no Karma hybrid pepper seeds left over from previous years to plant in the spring. As I usually do, I moved on to try a different variety. My results with Karma, as well as my other pepper varieties are described in a previous post from 2008 [31.08.08].

This year I selected Early Thickset. Descriptions made it sound like a good substitute for my Karma peppers. But wait ... I found a few Karma seeds hiding in the seed tin after the Thickset seeds arrived! I had the chance for a head to head competition.

Both peppers germinated in their indoor starter cups. For my pepper-thon, the best seedling of each variety was planted next to the other in the front cottage garden. Both had the same good soil, ample sunlight, water, hot weather, and fertilizer. They grew as side by side companions through the spring and summer, and now the results are in. Karma still rules.

Comparison
Both plants appeared identical in size, coloring, and leaves, and were not bothered by pests or disease. But there was a difference in the peppers.

Early Thickset was not early after all. Both plants set fruit at the same time, and both matured to red at the same time. No advantage to either. The Karma produced only two large peppers, while the Thickset had five in the first summer cycle. The Karma peppers were uniformly large and turned red. The Thickset peppers had one large, four smaller, and turned a rusty reddish-brown. Thickset probably has a better tolerance for our summer heat, and thus could set fruit at higher temperatures. So we get bigger peppers with Karma, more peppers with Thickset. Notice also that Thickset had four internal ribs, while Karma had three.

Taste
The important test is taste. Both were cut into. Both were juicy and had that fresh bell pepper aroma. Surprisingly, the Early Thickset not only flunked the 'early' test, but the 'thick' test, too. Karma had much thicker walls. Maybe as indicated by the color, the Karma were definitely sweeter tasting.

Karma is the winner, since I would rather have fewer fruits per plant if it means I get sweet tasting, juicy, meaty peppers.

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: pink cosmos, mexican zinnia, rudbeckia, cosmos, zinnia, nicotiana, cleome, sunflowers, marigold
  • Harvested: 5 peppers, 1 tomato, 3 cukes, 56 cherry tomatoes