Want the native butterflies and other pollinators to visit your yard? Think Z for native Zinnia!
Native Plants for Native Pollinators
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!
Landscape with Native Zinnias
First of all, these lovely natives are perennial, and live for many years. Better yet, these native zinnias will also 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.
Pick from These Two
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.
Which is which?
Desert zinnia has white flowers, is native to Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Texas, where it is found in hotter, dryer sites than it’s cousin. 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 people to know it needs little water. In Colorado, they sell it as “Rocky Mountain zinnia,” to highlight it’s native status.
Planting Native Zinnias
You can purchase native zinnia in pots from nurseries, plant them in well-drained soil, and water to help them become established. Note that both of these perennial zinnias 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 zinnia 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 these charmers as a border, and as an alternative to the non-native lantana. (Lantana are from South America). Both zinnia are excellent for attracting many of the smaller native butterflies.
If you are thrifty, a nice way to get native zinnia established in your yard is to plant them as seed. 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 plants.
Both species of native zinnia are often found along our Southwestern roads – just because they are so easy to grow from seed! They are often included in re-vegatation mixes spread by highway departments.
More Natives for Your Yard
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The book’s author is Jacqueline Soule, a Tucson-based gardening expert. She knows this arid region inside and out, and she’s written several articles and books packed with her gardening advice. Arizona, Nevada & New Mexico Month-by-Month Gardening showcases Soule’s expertise in one easy-to-read guide.”
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