Colleen O’Neill Nice

Love at first sight

by cathym on May 13, 2021

Story by Colleen O’Neill Nice

I was inspired to write this article after touring gardens in the Pacific Northwest just before travel restrictions were put in place. As I was roaming through “The Farm” of horticulturalist Thomas Hobbs in Langley, British Columbia, I discovered an unusual flower. It was scattered throughout a large, fenced-in area dedicated to vegetables, dahlias and daylilies. The flower form was unique, with hand-painted petals in transitionary shades similar to a watercolor painting. It was love at first sight. The plant was zinnia ‘Zinderella Peach’! 

I have always had an affection for zinnias. They are the quintessential summer flowering annual. Their vivid colors glow in my summer garden plus they are heat and drought resistant – not to mention low maintenance. Zinnias are the perfect choice for the novice gardener because they are one of the easiest plants to cultivate. They are adaptable and fast growing, nearly effortless for children to learn to nurture. I grow the large flowering varieties of zinnias to attract honeybees, butterflies and hummingbirds with their nectar. Their long lasting, bright blooms beautify my indoor spaces, where I can appreciate their many shapes and sizes. I use the dazzling-colored petals to brighten salads, summer drinks and desserts. If you love gardening, you will no doubt, love zinnias!

Landscape zinnias
Let’s begin with two cultivars of landscape zinnias commonly used in flower borders, beds and containers. Both varieties create an abundance of color and continuously bloom throughout the growing season. The flower structure itself consists of three styles: single-blooms which display a single row of petals with the center of each flower exposed; double-blooms which feature several rows of petals with the center hidden in the petals; and semi-double blooms with an exposed and visible center surrounded by several rows of petals.

The Profusion series, an interspecific hybrid, became an instant hit in the gardening world, and was one of the first zinnias to resist powdery mildew. The plants form compact, vigorous mounds that grow 12 to 18 inches tall and spread to 24 inches wide. The two-inch flowers bloom lavishly over a long season from early summer to frost. They tolerate heat, humidity and drought. Single-bloom colors include red, white, apricot, coral pink, deep apricot, lemon, fire and cherry bicolor. The double-bloom palette features white, cherry, deep salmon, fire and golden yellow. Profusion zinnias love full sun and prefer a well draining, humus-rich, evenly moist soil. Proper plant spacing is critical so avoid overcrowding to prevent poor air circulation. Fortunately, deadheading is not necessary since the new leaves and buds cover the old flowers naturally.

The Zahara series of Zinnia marylandica grow a bit larger than the Profusion series, usually 16 to 20 inches tall. The vibrant blooms are slightly bigger at two-and-a-half inches and continuously blanket the spreading drifts throughout the season. The Zaharas are tough plants and thrive in hot, sunny, dry areas. They are highly resistant to mildew and leaf spot. Single-bloom colors include raspberry, white, pink, yellow, red, and starlight rose (bright rose on white). Double-blooms feature several bi-colors—raspberry ripple (pink with raspberry stripes), sunburst (golden yellow with red stripe) and fire (scarlet-orange) which can be mixed with white, orange, yellow, salmon and cherry. The Zahara zinnias make excellent cut flowers, holding their striking colors as they age. 

Profusion and Zahara zinnias are available through local greenhouses and garden centers including Bakers’ Acres in Groton, Kate’s Country Cousins in Lancaster, and Weeks’ Nursery and Greenhouses in Clarence. Green Acre Farm & Nursery in Greece offers a three-color mix of Profusion zinnias in six-inch containers and six packs of Profusion and Zahara zinnias. Palmiter’s Nursery grows both Profusion and Zahara zinnias in jumbo six packs. Seeds are available at Harris Seed, Park Seed, and Swallowtail Garden Seeds. 

Scabiosa-flowered zinnias
The Zinderella series of Z. elegans exploded onto the horticulture scene when ‘Zinderella Peach’ won Europe’s Fleuroselect Novelty Award for its unique color and very unusual flower form. It is the first scabiosa-flowered (pincushion) zinnia offered in unique color combinations. Abundant blooms thrive on healthy plants that grow 24 to 36 inches tall. Impressive two-and-a-half-inch crested, delicate flowers are brilliant in bouquets and arrangements. 

The frilly double blooms of ‘Zinderella Lilac’ combine soft lavender and blush—with a striking dark center. ‘Zinderella Purple’ has tightly clustered short petals over a skirt of layered, longer, daisy-like petals. It is a very distinct, luscious shade of fuchsia-lilac. ‘Zinderella Peach’ boasts large, crested pompom blooms of bright peach with a delicate cream ring around the central eye. Charming ‘Zinderella Orange’ offers a delicate cream halo and bright tangerine pompoms with hints of deep gold. Creamy white blooms of double, semi-double and single flowers adorn ‘Zinderella White’. For an added punch of color, the fiery-crimson ‘Zinderella Red’ includes both single and large-domed doubles. 

Keep your Zinderellas happy and robust by growing them in full sun. Pinch back the seedlings when they are six to eight inches tall to encourage bushiness. Try to thin out plants early, leaving one to one-and-a-half feet between seedlings to discourage disease and increase air circulation. Zinderellas need to be deadhead for continuous blooms. The inflorescence attracts good bugs and pollinators, so scatter your seeds in the vegetable patch and amongst other flowering plants to increase beneficial insects throughout your entire garden. Zinnias are a “cut-and-come-again” annual. They set new buds as soon as the old flowers are cut or deadheaded and then repeat this process reliably all summer. So fill your vases, share bouquets with your neighbors, and float some blooms in your birdbath—the more you cut, the more will bloom. Keep in mind that Zinderella seeds are open-pollinated (they breed true and produce plants identical to their parents), so collect and save some seeds for next year.

If you prefer a medley of vibrant blooms in pink, purple, red, yellow, orange and white with the unique pincushion inflorescence, try a scabiosa-flowered mix. These sun-loving annuals grow to 30 inches tall and thrive in nutrient-rich soil. The textured, two-to-three-inch, dome-shaped blooms resemble the wildflower scabiosa, hence the name. Treat them to bloom-boosting fertilizer during the growing season.

Seed sources include Park Seed, Johnny’s Selected Seed, Swallowtail Seeds, Eden Brothers, and Select Seeds.

Cactus-type zinnias
Some of the loveliest annuals are the cactus-type zinnias (Z. elegans), which have been around for decades. These zinnias have double or semi-double flowers with petals that twist and curl. Spectacular, four-to-five-inch, shaggy blooms include every color of the rainbow except blue. Branching plants grow three feet tall and two feet wide. Their long, strong stems make them ideal for cutting. 

Z. elegans ‘Redman Super Cactus’ produces fiery orange-red, six-inch flowers with contrasting yellow flares at the center of each flower. They bloom constantly from June until frost in fertile soil with ample water during dry periods. This new distinct spidery-petaled zinnia is heat tolerant and mildew resistant. 

Other cactus-type zinnias are available in color blends such as the giant cactus mixes that include warm shades of yellow, orange, rose, red, pink, salmon, and white. The long, needle-thin petals add texture and long-lasting color to any sunny spots in your garden. Plants grow to 30 inches tall and 12 inches wide with blooms stretching to five inches across. To prevent mildew, water early in the day so foliage can dry off before nightfall or with a soaker hose to minimize wetting the foliage. Space plants generously to prevent overcrowding.

At Renee’s Garden, the custom heirloom mix ‘Raggedy Anne’ includes radiant shades of canary and golden yellow, orange, crimson, scarlet, coral, carmine rose, lilac rose, pink, and white—a shade for every garden color scheme. The giant flower faces have curved and twisted narrow petals like quilled chrysanthemums. Plants can be encouraged to branch if the long stems are cut well back into the plant. Grow large and abundant flowers by thinning the seedlings before they get crowded and watering regularly during dry spells.

Plants are online at Annie’s Annuals and Perennials and White Flower Farm. Purchase seeds at Renee’s Garden, Pinetree Garden Seeds, and Park Seed. 

Pink Profusion zinnias mingle with Allium tuberosum and Benary’s Giant Orange zinnias. Photo by Colleen O’Neill.

Cut flower zinnias
New to the cut flower category are the unique colorations of the Queen series. Though it is cultivated in the same manner as other zinnias, it is specifically grown in cut flower gardens. Reaching heights of over 4 feet tall at maturity, these stunning plants make a huge visual impact in the landscape and attract multitudes of pollinators as well. They continue to bloom throughout the summer, even as the flowers are cut for use in vases.

The green ‘Queen Lime’ zinnia is popular and stunning with beautiful, double blooms in shades of chartreuse. ‘Queen Red Lime’ offers the same double flowers but transitions from lime green to shades of rose and pink with soft chartreuse in between. ‘Queen Lime-Orange’ displays a cherry center surrounded by lime petals transitionary to orange—simply stunning! The very elegant ‘Queen Lime-Blush’ features splashes of a rosy tint on lime green inflorescences. Flowers are about two to three inches wide and look almost papery and somewhat Victorian. Well-branched plants grow 32 to 40 inches tall and 18 inches wide with sturdy stems. Queen Lime zinnias thrive in summer heat. They bloom from mid to late summer—even into the fall—after many other flowers are exhausted. Be sure to harvest flowers early in the morning when they are fully open, since they will not continue to open once they are cut. To keep flowers fresh in a vase, add a few drops of bleach to the water. Queen series zinnias are lovely in massed plantings and make dramatic additions to containers and garden beds. The ‘Queen Lime’ cultivars can easily be grown from seed if you cannot find transplants at your local garden center or nursery. Refer to the seed starting tips included with my article.

Zinnia ‘State Fair’ mix displays colossal five-inch flowers with flat petals forming single and semi double blooms. A wide range of colors include red, yellow, orange, purple, pink, white and bicolors. Robust plants grow 3 feet tall, exhibit good disease resistance and thrive in sunny, warm conditions. Reenie Sandsted of Bakers’ Acres in Groton sells ‘State Fair Giant’. According to her, “it grows tall, makes a great cut flower, and is our best seller.”

‘State Fair’ mix is available at Green Acre Farm & Nursery in Greece, Kate’s Country Cousins in Lancaster, Palmiter’s Nursery in Avon, and Weeks’ Nursery and Greenhouses in Clarence.

Bakers’ Acres in Groton sells both the ‘Queen’ series and ‘State Fair Giant’ in six packs.

Seeds are available at Hazzard’s Plants & Seeds and Burpee.

Bicolor and multicolor zinnias
The next category of easy-to-grow zinnias are the chic bicolors and swanky multi-colors. Z. elegans ‘Zowie Yellow Flame’ is a showstopper with three-inch, semidouble flowers with iridescent magenta centers and petals dipped in orange. The flowers darken as they age to a ruby-rose, ending with a finale of yellow and red blooms. As the flower matures, a circle of small golden stars surrounds its center disk. An All-American Selections winner, this bicolor grows 24 to 36 inches tall and stands up to heat and tough conditions. Deadheading will keep these annuals producing flowers, while minimal pinching is necessary to keep the plants full.

Zinnia ‘Candy Cane’ mix, an heirloom with double blooms, is bold and vibrantly striped or flecked. Eye-catching, four-inch inch flowers combine bright pink, rose and cherry stripes on white, and sometimes gold, blossoms sprinkled with orange-magenta splotches. Flowers grow 18 inches tall and bloom from midsummer to frost, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds galore.

The beautiful ‘Peppermint Stick’ zinnias include double flowers striped and splotched in shades of cream, yellow, carmine, rosy-purple, orange and scarlet. No two flowers look exactly alike, and they are perfect for arrangements. Heavy bloomers, the 24 to 28 inches tall plants are easy to grow in full sun and are resistant to deer and rabbits.

The bicolor, scarlet-red ‘Mazurkia’ zinnias flaunt petal tips frosted with pearly white. Sturdy, branching plants grow 24 to 30 inches tall and are perfect for containers or sunny borders. Mix ‘Mazurkia’ with annuals like Verbena bonariensis and Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Purity’. Try Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’ and Nigella damascena ‘Miss Jekyll White’ for lively combinations. The typical vase life for zinnias is seven days, which can be extended further with the use of flower preservatives.

The ‘Whirligig’ mix reminds me of a gallardia or gazania. The cheerful, single to semi-double daisy shaped blooms open in every color and pattern, with lively, multicolor combinations and contrasting petal tips. Reminiscent of pinwheels, the three-to-four-inch flowers grow on 24-inch sturdy stems, perfect for summer bouquets. Prevent mildew by watering early in the day so foliage can dry off and space generously to prevent overcrowding.

Bakers’ Acres in Groton sells ‘Peppermint Stick’. Seeds sources include Harris Seed, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Burpee, and Thompson & Morgan.

If you start your zinnia seeds outdoors, choose a spot in full sun, add compost or fertilizer to the soil, and sow seeds at a depth of one-quarter inch. Zinnia seeds germinate well if both air and soil temperatures are more than 70 degrees. Keep soil surface moist until plants emerge. Zinnia seedlings grow in about seven to ten days after sowing. When the seedlings are three inches tall, they need to be thinned out from six to 18 inches apart depending on the variety. This is done to maximize air circulation.

If you start your zinnia seeds indoors, sow seeds five to seven weeks before your last frost date at a depth of a quarter inch in a good seed starting medium in cell packs or flats. Press seeds into the soil and lightly cover. Maintain a temperature of 70-75 degrees F and keep the soil moist. Plants need to be “hardened off” before planting in your garden. This process toughens the plant’s cell structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding from the sun. Acclimatize young plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week, protecting them from wind, direct sun and cold temperatures. Once hardened off, choose a location in full sun, add compost or fertilizer to the soil, and space the transplants nine to 12 inches apart, depending on the variety. For strong growth, prolific blooms, and minimal disease and pest damage, water as needed, adding mulch to prevent weeds and retain moisture within the soil. 

Dwarf zinnias
The cutie pies of the zinnia world are the dwarf zinnias—growing from 6 to 14 inches tall and commonly planted in flower borders. Cherished for their small size, these petite plants grow well when interplanted with other annuals, perennials, and shrubs. Although the plants remain small throughout the growing season, the potential bloom size will vary depending upon the zinnia variety. 

Zinnia elegans ‘Thumbelina’ mix includes single and semi-double one-and-a-quarter-inch blooms on six-inch plants. The compact, dome-shaped annuals start to bloom at just three inches tall in shades of orange, pink, white, and yellow. 

Considered the best dwarf zinnia ever grown, the ‘Magellan’ series is truly an outstanding garden performer, especially as a bedding plant. The vibrant, double, four-to-five-inch flowers are arranged with layer after layer of petals crowned with a frilly yellow center. The sturdy, 14-inch plants are smothered with blooms over a long summer season. The mix contains seven bold colors including cherry, pink, orange, ivory, yellow, scarlet, and coral. Seeds for each of the colors can be purchased separately as well. Deadhead the old flowers to keep new buds developing for even more superb color!

The ‘Dreamland’ series has been around for several years enticing gardeners with its early, four-inch, long-lasting blooms on compact, robust 10 to 12-inch plants. The dahlia-form flowers, with waxy petals, are rugged and weather-tolerant during summer storms. They quickly form a solid carpet of color in large beds and borders. Eight harmonious hues include apricot, coral, pink, rose, yellow, ivory, red, and scarlet! Marla Palmiter at Palmiter’s Nursery in Avon offers the ‘Dreamland’ series and grows both a mix and the coral. According to Palmiter, “The ‘Dreamland’ coral is gorgeous and very popular.” When cut, the flowers are stunning and stay fresh for well over a week in a vase. If growing ‘Dreamland’ from seed, sow in succession for a longer flowering period.

Tom Pfentner, owner of Weeks’ Nursery and Greenhouses in Clarence, has been growing zinnias for more than 50 years. “We started with the ‘Dreamland’ varieties then added the ‘Profusion’ and ‘Zahara’s. We also grow the tall ‘State Fair’ mix,” he says. “Zinnias are prolific bloomers and continue flowering well into the fall.”

‘Dreamland’ plants are available at Palmiter’s and Weeks’ Nursery and Greenhouses in Clarence. Kate’s Country Cousins in Lancaster sells the ‘Magellan’ series in four-and-a-half inch pots. Green Acre Farm & Nursery in Greece grows the ‘Dreamland’ and ‘Thumbelina’ mixes in six packs and ‘Magellan’ mix in eight-inch containers. Seed sources include Burpee and Park Seed.

Sun tolerant Coleus ‘Wasabi’ and orange Profusion zinnias spillover their container. Photo by Colleen O’Neill Nice.

Dahlia-flowered zinnias
Benary’s ‘Giant Dahlia’ series (Z. elegans) is considered a premium zinnia recommended by the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers. Densely petaled blooms create a beehive shape with added dimension, growing up to six inches across. They are long-lasting in bouquets. Colors include deep red, orange, carmine rose, coral, lime, wine, purple, bright pink, white, salmon rose, scarlet, and golden yellow. Seeds can be purchased by color or in a mix. Benary’s giants are vigorous, reaching heights of 40 to 50 inches and holding up remarkably well in summer rain and heat.

The Z. elegans ‘Giant Dahlia Flowered’ mix offers a vibrant combination of yellows, roses, scarlet, green, orange, pink, red, purple, and coral flowers on strong, 30-to-40-inch stems. Similar in color and habit to Benary’s giants, the flower structure of the ‘Giant Dahlia’ mix includes single, double and semi-double, 4-to-6-inch blooms. Collect and save the seed for next year, since both varieties are open-pollinated.

Seeds are available at Harris Seed, Swallowtail Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Hazzard’s Plants & Seeds.

Zinnias are the hardest working flower that you can employ in your summer garden! They are fast growers. Plan to direct-sow zinnia seeds in the spring, then sow a second batch in mid-summer. Fill your containers with zinnias using quick and easy six packs. All zinnia varieties—old or new—can brighten up your garden when it may be looking a little tired by summer’s end. Zinnias make colorful companions for ornamental grasses, roses, sunflowers, black-eyed Susans and hydrangeas. Scatter zinnia seeds in your perennial garden to add color and fill in spaces as you wait for plants to mature. When native plant sources are running low on pollen and nectar, attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies with large-flowered varieties. Plant bright and beautiful zinnias in a butterfly garden near your porch or patio so you can enjoy them as well. The only challenging aspect of growing zinnias is deciding which varieties to plant.

Annie’s Annuals and Perennials
Eden Brothers
Harris Seed
Hazzard’s Plants & Seeds
Johnny’s Selected Seed
Park Seed
Pinetree Garden Seeds
Renee’s Garden
Select Seeds
Swallowtail Garden Seeds
Thompson & Morgan
White Flower Farm

Colleen O’Neill Nice is an avid gardener in Clarence.


Natural Selections: A Riot of Rudbeckias

by janem on June 6, 2013

by Colleen O’Neill Nice

Last July, my mom and I embarked on our first day-long coach tour sponsored by the Buffalo National Garden Festival. We visited several diverse gardens in the towns south of Buffalo, including an exuberant landscape sprawling across several acres. Welcoming fields of color greeted us in the bright afternoon sun. Immense daisy-like blooms of brown-eyed Susans, in hues of yellow, gold, orange, bronze and red glowed amid the colorful daylilies. With little rainfall and no supplemental irrigation, these plants were blissfully thriving in full sun with minimal water. I was immediately captivated by the flamboyant flowers. I needed to find out more.

A native to North America, rudbeckia is a genus of 23 species including annuals, biennials and perennials. Most gardeners are familiar with Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’, the perennial black-eyed susan that flourishes throughout summer and fall. Newer varieties of rudbeckia have been introduced in the past several years featuring large flowers in vibrant colors. Primarily considered annuals or short-lived perennials, they are members of the largest species: hirta. These new hybrids, commonly referred to as gloriosa daisies, are drought-tolerant, sun-loving, prolific bloomers, easy to grow and self-sowing. Simply dazzling

Annual Rudbeckias

One of my favorites, ‘Autumn Colors’, delivers the largest blooms ever grown on a gloriosa daisy. Its maroon center is accentuated by fiery petals of orange, gold and mahogany. Unique color patterns dominate five to seven inch blooms. Strong stems grow 20 to 24 inches tall and 12 to 15 inches wide. ‘Autumn Colors’ won the Fleuroselect Quality Mark, Europe’s highest award for flowering ornamentals from seed. Although stunning in the garden, its long-lasting blooms are a must in a vase.

For an outstanding mix of double flowers, try ‘Cherokee Sunset’. Autumn shades include orange, gold, red, bronze and brown. Strong, well branched thirty-inch stems bloom from July until frost. It self sows easily on bare soil and should be spaced twelve inches apart to allow for good air circulation. A Fleuroselect winner, it was chosen for superior breeding, beauty and performance by the International Organization for Ornamental Plants.

Imagine a spectacular rudbeckia in shades of red and maroon with a big black eye. The first-ever, crimson flowering black-eyed susan from seed, ‘Cherry Brandy’ is blanketed with three to four inch blooms from summer through fall. Very strong stems, just two feet tall, support dozens of blooms which bees and butterflies adore. To stimulate constant blooming, deadhead plants throughout the summer as needed. Allow the last flowers of autumn to dry completely on the plants to encourage reseeding. ‘Cherry Brandy’ seedlings are slow starters, so be sure to start these seeds indoors in early to late winter.

Scrumptious, dark chocolate centers contrast with the bright orange tips of ‘Orange Chocolate’. This new color combination is unique and stunning. Plants grow 24 inches tall and 18 inches wide in sun or part shade. They are deer resistant, suitable for xeriscaping and self sow freely.

Just 18 inches tall, ‘Corona’ is compact and densely branched with large, semi-double yellow petals surrounding a brown cone. It thrives in well-drained, average soil in full sun. Its crisp blooms pair well with the mottled flowers of ‘Autumn Colors’ or the vivid shades of ‘Cherry Brandy’.

Easily propagated from seed, ‘Marmalade’ germinates in ten to fifteen days. Plants produce five-inch blooms of orange-yellow petals surrounding prominent brown cones. It is reliable and a good choice for novice gardeners. ‘Marmalade’ grows quickly (two feet tall) and blooms prolifically if watered regularly, especially throughout hot summers.

Dwarf Rudbeckias

For small gardens and containers, several petite varieties are available. ‘Goldilocks,’ in development for over twelve years, displays plentiful large double and semi-double canary-colored flowers. Just eight to ten inches tall with a bushy habit, it produces a mass of color for months. Often used in public spaces, this little powerhouse blooms under extreme conditions.

‘Becky’ grows ten to twelve inches tall with orange, yellow and cinnamon bicolor flowers. Combine it with the bright yellow petals and a floriferous disposition of ‘Becky Yellow’. Add the rusty-red colored centers of ‘Becky Cinnamon BiColor,’ surrounded by petals of yellow, orange and mixed hues. All love full sun and will reseed gently, although the offspring may not be as short as the parents. Butterflies and bees are attracted to the well branched plants that bloom from late spring until fall with regular deadheading.

Ideal for window boxes, rock gardens and the front of the border, ‘Toto Lemon’ bears three inch pastel yellow daisies on stout, very erect stems. It maintains it’s color and shape remarkably well for drying. To extend bud production, remove dead blossoms regularly. Just under a foot tall, ‘Spotlight’ has a charming chocolate-brown dollop on every slightly fluted petal. Very weather resistant, it focuses all its energy on good branching and bud production. The most compact dwarf rudbeckia, ‘Toto Lemon’ grows six to eight inches tall and ten inches wide.

The fluffy, zinnia-like blooms of ‘Maya’ are sunny-yellow with green centers. A pioneer in double flowered dwarf rudbeckias, it is a perennial in zones 5-9 and grows just eighteen inches tall. It was awarded a Fleuroselect Gold Medal for compact plant habit and excellent garden performance after trials in more than forty public gardens across the United States, Europe and Asia. Ornamental seed heads can be left intact for winter interest.

Perennial Rudbeckias

The light green cones of ‘Prairie Sun’, surround orange-yellow rays brushed with lemon-citrus tips. Masses of long-lasting flowers with hues reliably consistent create bold accents in the garden or containers. The three foot tall plants will tolerate clay soils, but prefer organically rich loams. ‘Prairie Sun’ received both the All-American Selection and Fleuroselect Gold Medal awards in 2003 for stunning petal color combination, upright stems and excellent weather resistance. Grown as a perennial in zones 3 to 8, it can be started indoors from seed in late February or early March.

To commemorate their 150th anniversary, the city of Denver developed the ‘Denver Daisy’.  The signature plant is a cross between the native Rudbeckia hirta and the award winning ‘Prairie Sun’. Seeds were distributed to the public through schools, offices and organizations to help beautify the city. Huge six-inch pure yellow blooms, marked with a prominent rich mahogany eye, surround a black central cone. Compact and bushy, this drought resistant perennial (zones 3-9) flowers for months on strong stems that won’t flop, even in inclement weather. It grows 18 to 20 inches tall and 10 to 18 inches wide. It received the 2010 American Garden Award grand prize for its large, long-blooming flowers, extreme heat tolerance and pest resistance.

Bright splashes of gold, copper and brown petals highlight the vigorous Fleuroselect gold medal winner, ‘Cappuccino’. Uniform, well-branched plants grow 18 to 20 inches tall and 14 to 16 inches wide. It is a “cut-and-come” plant, so the more you cut, the more they bloom. Through breeding, these tetraploids have twice the chromosomes of other rudbeckias, giving them exceptional bloom strength. They are a hardy, long-lived perennial in zones 3-9.

The unique quilled flower petals of ‘Chim Chiminee’ in velvety, rustic shades are impressive in a butterfly garden or mailbox planting. This fast growing, multi-branching perennial is hardy in zones 3-9 and grows 24 to 30 inches tall. Flowers bloom from July until frost if watered weekly, especially in extreme heat.

Add a sprinkling of whimsy to your garden with ‘Irish Spring’. Yellow-orange rays surround a vivid green center disk creating five to seven inch daisy-like blooms. Basal clumps of bristly, olive-green leaves surround robust single flower stems. ‘Irish Spring’ blooms the first year from seed and is hardy in zones 3-8. It will also self-seed if given optimum conditions. It prefers moist, organically rich soil but grows well in average, well drained garden beds


Rudbeckia are easy to grow from seed and are available at retail locations, through mail order and from internet seed sources. Some of my favorite on-line catalogs for rudbeckia seeds include Johnny’s Selected Seeds (, Hazzard’s Seed Store (, Select Seeds (, Park Seed ( and T’s Flowers & Things (

For indoor propagation of annual rudbeckia, sow seeds six to eight weeks before your last frost date in a thoroughly moistened sterile, seed-starting mix. Put one to two seeds in each cell of the flat, pressing gently into the soil barely covering the seeds. Keep the tray in a warm location (70-72ºF is ideal for seed germination) until seeds sprout, usually five to fourteen days. Once the seedlings appear, place the flat under grow lights or near a sunny window. After two sets of leaves develop, seedlings can be thinned by pinching or cutting weak plants at the soil line. Tender seedlings need to be hardened off before they can be transplanted into the garden. Start by leaving plants outdoors in a shaded, protected location for about three to four hours. Over a seven to ten day period, gradually increase the time spent outdoors as well as the sun exposure. Perennial rudbeckia seeds started indoors can be placed in the refrigerator for four weeks, and then moved to warmer temperatures, to improve germination.

For propagating rudbeckia outdoors, sow seeds directly in the garden when daytime temperatures reach 60ºF. Choose a site with well drained soil and full to part sun. Sow perennial rudbeckias in fall or early spring. Gently press seeds into the soil making sure they are not completely covered. Seeds need light and moisture to germinate. Keep seedbed consistently damp. As seedlings grow, thin plants to maintain good air circulation. The mature size of the plant determines the correct spacing. Allow eight to twelve inches between annual rudbeckias and 18-30 inches for perennial varieties. Plant dwarf varieties closer together, spacing plants four to six inches apart.

Cultural Conditions

Most rudbeckias tolerate a wide range of well drained soils. Plants become weak and flowers flop when soils are too rich. Root rot is a problem if soils are too moist, so allow flowerbeds to dry out between waterings. All rudbeckias thrive in full sun. When grown in light shade, the flowers may be smaller and fewer. They will tolerate dry conditions, but prefer consistent moisture.

Blooming begins in about ten to twelve weeks for annual rudbeckias and continues until frost. Perennial seeds planted in early spring will bloom the first year. To extend the flowering period, be sure to pinch off faded blooms at the base of the flower stem. To attract birds and encourage reseeding, leave seedheads intact during fall and winter.

Black-eyed Susans are easy to grow, deer resistant and not plagued by disease or pests. If plants are crowded, leaves may develop powdery mildew during hot, humid weather. New seedlings in the garden may need to be transplanted to prevent crowding. Move thinned seedlings to another area of the garden or pot them up for neighbors or community plant sales. Perennial rudbeckias do not need regular dividing, however if plants become crowded, divide clumps in early spring just as growth begins. Watch for slugs and snails that like to eat the tender growth of seedlings.

Adaptable, gloriosa daisies thrive in containers, mixed borders, wildflower meadows, window boxes and cutting gardens. Mass planted or intermixed, combinations are endless. Pair their warm hues with the bluish-purples of Russian sage, liatris, salvia or fall blooming asters. Create stunning bouquets with the abundant blooms, which last up to three weeks in a vase.

Don’t let summer buzz by without enjoying rudbeckias in your garden. Grow them from seed or purchase plants at your favorite nursery.  Your only dilemma will be ­– which variety to grow? So move over ‘Goldsturm’ and make room for the new hirta hybrids!



‘PrairieSun’ is an All-American Selection Winner.



‘Goldilocks’ is a petite powerhouse.

Photo courtesy of Johnny’s Selected Seeds



Crimson flowering ‘Cherry Brandy’.

Photo courtesy of Johnny’s Selected Seeds



Large orange and mahogany blooms of ‘Autumn Colors’.

Photo courtesy of Colleen O’Neill Nice



The vigorous Fleuroselect gold medal winner ‘Cappuccino’.

Photo courtesy of Colleen O’Neill Nice



A Fleuroselect winner, ‘Cherokee Sunset’ displays vivid double blooms.

Unique color combinations of Rudbeckia ‘Orange Chocolate’.



Marked with a prominent rich mahogany eye, Rudbeckia ‘Denver Daisy’ is distinct.



Compact ‘Corona’ is refreshing.



Easy to grow, ‘Marmalade’ is great for beginners.



The captivating blooms of ‘Becky Cinnamon Bicolor’.



‘Chim Chiminee’ with quilled flower petals.

The perennial ‘Irish Spring’.



The fluffy, zinnia-like blooms of ‘Maya’.



The fluted petals of ‘Spotlight’.



Great for sunny window boxes, ‘Toto Lemon’ is blanketed with pastel yellow blooms from summer through fall.


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