zen_man

It can be fun to breed your own zinnias - Part 53

zen_man
October 8, 2019
last modified: October 8, 2019

Hello everyone,

Welcome to this ongoing series of message threads. The previous part of this continuing series, It can be fun to breed your own zinnias - Part 52 has exceeded 100 messages, which could make that thread slow to load, even though photos now appear as only inline large thumbnails, so we are continuing the series here for yet another fresh start. The same guidelines apply here. Anything remotely related to zinnias is fine. (Or plant breeding in general, or feral cats or precocious cats or locusts or pet snails or chupacabras or book comments or whatever.)

My South Zinnia Garden is still in reasonably good shape, even though we have had some cold weather recently.

That may change later this week, when there is some possibility of a killing frost. In any case, I am now beginning my indoor zinnia project.

As always, I look forward to your participation here if you are new to this series of message threads, or to your continued participation if you have been here before. Your comments, questions, and photos are welcome. More later.

ZM

Comments (24)

  • zen_man

    Hello everyone,

    I meant to include a couple more photos in my beginning message, but the Houzz system somehow "locked up" when I tried that, so I will include them here now.

    Despite recent cold nights, by South Garden zinnias are still in pretty good shape.

    I am a little surprised that my zinnia plants are only slightly affected by Powdery Mildew (so far).

    If I recall our recent weather forecast accurately, it is this coming Friday night/Saturday morning when we are going to have the possibility of a frost/freeze. More later.

    ZM

  • Stigmatized

    Good morning ZM. I'm trying to understand the role of UV light vs sunlight for growing zinnias, and something often referred to as "natural sunscreen" for plants. I thought of your indoor grow setup. Do you pay attention to UV light in your operation? Is it even an issue?

    I was surprised to note right now for example, it's heavily overcast and drizzling rain, but the UV index is currently MAX. I'm still trying to dial in powdery mildew control (pleasantly surprised at the effectiveness of an occasional whole milk spray). So now I'm chasing down UV threads and wondered if any wisdom on the topic came your way.

    Related, but I've never seen this mentioned before. When germinating indoors, part of the "hardening off" process no doubt is UV related. Indoor vs outdoor UV levels might be very different. Because I'm now germinating indoors, the seedlings will go through a change in their "UV climate".

    This situation is different than yours, as you are germinating and growing in a constant indoor environment.

    I'm just wondering how important it is that I pay attention to the UV issue when I buy lights for my indoor germination setup.

    Any thoughts?

    John, Veracruz

    PS modern miracles: I now have internet here at the ranch! Someone ran a cable up my mountain road, and got the internet provider to (very reluctantly) hook me up. So nice not to have to drive to town to check emails!

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  • Stigmatized

    Hi ZM. I just noticed your update:

    but the Houzz system somehow "locked up" when I tried that,

    Happens all the time to me, don't know why

    I am a little surprised that my zinnia plants are only slightly affected by Powdery Mildew (so far).

    Do you do any prevention, or because you know frost will ultimately claim your whole crop, you just ignore it?

    this coming Friday night/Saturday morning when we are going to have the possibility of a frost/freeze.

    So the day of your first frost, is there anything salvageable seed wise?

    John, Veracruz

  • zen_man

    Hello John,

    We are getting a cold rain at this moment. I will probably stay indoors throughout this day. It is seriously gloomy out there. I can see my South Garden through the windows of my "study" where I am now, and it appears to be in good shape. I can also see two of our three hummingbird feeders, and our hummingbirds appear to be long gone. I think they checked out in response to our first cold "spell", and I don't blame them. I continued to see Monarch butterflies on my zinnias, as recently as yesterday.

    As you can see from the bloom on the right, that was a tubular petaled breeder zinnia that I removed the tubes from to expose the stigmas inside and pollinate them. I will harvest green seeds from that bloom when the weather outside becomes a little more pleasant. And I will plant them inside. Notice that the leaves on that zinnia are atypical -- long and narrow and very pointed. Powdery mildew is very visible.

    " Do you do any prevention, or because you know frost will ultimately claim your whole crop, you just ignore it? "

    Just ignoring it. I have several things I could spray to prevent PM and control it, but this late in the season there really isn't much point. Ironically, that cold rain actually kills Powdery Mildew spores.

    " I'm just wondering how important it is that I pay attention to the UV issue when I buy lights for my indoor germination setup. "

    I don't think UV plays a role in photosynthesis. If your indoor lights put out a lot of UV, you should wear a good sunscreen lotion when you work around them. Some indoor lighting setups are bright enough to require you to wear good sunglasses around them. I don't wear sunscreen or sunglasses for my old T8 fluorescents, and I don't notice any ill effects. But they do put out some UV. Incidentally, T8 fluorescents are now considered to be obsolete or at least obsolescent, but I have mine on-hand and plan to continue to use them. They are rated at 20,000 hours, so they last for many years. They were not obsolescent when I bought them in 2005. T5 fluorescents were considered to be better, but lighting technology has evolved rapidly and solid state LEDs are gaining favor. Plants need just red and blue light, and don't need green light (hence they are green), so some indoor setups use just the red and blue LEDs, which creates a hideous purple light. I like a nice daylight white light, so my T8 fluorescent tubes are a mix of whites of various "temperatures".

    " ...modern miracles: I now have internet here at the ranch! Someone ran a cable up my mountain road, and got the internet provider to (very reluctantly) hook me up. So nice not to have to drive to town to check emails! "

    Congratulations. I am not sure whether the Internet is a blessing or a curse, but it does have its good points. Just don't expect me to "Tweet".

    ZM

  • Stigmatized


    Hello senor ZM. Hello senor ZM.


    You say: I will harvest green seeds from that bloom when the weather outside becomes a little more pleasant


    Am I correct that your first hard frost will shut down any seed maturation activity, and if the requisite "3 weeks" hadn't passed, pollinated seeds won't be viable?


    I'm kind of surprised your monarchs are hanging on. Thought they'd be headed my way by now.


    Regarding indoor lighting, as I read reviews, it's clear that the industry went from high-tech to why-tech pretty quickly. Sheesh. While newer "ag" lighting solutions are introduced darn near hourly, your cranking out with 15 year old technology.... What a world.


    The internet is like a rose, beautiful, but unminded thorns can reek havoc. Never tweeted, maybe someday. Maybe not.


    Just curious. Have you been able to stabilize (if that's the correct way to say it) any of your offspring? Or is everything I'm embarking on going to be short lived delirium until plants ultimately "revert" or whatever you call it?


    John, Veracruz


  • Stigmatized

    General question. Everything I read about growing zinnias talks about the benefit of spring temperatures warming. But what I've never seen is a comment regarding the fact that concurrent with warming temperature in spring you get increased daylight hours. Which is helping most? And end of summer, as daylight hours decrease, how are plants responding? What growth differences occur in seeds planted in April vs seeds planted in August? (ignoring that the August ones will die young from frost). I'm trying to understand the roll of daylight hours in the growth of zinnias. Anyone have any references?

    Regards, Stigmatized, Veracruz

  • Stigmatized

    Hi ZM. This is a normal evening here, trying to learn how zinnias can cope: I'll have this for another couple of months. Shorter days mean more time in my FLOUR garden

    CURRENT WEATHER

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    Visibility: 10 mi

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  • Stigmatized

    The FLOUR garden


  • zen_man

    Hello John,

    That "Flour Garden" looks pretty tempting to me.

    " Am I correct that your first hard frost will shut down any seed maturation activity, and if the requisite "3 weeks" hadn't passed, pollinated seeds won't be viable? "

    Yes, seed maturation will effectively stop, but not the seed collecting. The three week maturation isn't an absolute cut-off. Some seeds that had two weeks and five days might be viable. I occasionally see a few "volunteer" zinnias in the Spring, which are zinnia seeds that fell on the ground, survived the Winter, and germinated on their own the next Spring.

    " I'm kind of surprised your monarchs are hanging on. Thought they'd be headed my way by now. "

    They are headed your way. They just stop here for a few hours to refuel.

    " Just curious. Have you been able to stabilize (if that's the correct way to say it) any of your offspring? Or is everything I'm embarking on going to be short lived delirium until plants ultimately "revert" or whatever you call it? "

    I don't call it anything. My zinnias don't "revert" and the commercial zinnia varieties don't "revert" to the original zinnia wild flower form. I continue to see exciting new zinnia forms every year and as long as my zinnias continue to show me new things, I am not motivated to "stabilize" them.

    I have no idea whether what you are embarking on is a delirium or whether it will be short lived. I was under the initial impression that you wanted to grow cut flowers for a commercial florist market. You can do that with commercially available seeds. You can save some of your own seeds to reduce the cost of seeds. and by selecting good individual blooms you could make some improvements and become your own zinnia seed producer to as much of an extent as you are comfortable with.

    I will discuss the zinnia daylight hours thing another day.

    ZM

  • Stigmatized

    That "Flour Garden" looks pretty tempting to me.

    Thanks, but it was store bought flour, I don't grow my own wheat (yet)

    They are headed your way. They just stop here for a few hours to refuel.

    Kind of you to setup a rest stop. Guess they pay you by doing a little pollinating work.

    under the initial impression that you wanted to grow cut flowers for a commercial florist market.

    Indeed one of my goals. But tripping across the hybridizing aspect, I got hijacked. This is too much fun, and just enough science involved to make it interesting and challenging.

    as long as my zinnias continue to show me new things, I am not motivated to "stabilize" them.

    What I'm trying to understand is, when you successfully "create" a cross that you fall in love with, can you reliably reproduce it? Or is everything a "one-off"?

    Stigmatized, Veracruz

  • zen_man

    Hello John,

    " Kind of you to setup a rest stop. Guess they pay you by doing a little pollinating work. "

    Actually, the butterflies and skippers just sip the nectar without disturbing the fuzzy yellow arms of the pollen floret in any way. You can see that in this photo if you click on it to see the larger version of the photo.

    The bees are much more clumsy in gathering nectar, and in some cases gathering the pollen itself. Even the honeybees are usually after just the nectar to make zinnia honey, and they have mouth-parts that can suck the nectar from the stem of the floret. But they are not dainty like the butterflies and do jostle the fuzzy arms of the floret. And the larger bees, like the Carpenter Bees and Bumble Bees are even clumsier. and knock the florets around a lot. I see little Sweat Bees on zinnia blooms from time to time, but I doubt that they play an important role in pollination. Next year I should take some videos of the goings on in my zinnia patches.

    " What I'm trying to understand is, when you successfully "create" a cross that you fall in love with, can you reliably reproduce it? Or is everything a "one-off"? "

    That is actually a very good question, and one that I ask myself from time time. Nothing is ever anything approaching a "one-off". I have currently been making a lot of crosses involving pencil-petaled zinnias and "other" zinnias, to get more diversity in the pencil-petaled zinnias. By more diversity, I mean a lot of things: bigger blooms, more colors, better plants. As always, about 90% of my experimental crosses "go wrong", and I cull most of those. But the original first pencil petaled zinnia specimen was of another cross that "went wrong", so "wrong" isn't always wrong. But I don't have to reproduce a cross. A single zinnia plant can have many blooms and each bloom can have many seeds, so it is quite feasible to get a thousand seeds or more from a single remarkable new specimen. So I don't have to try to repeat that cross, I can just grow a whole zinnia garden from the seeds of that one plant. And Sturgeons's Law comes to the rescue, and only about 90% of those zinnias are "crap".

    Changing the subject, I said I would discuss the zinnia daylight hours thing another day, and this is "another day". It is true that the day length changes a lot with the seasons, but for zinnias that isn't the limiting factor. Zinnias are classified as a "full sun" plant, and "full sun" for plants is usually defined as at least 8 hours of direct sun per day. The limiting factor on that is almost always nearby trees and/or buildings. My South Garden has two very large Walnut trees on the east side, and many Elm "weed trees" on the west side. I have removed most of the weed trees on the South side, and will complete that this Winter. Even so, my south garden barely gets 8 hours of sun exposure, even on the "longest day" of the Summer. My North Garden also has bordering trees and a large metal building on the west side and those cast shade in the morning and the evening. Fortunately it gets a little more than 8 hours of full sun during the day. But, once again, it is is the surrounding trees and buildings that are the limiting factor for direct sun exposure. I don't know of any non-polar location on the planet where the seasonal day length is less than 8 hours. If the polar bears are digging up your zinnias, then you are gardening too far north. That's a fact.

    ZM

  • Stigmatized

    Buenas tardes ZM:

    butterflies and skippers just sip the nectar without disturbing the fuzzy yellow arms of the pollen floret

    I'm saddened to hear that. I've been rather jubilant observing the logarithmic growth of the Monarch's arrival here (not sure if the climate causes their excursion, or if they carry pocket calendars). Based on your comments, I guess I'm happy that I have an ample bumblebee population, although I guess as you describe them they'd be better named Fumblebees.
    A single zinnia plant can have many blooms and each bloom can have many seeds, so it is quite feasible to get a thousand seeds or more from a single remarkable new specimen. So I don't have to try to repeat that cross, I can just grow a whole zinnia garden from the seeds of that one plant.

    Let me ask about the seeds from the plants in the "whole zinnia garden"? (Technical q, are these F2s?). What do you already know about THEIR offspring? A lot? A little?
    "full sun" for plants is usually defined as at least 8 hours of direct sun per day

    You've sent me down a rabbit hole on this one: what "part" of direct sun do they need? For example, clouds (there's a goofy word) "block UV rays". Ok fine, do zinnias care? What kind of clouds block what percentage of which type of UV rays, and how much of an increase in the number of hours of "direct sun" are required to offset any given number of hours of "cloud" cover. And while we're at it, is an hour of 9am "direct sun" photosynthetically equal to an hour of 12noon "direct sun" given constant "cloud coverage"? And ok, why not: "Is an hour of noon December "Direct sun" equal to an hour of noon July "Direct sun"? I get the idea that polar bears will eat my zinnias, so I won't grow near Santa's workshop.
    You wisely warned me of the perils of the internet. I've exhausted the Google answers to my questions, and seems the best summary is "go outside and if you squint a lot you're good to go?"
    My North Garden also has bordering trees and a large metal building on the west side and those cast shade in the morning and the evening. Fortunately it gets a little more than 8 hours of full sun during the day. But, once again, it is is the surrounding trees and buildings that are the limiting factor for direct sun exposure.

    Luckily I no longer have any tree/structure shade issues. The place I bought was truly a forest. (Local legend has it that hundreds of years ago my land might have been a coffee plantation, who knows). But I did spend three years and a hernia clearing and working the land in preparation to plant I knew not what. I satisfied my conscience that what I'd be growing compensated for what I'd be destroying.
    Sorry for the long-winded diatribe.
    I'm not at all opposed to the "hey, plant some and see what happens approach", it's often necessary. I just like reducing as many variables as possible.
    And by the way, I appreciate and am indebted to you for the energy you put in to helping me and so many other newbies as they explore hybridizing zinnias. You da best!
    Stigmatized, Veracruz

  • Stigmatized

    Looks like this "direct sun" business is complex! I just wish someone would invent a $9.95 device that you hold out in the garden and check to make sure it isn't flashing the "Dude, don't plant me here" warning.

    Photosynthesis is a tricky business. A plant needs sunlight, yes, but leaves also need to hold onto their water. This is the dilemma for a plant. To perform photosynthesis, it has to open the stomata on their leaves so that it can take in carbon dioxide. But open stomata allow the water in leaves to evaporate.
    Found a helpful Houzz thread:Gotta love this overcast weather. A few days shouldn't hurt them, might slow them down a bit but they're still getting sun, just not as much. Soil doesn't dry out as fast, so you'll probably want to water less frequently. Now a whole season of cloudy days is a whole nother problem entirely, but that's not likely to happen. {WRONG} haha
    Longer periods would reduce photosynthesis some, slow root development, increase the internode lengths somewhat. A prolong period would be like trying to grow them in shade - long, leggy lanky stems with weak circulatory systems, decline in foliage production, inability to support fruit weight, blossom drop, decline in production, etc.

    So maybe I am indeed back to the "try it, you (MAY) like it" approach.
    Because I am close enough to the gulf we get more than our share of overcast days. So temporarily, I am going to modify my zinnia rule in a first attempt to offset the cloud cover. New rule: zinnias need a minimum of TEN hours of direct sun

    Stigmatized, Veracruz

  • zen_man

    Hello John,,

    " Let me ask about the seeds from the plants in the "whole zinnia garden"? (Technical q, are these F2s?). What do you already know about THEIR offspring? A lot? A little? "

    The F1, F2, F3 thing tends to break down with "home hybridized" zinnias. Zinnias in a sense are "matriarchal" in that you do know or can know what the "mother" was like, but knowing the "father" is a less sure thing, particularly for "outdoor" zinnias. In a commercial seed field of an assorted color mixture, like for example Burpeeana Giants, which are now only available in assorted colors, they are bee pollinated. Bees are not careful to self the bloom they are on and some bee pollination is actually random cross-pollination, with other zinnias in that seed field. So a field mixture seed packet actually contains some F1 hybrid seed, courtesy of bee cross-pollination. But you have no way of knowing which seeds are cross pollinated and which ones are selfed, or the colors of any of them if the packet is a mixed color packet. It could be a red zinnia crossed with a different red zinnia. Or any color crossed with any color. In my zinnia journal I record a unique alphanumeric code for each specimen, a description of the female specimen, and what I know about what it was pollinated with, which can be a specific code for another breeder, or a generic description, like other Needle petals, or just a general description, like "selfs" or "upgrades", or no description at all. But what do you call a cross between two F1 hybrids, particularly if those were also crosses between F1 hybrids? Which were also crosses. It becomes a kind of "ad nauseum" thing. They say not to save seeds from an F1 hybrid zinnia, because the results are uncertain. But my goal is genetic recombination, so those rules don't apply.

    " You've sent me down a rabbit hole on this one "

    I consider it "direct sun" if it can cast a shadow. More later.

    ZM

  • four (9b near 9a)

    Bulky flower caused stem splitting:

    Does it happen to yours sometimes?

  • zen_man

    Hi four,

    " Bulky flower caused stem splitting: "

    In my experience a zinnia stem like that doesn't just split, but for some reason it got bent quite a bit, 90 degrees or more, and then got straightened up, with perhaps help of some kind. The actual "split" occurs during the bend of the stem. That bloom doesn't appear to be "bulky" enough to bend the stem by its weight. But some external force could bend the stem independent of the bloom weight. Even relatively large blooms like this one aren't heavy enough to bend the stem.


    " Does it happen to yours sometimes? "

    Occasionally a bird will land on one of my zinnia blooms, and the weight of the bird is enough to bend the stem and then, when the bird flies, the stem is strong enough to straighten itself. That is my theory of how your zinnia stem got split. It wasn't the "bulky flower" that split the stem, but the bird that landed on the bloom. The bird may have been after a butterfly or skipper or other insect that it saw on the bloom. There could have been some other explanation, but that is the one that seems likely to me. I have seen a bird land on one of my zinnia blooms and bend the stem on more than one occasion.

    ZM

  • Stigmatized

    Very insightful ZM. Makes sense. (if it ever happens here, I'd be suspicious of one of my B52 sized grasshoppers). Have a great day.

    Stigmatized

    Veracruz

  • four (9b near 9a)

    Good to know that splitting is rare. It spent much of its time declined at 45 degrees owing to combination of flower's mass (denser than photo reveals) and plant's height. At this moment I recall one day of gusty winds.

    With regard to height, by the way, they defy their designation "Semi dwarf". Could it be that it refers instead to flower size? Indeed most are small.

  • zen_man

    Hi four,

    " With regard to height, by the way, they defy their designation "Semi dwarf". Could it be that it refers instead to flower size? Indeed most are small. "

    What strain are your "semi dwarf" zinnias? You might want to consider growing a different variety of zinnia. I grow "regular" zinnias that are not dwarf or semi dwarf. They probably average about 3 feet high, though some are in the 4 ft to 6 ft range. The Whirligigs are about 20 inches high, although most of mine have been crossed with taller zinnias .

    All of my zinnias are susceptible to our Kansas winds, which can easily exceed 50 mph during a storm. That pushes the majority of my zinnias over onto the ground. You would think that might kill them, and a few do get broken off, but most recover reasonably well, although they may be not perfectly vertical. I protect a lot of my breeder zinnias with wire cages.

    The cages do a reasonable job of holding the zinnias at least nearly upright during high winds. Only my breeder zinnias get the cages.

    ZM

  • Stigmatized

    Hi all. Looking for advice on chickens! Do they play well with zinnias? I've heard they might help with my grasshopper problems. I'm not necessarily an organic farmer, but if I can keep everything else at bay except these gargantuan grasshoppers, I'd hate to start offing my pollinators with chems just because I can't aim a BB gun as well as ZM. At the same time, I wonder, are chickens gonna chow down on seeds/seedlings? Do they introduce/spread any kind on flower funguses, etc? And if I pull the trigger and try it, can I hope to get some eggs in exchange for the room and board? Any "breed" recommended? Or any I should shy away from? And lastly, are girls better than boys in a zinnia patch? Obliged for any tips!

    John

    Low mountains Veracruz

  • Stigmatized

    ZM:

    The cages do a reasonable job of holding the zinnias at least nearly upright during high winds.

    Curious. Have you ever experimented with Hortinova type netting? I just put some up (vertically) in my sweet pea house, had some left over and used it in a bed if zinnias. Stuff seems like a quick, easy solution for support: high winds AND birds perching on flower heads. It's not dirt cheap, but it seems like it'll last a longer than me

    John, Veracruz

  • zen_man

    Hello John,

    " Looking for advice on chickens! Do they play well with zinnias? "

    We have chickens, because we like the eggs. Chickens like to dust themselves, and that will destroy seedlings of any kind, including zinnia seedlings. The dusting doesn't harm large zinnia plants. I suspect the chickens will do more damage to your zinnias than the grasshoppers. Grasshoppers have natural enemies here. Our local bird population and other natural enemies seem to keep our grasshopper population under good control. And I suspect grasshoppers much prefer soybeans to zinnias. There is a soybean field to the immediate south of my South Garden.

    " Have you ever experimented with Hortinova type netting? "

    I never heard of it. I did use some polymer-based screening to create an experimental protection from birds.

    But cost of the screening made it impractical to use as a protection against birds on a large scale. The reflective pinwheels seemed to do an adequate job, and they don't cost much.

    ZM

  • Stigmatized

    Good morning ZM. Thanks for the chicken scoop. Will put that idea on hold for a bit.

    I've attached a pic of the netting I was referring to. It is a type of support rather than a protective cover. I thought of you because the cages you're building look like a lot of work and cost.

    Stigmatized, Veracruz


  • zen_man

    Hello John,

    Thanks for the photo of the Hortinova wire. I started with the zinnia cages as a natural outgrowth of the tomato cages I was making. The concrete re-mesh wire I use to make them was readily available in our local home stores. The concrete re-mesh was too thick to cut with wire cutters, so I use bolt cutters to cut it. I use regular fencing pliers to aid in forming the cages. The tomato cages and zinnia cages are reusable from year to year, so my current roll of re-mesh wire may be the last one I will need. I have several hundred zinnia cages on-hand.

    It is cold and gloomy outside, so it is a lot more fun working on my Indoor Zinnia Project. I have a few seedlings up, and a lot more on the way.

    Those are all from a "needle" flowered breeder. That is one of my current favorite zinnia flower forms. More later.

    ZM

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