What really got the Texas Superstar board members excited about fall zinnias were some new series, including the marylandica types that form disease-resistant “mounds of color,” lasting until frost when planted in late summer, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Research horticulturist.

“These are very colorful plants that we’re promoting for fall use,” said Dr. Brent Pemberton, AgriLife Research ornamental horticulturist and head of the Texas Superstar board, Overton. “They have all the fall colors you like to see: oranges, apricots and yellows.”

Texas Superstar plants undergo extensive tests throughout the state by AgriLife Research and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturists, Pemberton said.

To be designated a Texas Superstar, a plant must not just be beautiful but also perform well for consumers and growers throughout Texas. Superstars must also be easy to propagate, which should ensure the plants are not only widely available throughout Texas but reasonably priced, as well, he said.

Fall zinnias and chrysanthemums have similar attributes and can be used in much the same ways, Pemberton said. But whereas chrysanthemums may only flower for several weeks, and then only if the weather is cool, fall zinnias tolerate Texas heat well and will display color until the first frost, if properly watered and fertilized.

Strictly speaking, the “marylandica type” refers to a distinct species, Zinnia marylandica, he noted.
Marylandica types include the Profusion and Zahara series, Pemberton said. They bloom prolifically and grow as tall as 12 to 18 inches. Individual flowers are as large as 2.5 inches in diameter.

“Mounds of color” refers to the marylandica types, which tend to be more compact or bushier than standard zinnia varieties, he said. This bushy characteristic makes them ideal for mixed borders, beds, cutting gardens, containers and what are known as “cottage gardens,” a rustic style featuring a mixture of ornamental and edible plants.

And while standard zinnias can be susceptible to diseases such as powdery mildew, the marylandica types are highly resistant, Pemberton said.

Gardeners can pinch off or prune young plants of the standard types to encourage bushy-ness, but this is not required for the newer types, he said. Placing the plants so they get good air circulation or flow will further help prevent fungal leaf diseases.
Usually, fall zinnias of all types begin showing up in Texas garden centers in September, he said. They are usually available in 4-inch and larger pots for transplanting to the landscape.

“You can also get them in large containers that can be used as patio plants. They’re fun to use in mixed containers with other things for fall, such as ornamental grasses or ornamental peppers such as NuMex Twilight, which was named a Texas Superstar several years ago.”

Another nice feature to all the zinnia types is they are big attractions for pollinators, such as butterflies, according to Pemberton.

They actually bloom more proficiently in full sun, he said. They need full sunlight for a half day or more, and will thrive as long as they have moderate water and are planted in a well-drained site or container.

Plants can be “deadheaded” — spent flowers pinched off — to promote further blooming and maintain plant appearance, Pemberton said.

“Dying flowers retain some color, and there’s generally not a lot of deadheading involved, but you can safely do that if you wish.”

Texas Superstar is a registered trademark owned by Texas A&M AgriLife Research. More information about the Texas Superstar program can be found at http://www.texassuperstar.com/.