Why Your Cupcake Zinnias Aren't Cupcake-Shaped
So, you’re probably like us and purchased seeds of the Zinderella series of zinnias.
I mean, how could you not??
They look so amazing, like something out of a dream.
I had this image of fluffy, cupcake/scabiosa shaped zinnias in my mind. They look like little magical fairy landing pads to me - something that truly looks magical!
So I purchased seed (which, per seed is actually one of the more expensive seeds out of all the crops we grow to purchase) and planted them, eagerly awaiting the first round of cuts.
And then there’s the reality of what the Zinderella zinnias look like:
Not quite what I was expecting. Nary a fairy landing pad among the bunch.
Not going to lie, I was kind of disappointed. The color is spot on, but the shape and form - not so much.
So what happened?
My first clue was when Floret Flower Farm wrote an Instagram post about who was getting big fluff cupcake-shaped zinnias and who wasn’t. The ensuing discussion resulted in a general agreement about a few factors that people felt had led to a higher success rate of the scabiosa flowered zinnia form.
A few items were universally agreed upon
1) The percentage of zinnias that displayed the scabiosa or cupcake from was generally pretty low - anywhere from 10-15% for the most successful of estimates, down to the less than 1% for a lot of growers.
2) Weather seemed to play a large factor, with people in generally cooler, milder climates having more success with obtaining the scabiosa or cupcake form than those in hotter, dryer or more humid climates.
Obviously there are a lot of factors that play into whether or not you get singles or doubles, with the main one being the species - Oklahoma zinnias seem to be almost 100% doubles, with the Benary Giants being less consistent and the Salmon Benary Giants being the least consistent.
I find that we have a lower frequency of double zinnias compared to other milder regions of the country, given that our growing conditions are so hot and dry and just intense all the time.
But even we have found a way to increase our chance of getting big fluffy zinnias, so there’s a good chance you can increase you chance of getting those cupcake shaped zinnias no matter where you’re growing - even if it’s just a couple of blooms throughout the season.
1) Water consistently and evenly
The most beautiful zinnias come from well watered rows and beds. I’m not talking sopping wet, but have enough water to grow and function optimally.
If your zinnias get water-stressed, they’re going to try and do anything they can to keep themselves from dying, including switching flower production from doubles to singles or cupcake forms to singles. It’s not well understood how this happens, but one can assume that the genes for double flowering are turned off when it’s hot outside.
It’s best not to let your zinnias get to this point, because I’ve found they seldom come back from being single. Water deeply and evenly to ensure nice and full zinnias as well as healthy plants!
2) Plant into good soil
The same way we want to eliminate water stress as a factor, so do we want to eliminate nutrient deficiency as a factor. Ideally we want to ensure that we’re planting zinnias into nice soil that will give them everything they need to be happy and healthy.
This starts with a soil test of course, which you can get from your local extension office to find out what your soil has and what it needs as an additive or amendment.
3) Direct sow
Now I know that a lot of people already direct sow their zinnias, but I wanted to make this very clear - direct sowing your zinnias is going to give you a much higher rate of success than transplanting them.
The first year we grew zinnias, I started them in trays and transplanted them out. After all, zinnia seeds aren’t exactly cheap, especially the fancier varieties and I wanted to ensure that every single seed I sowed would sprout.
Well I did, and you know what? I ended up with a lot of little single zinnias that year. The transplant shock that came from planting them out as plugs caused them to revert back to singles.
Again, name of the game is to not stress out your zinnias. It’s not really even as if transplanting conferred me any advantages - the direct sown zinnias catch up to the transplanted zinnias very quickly, and with their higher percentage of doubles I think it’s worth it.
4) Pick your variety carefully
The first of the cupcake zinnias were the Zinderella series - Zinderella Peach and Zinderella Lilac respectively. Then came the Candy Series and others, but all of them have a very low percentage of scabiosa-flowered stems.
A better cultivar may be the Cresto series - promising 3 out of 4 plants producing scabiosa-flowered stems, although they only come in the bright colors of red, orange and yellow.
Either way, your selection of zinnia might produce a lot of singles - it might be better off to select for color as opposed to form in this case.
5) Start them early
I can’t remember who I talked to regarding this, but someone recommended getting zinnias out as early as possible to try and take advantage of the cool weather of early summer/late spring.
I’m talking really cold - like, still at risk of getting down to freezing.
Now I’m not really a gambling sort of person, but I do think that there is some truth to this method because you’re essentially trying to get the zinnias to flower as soon as possible before the heat and humidity of summer sets in.
If you can get your zinnias to flower really early on before the hot nights and days start coming on, you can ideally start off at least with some scabiosa flowered zinnias before they revert to singles.
This could also be done in reverse, starting zinnias later on and allowing them to reach their peak towards the end of the summer when things start cooling down for the year. Just be careful you don’t run too close to your last frost date - note that the days get shorter as the season goes on.
6) Enjoy them for what they are
Even if you follow these general guidelines ( and guidelines that I’ve honestly only come up based on anecdotal experiences) there’s still a good chance you’re going to get a lot of singles. Or all singles.
Or you might get a bumper crop that are true to form - who knows?
I say just know what you’re getting into and be prepared for singles.
But know that it’s not all bad if you get single zinnias.
They’re still one of our more popular zinnias for selling to florists due to the fact that they fit within that ever popular blush and peach color scheme.
They’re also wonderful to design with, playing well with other flowers because they’re so diminutive and can layer into arrangements easily. I’ll often just tuck and weave them in to fill in “holes” in the arrangement, often echoing the larger but similarly colored Cafe au Laits and Salmon Benary Giant zinnias that they accompany.
Hope this helps as far as helping you to grow those cupcake shaped fairy landing pad zinnias! I’m sure that we’ll be discovering more about how to get these flowers together as a flower farming community in the future as more farmers share their knowledge and experience.
If you’re looking for scabiosa/cupcake flowering zinnia seeds, here are a couple sources:
More on growing zinnias
If you liked this post on growing Zinderella series zinnias, you may like these other posts on zinnias too: