Plant Zinnia Seeds to Attract Butterflies
We offer one of the butterfly’s favorite varieties, the basic, heirloom, wildflower variety of Zinnias, Zinnia elegans, also known as Common Zinnia.
Zinnias are native to Mexico but they have long been a favorite in annual gardens across the US and elsewhere. They are easy to grow and reliable. They are perennial in their native environment but are grown as annuals in most of the US.
Zinnias grow quickly and begin flowering as a young plant. They flower all summer and into the fall. Dead-heading will usually increase flowering. They also make great cut flowers.
Zinnia flowers are known as butterfly magnets and rank well on nearly every list of butterfly-attracting nectar plants. However, it is important to have the right variety (or varieties) of Zinnia to attract butterflies.
Because Zinnias are so popular, it has been heavily bred for many positive qualities such as different colors, flower shapes, and disease resistance. All of that is great, but in doing so, the nectar quality/quantity has not always been maintained since this was not the original goal of breeding.
Best Zinnia for Butterflies
The best zinnia for your butterfly garden is not as easy as listing one specific variety because several can perform well. There are some guidelines you can follow in choosing the best varieties. Some people do find that the “best” ones vary from year to year and they certainly do from garden to garden. Also, some zinnia varieties are favored more by larger butterflies as opposed to smaller and even the height of the plant can make a difference in which butterflies are attracted to it.
One of the most important considerations is to choose a Zinnia that has obvious yellow disk florets in the center of it like the picture to the right. Many of the heirloom varieties do but some of the larger, fancier, and newer varieties have had those yellow disk florets bred out of them for varying reasons. The disk florets are the parts that provide nectar. If they are not present then the butterflies will move on to look for nectar elsewhere.
Generally people tend to report that the taller varieties attract larger butterflies and may be more attractive to butterflies in general. These include Common Zinnia, ‘Cut and Come Again’, ‘State Fair’, ‘California Giant’, ‘Benary Giant’. Some of the California Giants and Benary Giants will produce flowers without the yellow disk florets so be sure to check the picture. Another Zinnia that is about mid-height and is supposedly very popular with the butterflies is ‘Zowie’.
Some of the shorter Zinnias that have mixed reviews are Profusion and Lilliput. Lilliput might edge out Profusion on popularity in butterfly gardens. Lilliput performed well in my garden but I have never tried Profusion.
As for the flower shape, some people have suggested that the larger butterflies may be more attracted to the semi-double or double flowers (as opposed to the single flowers like the Profusion series) due to a larger and stronger “landing pad”.
Finding the right Zinnia is a little bit of trial and error but it is hard to go wrong with the basic Zinnia elegans, Common Zinnia, since this flower has a history of attracting and feeding butterflies in our gardens as well as the gardens of our Grandmothers and Great Grandmothers. It has performed very well in my garden so I have decided to start out by offering these zinnia seeds. However, I would certainly encourage you to try others (different varieties in separate patches) as long as they are butterfly friendly (yellow florets in the center).
One other important truth with Zinnias (as with other butterfly plants) is “the more the better”. You are better off creating a large patch of one type of plant rather than sprinkling them around your garden. Although container gardening is a great option, if you have the room to create large patches then you will increase the attractiveness to butterflies. This can certainly make a difference in the effectiveness of your Zinnia varieties.
Zinnias like full sun and will grow in many types of soil as long as it is well drained. Best performance may come with loamy rich soils but Zinnias are very tolerant overall. They will do very well in dry conditions after they have become established in the first month or so.
Zinnias are susceptible to powdery mildew and especially in humid environments. To help prevent this, try to plant them in an open area with maximum sunshine where the air is not stagnant and do not plant them too close together.
Starting Zinnia Seeds
Zinnia seeds are EASY to germinate. In fact, the Zinnias in my garden readily reseed and comes back each year so I no longer have to start them each summer. Not all Zinnias come back true from seed. The heirlooms will while the hybrids must be replanted with hybridized seed each year for the same bloom/plant.
Zinnias don’t like their roots disturbed. When transplanting them try to disturb their root ball as little as possible.
Whether sowing indoors or outdoors thinly cover the seeds (only about 1/16th inch deep) since light helps them germinate. Keep them moist. Do not sow outdoors before the last frost date. Zinnias like warmth.
If sowing indoors, keep the seeds moist and warm (70-75 degrees). They should germinate within 7 days.
The mid to taller varieties of Zinnias (like the one offered here) should be planted (or thinned to) about 18-24 inches apart. The height can vary greatly from 1-4 feet but 30 inches is a good estimate.
Buy Zinnia elegans Seeds
These Zinnias are extremely attractive to many different types of butterflies as you can see from the pictures on this webpage. The butterflies in the photos on this page were all taken from our garden Zinnias. I hope you will give these easy butterfly magnets a try!