Easy grow zinnias attract butterflies

By Terry Shears

OSU Ext. master gardener volunteer

Zinnias pack a punch! Easy to grow, available in a wide variety of heights, shapes and colors, attractive to butterflies, and long-lasting when cut…what’s not to like about this cheery annual?

Even the novice gardener can have success with zinnias. They like full sun and well-drained soil, and thrive in planting zones 3 to 10. They are very drought-tolerant. In fact, the hotter and drier the weather, the less susceptible they are to disease. Their bright blooms are highlights in the garden from early summer until frost. Deadheading zinnias (pinching back the dead blossoms) helps to keep them blooming locally until October, but many of the newer hybrids keep blooming all season and don’t require deadheading.

Zinnias range in height from dwarf (about 6 inches) to giant (up to 4 feet) and span from 1 to 2 feet wide. Flower heads come in a wide variety of shapes from single to double blooms, to spidery-shaped and domes. Zinnias sport colors from the faintest pastels to the most vibrant colors – every color except true blue, brown or black. They come striped, speckled, solid and multicolored.

They are very attractive to butterflies. Plant them, and butterflies will almost always show up for some nectar. The zinnia cultivar “Lilliput” has been shown in studies by the University of Kentucky to attract the most butterflies, although the variety “zinnia elegans” is most commonly planted. Some new cultivars bred to produce double flowers do not produce nectar, so check when purchasing seeds or plants to see if they are nectar-producing. Some butterflies such as the tiger swallowtail prefer tall flowers as they forage, while others prefer to stay close to the ground.

Zinnias are also an amazing cut flower. Many varieties will last from seven to 12 days in a vase if cut when the centers of the blooms are beginning to open fully. Flower farmers claim their bright colors, easy care, and long vase life make zinnias one of the most profitable flowers to grow. And you can enter them in Canfield Fair competitions to see if you are a blue-ribbon gardener. Check out canfieldfair.com for information.

Although easy to grow successfully, zinnias are susceptible to several diseases, most notably powdery mildew, and are at risk in sites with too much moisture and poor air circulation. Try to avoid overhead watering as wet foliage can lead to disease. Plant them 8 to 12 inches apart to allow for movement of air.

So for that punch of bright color that lasts until the autumn leaves begin to fall, zinnias deserve a place in your landscape. For information about zinnias, visit http://go.osu.edu/zinnia.

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