These colorful annual flowers will brighten your garden and welcome butterflies from spring until frost.

By Lynn Coulter
April 26, 2021
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In my yard, zinnias are a must. I grow them for their crayon-bright colors, fabulous forms (they come in single, double, semi-double, and cactus types), and attractiveness to butterflies. I like to snip their stems for bouquets, drop them into vases for my table, and press the blooms between the pages of heavy books to save for later. In the fall, I leave the last flowers of the season to dry on these annual plants so birds can nibble their seeds. Luckily, zinnias (Zinnia elegans) are easy to grow in a sunny spot. The hard part is deciding which ones to plant because there are so many beautiful varieties available. Here are a few of the best zinnia varieties to get you started.

Benary's Giant Bright Pink zinnias
A monarch butterfly visits a 'Benary's Giant Bright Pink' zinnia.
| Credit: Courtesy of The Flower Lady

1. Benary's Giant

"Most of the glory goes to the tall zinnias," says Eric Grissell, author of A History of Zinnias: Flowers for the Ages ($21, Amazon). He points to popular Benary's Giant ($5, Johnny's Selected Seeds), a classic series that gets its name from the German seed company that developed it, and the fact that these zinnias can grow upwards of 4 feet tall. "Their huge, dahlia-like blooms come in almost any color except blue. Zinnias don't come in blue," he says. 

Florist and grower Christina Matthews always plants rows of Benary's Giant on her urban flower farm in Cincinnati, Ohio, for her business, The Flower Lady. "I call them star flowers," she says, "because they're so bright and cheerful." One of her favorites is Benary's Salmon Rose, "a peachy, blushy, pinky" shade she uses for her floral work for weddings.

2. Oklahoma Zinnias

Another bold zinnia series Matthews loves to grow is Oklahoma ($5, Johnny's Selected Seeds). The blooms can be semi-double or double, which means they can have extra rows of petals that make them look fuller. Oklahoma zinnias have sturdy, 3-foot-tall stems, so the 2-inch flowerheads resemble "round lollipops bursting with color," Matthews says. They come in mixes of yellow, orange, pink, and "a deep, gorgeous red that attracts monarch butterflies," she adds.

cactus-flowered zinnias in a glass vase
A mix of cactus-flowered zinnias always make an impressive bouquet.
| Credit: Courtesy of Ferry-Morse

3. Cactus-Flowered Zinnias

Want something to make your neighbors peer over the fence with amazement? Cactus-flowered zinnias have beautiful twisted or curved petals that come in several bright colors. "For a super-colorful display with extra-large blooms and distinctive quill-shaped petals, you can't go wrong with Giant Cactus Zinnias in Mixed Colors ($2, Ferry-Morse)," says Rebecca Sears, chief gardening guru for Green Garden Products, which owns Ferry-Morse seed company. "They make a stunning cut-flower bouquet!"

4. Zinderella

Also fantastic for flower arrangements is the Zinderella series ($3, Harris Seeds), according to Elizabeth Sanchez, owner of Tommy Austin Florist, which is part of the nationwide floral delivery service BloomNation. They're available in bright red and orange, white, and purple, but the antique-y pink, lilac, and peach shades are Sanchez's favorites. Each bloom features a dome of ruffled, densely packed, shorter petals set off by a skirt of longer petals. The plants grow about 2.5 feet tall.

close up of queen lime orange zinnias
'Queen Lime Orange' zinnias feature stunning, multicolored petals.
| Credit: Courtesy of Fleuroselect

5. Queen Lime Zinnias

For zinnias with incredible multicolored petals, try the Queen Lime series. 'Queen Lime Orange' ($4, Kitchen Garden Seeds) is an All-America Selections winner, thanks to its unique coral, peach, and apricot hues highlighted with pale green, and its top performance in trials around the country.

'Queen Lime Blush' ($4, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) is a favorite for Matthews, who describes it as "a bright green flower dusted with beautiful pink edging. The pink also comes out of the center and bleeds onto the petals." The series also offers 'Queen Lime Red' ($3, Etsy) which resembles 'Queen Lime Orange', except it has rose and ruby tones with pale green. These plants grow 2-3 feet tall.

6. Jazzy Mix Zinnias

For autumn colors, Matthews likes Jazzy Mix zinnias ($3, Select Seeds). "Their yellow, cream, orange, burgundy, and maroon shades are great for fall gardens and bouquets." They're a more compact variety that gets about 2 feet tall with petite blooms just 1-2 inches wide. Like other zinnias, they should be planted in spring or summer, despite their fall-like tones.

7. Peppermint Stick Zinnia

A vintage variety, 'Peppermint Stick' ($3, Etsy) takes your garden from early fall into the holidays, Matthews says. Each of the dahlia-like blooms have slightly different patterning; the flowers are white or creamy yellow with red stripes and speckles. The plants are on the taller side, she says, getting about 2.5 feet tall. The unusual blooms "are great fun if you have kids," she adds.

zowie yellow flame zinnia flowers
Zowie! 'Yellow Flame' zinnias have fiery red and yellow petals.
| Credit: Van Chaplin

8. Zowie! Yellow Flame Zinnia

Don't miss Zowie! 'Yellow Flame' ($5, Park Seed), Matthews adds. This zinnia, also an All-America Selections Winner, has fiery scarlet and yellow blooms. Expect it to grow up to 3 feet tall, with up to 5-inch blooms that change colors as they age. 'Macarenia' ($3, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) is a similar-looking, bicolor variety you can try, too.

9. Dwarf Zinnias

Short on garden space? Instead of tall zinnias, opt for the Thumbelina Dwarf Mix ($3, Renee's Garden), another All-America Selections Winner. These compact cuties can start blooming at just 3 inches tall. Thumbelina zinnias will continue growing up to 6-8 inches or more, depending on the mix, which can include shades of pink, purple, orange, red, yellow, and lavender. They're a good choice for the front of your garden, Matthews says, because they won't block your view of other plants.

How are you going to choose from so many lovelies? "Think about what you want," Grissell suggests, "whether it's a garden of color with tall, short, single, semi-double, or double flowers." And remember that part of the fun of annuals is that you can try something new each year, so go ahead and grow a bunch of different zinnia varieties side by side, or go with just one or two to see which ones you like best. "These zinnias are tried-and-true," Matthews adds. "You can't go wrong with them."

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