Zinnias 101

Zinnias 101

Zinnias are well-known annual flowers, primarily recognized for their easy and fast growth. Their wide range of growing habits contributes to their popularity, as they can range from short and bushy to tall with a singular stalk. Regardless of their growing habit, Zinnias are prolific bloomers. They belong to the aster family and are native to Mexico and Central America, thriving particularly well throughout the South.

Photo: De’Anthony Price

Zinnia Characteristics

There are three distinct types of Zinnias based on floral structure: single, double, and semi-double. The different floral structures do not necessarily correlate with plant habits. ‘Single’ refers to flowers that have only a single row of petals, with the center of the flower clearly visible. ‘Double’ Zinnias have multiple rows of petals, and the center is not clearly visible. ‘Semi-double’ cultivars exhibit a combination of traits, with flowers having multiple rows of petals while still maintaining a clearly visible center.

Pollinators and Zinnias

Zinnias are great for attracting pollinators, especially butterflies. Interplanting zinnias between rows of vegetables or as a border around vegetables is a great way to attract more pollinators to your garden. There are a few guidelines available for attracting butterflies to your yard using zinnias. The taller varieties are better than dwarf or compact cultivars, and those with wide, flat blooms provide a larger landing surface. Flowers should have prominent yellow centers (disc floret); double bloom varieties make it difficult for butterflies to access nectar. It is also possible that some varieties attractive to butterflies produce a larger quantity of and/or better-quality nectar than others.

Photo: UF/IFAS

Planting Zinnias

Zinnias perform better in garden beds than containers and, due to their ability to grow so quickly, can be direct seeded. To direct seed, the soil temp should be at least 70 degrees and plant the seeds at 1/4’” deep. Zinnias can also be planted as transplants and should be done once the soil warms to 60 degrees. Plant spacing can be anywhere from 8 to 12 inches depending on the plant’s habit. Singular stalk varieties can be planted closer together and bushier varieties should be given more space. Zinnias prefer full sun and well-drained soil. For longer flowering, remove the old blooms.

Zinnia Management

When planting zinnias, it’s recommended to incorporate a general-purpose fertilizer with equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium into the soil. Following planting, monthly fertilization with a phosphorus-rich fertilizer is advisable to encourage continuous blooming. Maintaining adequate moisture is crucial for zinnias but avoid overwatering as they thrive in moderately dry conditions. To prevent fungal diseases, water only when the top 1-2 inches of soil are dry, focusing on watering the base of the plant rather than the foliage whenever possible. Powdery mildew is a common issue with zinnias, but it can be managed by applying a fungicide when necessary. However, it’s best to prevent this problem by ensuring good air circulation and avoiding wet foliage.

Photo: De’Anthony Price
Diseased Zinnia

Zinnias as Cut Flowers

Zinnias, known for their vibrant charm, make delightful cut flowers that can brighten up indoor spaces for a week or longer. For optimal longevity, harvest the blooms when their centers are just beginning to unfurl fully. Trim away lower leaves and promptly place the cut ends into water-filled vases. Regularly refreshing the water helps prevent the growth of algae. When it comes to drying zinnias, double-flowered varieties are preferred as they tend to maintain their shape better than single forms. While all colors undergo slight changes during drying, cutting stems at their peak, removing leaves, and hanging them upside down in bundles away from direct sunlight facilitates the drying process effectively.

Photo: DeAnthony Price

Zinnia – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (ufl.edu)

FPS-623/FP623: Zinnia spp. Zinnia (ufl.edu)

Creating a Pollinator Paradise: Attracting Bees, Butterflies, and Birds to Your Garden

Creating a Pollinator Paradise: Attracting Bees, Butterflies, and Birds to Your Garden

In the ever growing urbanization of our world today, green spaces are hard to come by but are so essential to biodiversity conservation. Pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and birds, play a crucial role in our ecosystem by facilitating plant reproduction. Unfortunately, pollinator populations are declining due to habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change. However, by making simple changes to your garden, you can create an environment that supports and protects your pollinators. In this article, we will discuss ways to turn your garden into a pollinator paradise.

Gulf Fritillary butterfly on flower. Photo taken 09-26-22. UF/IFAS Photo by Cat Wofford.

Choosing Native Plants

Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions, making them ideal for supporting native pollinators. Research native species that thrive in your region and incorporate them into your landscape. Aim for a diverse selection of flowers that bloom at different times throughout the year to provide a continuous food source for pollinators.

Flowers and insects at the student gardens on the University of Florida campus. Pollinating bee. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

Providing Shelter and Nesting Sites

Pollinators need more than just nectar-rich flowers; they also require sheltered spaces for nesting or overwintering. By incorporating features such as brush piles, dead trees, and nesting boxes you are creating habitat diversity for the pollinators. Leaving some areas of bare soil for ground-nesting bees and providing water sources like shallow dishes or birdbaths can further enhance your garden’s appeal to pollinators as well.

Avoid Chemical Pesticides

Chemical pesticides not only can harm pollinators, but they can also directly disrupt ecosystems. Instead of reaching for a spray on the shelf to deter pests, consider using a natural pest control method such as companion planting, handpicking pests, and encouraging natural predators like ladybugs and birds. Certain organic gardening practices not only protect pollinators, but can also promote your garden’s overall health.

Embrace Imperfection

A manicured garden may look appealing, but it can be sometimes inhospitable to our pollinator friends. Create a more naturalistic approach by allowing certain areas of your garden to grow wild. Letting plants go to seed, leaving some leaf litter, and allowing flowers to fade and form seed heads provide valuable resources for pollinators throughout their life cycle.

A butterfly garden at a Florida-Friendly Landscape. UF/IFAS Photo taken by Cat Wofford 9-29-23

Educate and Inspire Others

Because pollinator numbers have rapidly declined in recent years, awareness and education of their importance to our ecosystem is crucial. Spreading the word of their importance and how you can contribute to conservation efforts truly helps the cause. UF/IFAS Extension has made great efforts in hosting workshops, giving presentations, and sharing information through newsletters and social media about the importance of creating pollinator habitats. We encourage you, your neighbors, friends, and community members to join in the movement of creating pollinator-friendly gardens and landscapes.

By transforming your garden into a pollinator paradise, you not only enhance its beauty, but also play a vital role in conserving biodiversity. Every flower you plant and every habitat you create contributes to the well-being of bees, butterflies, birds, and other pollinators. Together, we can make a difference and ensure a thriving ecosystem for generations to come.

For more information, please visit:



The Gulf Frittilary Butterfly

The Gulf Frittilary Butterfly

Migratory animals are no stranger to our neck of the woods. Every year, Florida is host to countless creatures as they make their way from one place to another in search of food, nesting sites, or just a change of scene. From hummingbirds to manatees, it can be interesting to watch the annual cycle of nomadic animals.

A gulf frittilary butterfly.

One of the smaller wayfarers we see year-round, but especially when they migrate south in the fall, is the gulf frittilary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae Linnaeus. They spend the warmer months of the year in the southeastern United States, following frost-free weather as temperatures drop. During the winter, they enjoy the sunshine of peninsular Florida.

The gulf frittilary is a medium-sized butterfly, with a wingspan of 2½–3½ inches. Females are larger than males. It is bright orange in color, with black markings on the top of its wings and silvery-white spots on the bottoms. In its larval form, it is also bright orange in color, with dangerous-looking spines along the length of the caterpillar. Despite their appearance, these do not sting.

The gulf frittilary caterpillar looks dangerous, but won’t sting. Please do not eat it, however.

If given a choice its larvae will feed primarily on passionflower (Passiflora incarnata and related species), but have also been seen snacking on buttonsage. Toxins from passionflower concentrate in the larvae and butterflies, making them poisonous to predators – much like the monarch butterfly and its host plant, milkweed. The insect’s bright coloration serves as a warning that it is not to be eaten.

Keep an eye out for these beautiful butterflies and consider planting a passion vine in your landscape to help them out. The caterpillars may eat the leaves, but in giving them a feast you’ll help them grow into adult butterflies. Once they do mature, they are fantastic at pollinating many of our native wildflowers, further beautifying the world around them.

For more information see the University of Florida’s article here.

Blue Blooming Beauties of the Florida Panhandle

Blue Blooming Beauties of the Florida Panhandle

It’s no secret that fall, October specifically, is the best month for wildflower watching in the Panhandle.  From the abundant vibrant yellow-gold display of various Sunflowers, Asters, and Goldenrods to the cosmopolitan bright pinks and purples of Mistflower, Blazing Star, and False Foxglove, local native landscapes light up each year around this time.  However, if you’re lucky and know where to look, you can also spot two species, Azure Blue Sage (Salvia azurea) and Forked Bluecurls (Trichostema dichotomum) that sport that rarest of wildflower hues – vivid blue. 

Forked Bluecurls begins its flower show in late summer, picking up steam in fall, and reaching its peak now as nights get cool and the days grow short.   The species’ flowers are easily among the most unique around.  Each flower has two distinct “lips” – the lower lip is white and dotted with blue specks, while the top is distinctly pure blue – with characteristically curled blue stamens rising to preside over the rest of the flower below.  Though individual flowers are very small and only bloom in the morning, they appear by the hundreds and are very striking taken together.  Various pollinators, especially bees, also find Forked Bluecurls flowers to their liking and frequent them on cool fall mornings. Though the flowers are obviously the highlight, the rest of the plant is attractive as well, growing to 3’ in height and possessing small, light-green fuzzy leaves.   Forked Bluecurls, while not exceedingly common, can be found in sunny, sandy natural areas throughout the Panhandle, including well-drained flatwoods, sandhills, and open, disturbed areas.

Forked Bluecurls blooming in an open natural area in Calhoun County, FL. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.

The second blue bloomer, Azure Blue Sage, is possibly even more striking in flower than Forked Bluecurls.  Aptly named and blooming around the same time as Forked Blue Curls, Azure Blue Sage is a much larger plant (often 4-6’ in height) and holds its abundant sky-blue flowers high above the surrounding landscape.  Because of their height and their propensity to occur in bunches, Azure Blue Sage’s brilliant tubular flowers are immediately noticeable to passersby and the myriad bee and butterfly pollinators that visit.  Beyond its flowers, Azure Blue Sage is a very unusual looking perennial plant, tall and spindly with dark green, narrow leaves held tightly to square stems, a giveaway of its lineage in the Mint family.  The species can be found in similar areas to Forked Bluecurls – natural areas in the Panhandle that possess abundant sunshine and sandy, well-drained soil. 

Azure Blue Sage blooming in a recently replanted pine forest in Calhoun County, FL. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.

Both species would make excellent additions to mixed perennial landscapes where the soil and sun conditions were right, as they are exceedingly low-maintenance and have the propensity to reseed themselves from year to year.  Unfortunately, they are rarer in the nursery trade than they are in the wild and can only be found occasionally at nurseries specializing in Florida native plants.  (Visit PlantRealFlorida.org to find native nurseries in your area!)  However, even if you are unable to source a plant for your home, both these somewhat rare, blue-blooming fall beauties, Forked Bluecurls and Azure Blue Sage, are worth searching out in the many State Parks and public natural areas across the Panhandle!  For more information about Forked Bluecurls and Azure Blue sage or any other natural resource, horticultural, or agricultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Happy fall wildflower watching!

Gaillardia, A Flower That Can Handle the Sand

Gaillardia, A Flower That Can Handle the Sand

Bright color is sometimes hard to come by in landscapes, especially in those areas where not much likes to grow. In particularly sandy areas along our coastlines, it can be a challenge to find plants that can both tolerate extremely dry conditions with heavy salt spray and provide an aesthetic boost. Luckily, there is at least one flower out there that goes above and beyond when it comes to beauty.

Gaillardia pulchella, or blanket flower, Indian blanket flower, firewheel, or sundance is a relatively low growing (up to 1.5 feet tall) plant that favors conditions that would make most plants wither. It grows as an annual or short-lived perennial and though it goes dormant in the winter, during warm weather, it’s bright and colorful! It is native to the United States, but probably never spread farther east than Texas until assisted by humans. It grows well throughout Florida, and can often be seen along roadsides.

Blanket flower on the beach
Gaillardia on the beach

Spreading to around two feet wide, each individual plant may not blanket the ground, but it readily produces seed which is easy to germinate. Flowers are produced throughout the growing season. Varieties are available with different appearances, though all tend to be some combination of bright yellow and dusky red. The blossoms can be used as cut flowers, or left in the landscape to attract pollinators.

Blanket flower prefers well-drained soil, even growing out into beach dunes. As stated previously, it may be propagated easily by seed; either let dried seed heads remain on the plant long enough to drop seeds or harvest them to plant elsewhere. Sow seeds in the spring and enjoy low-maintenance color for months after!

For more information, try our EDIS publication on blanket flower: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/FP216 or the Florida Native Plant Society’s page here: https://www.fnps.org/plant/gaillardia-pulchella

Book & Garden Lovers Unite

Book & Garden Lovers Unite

The UF/IFAS Extension Bay County Pollinator Garden is the proud recipient of a Little Free Library built, stocked, and installed by the Bay County Library Foundation. We were incredibly fortunate the foundation had the perfect box designed and painted by local artist Heather Clements just waiting for the perfect place to be installed!

You might be asking yourself, how does a Little Free Library work? It’s very simple, if you want a book you take one and if you have a book to donate you leave it in the box. Our box includes books for all ages and reading levels including children’s books in English and Spanish and of course gardening and wildlife topics. As people exchange books the titles and topics will change and evolve over time.

If you are in Panama City I hope you will take a moment to pick out a book and enjoy our demonstration gardens at 2728 E. 14th Street, Panama City and visit the virtual garden for educational information about the garden inventory.

Looking for a Little Free Library near you or Interested in starting one? Visit https://littlefreelibrary.org/start/ or contact your local library to find out more information.

#littlefreelibrary #artinthegarden #gardening #bookworm