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How to Grow Butterfly Flower — Schizanthus

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Schizanthus is a tender annual that bears clusters of tubular, two-lipped orchidlike flowers in colors of pink, purple, white, and yellow, with bright yellow contrasts.

The flowers of Schizanthus are often compared to various butterflies and orchids—thus the common names “butterfly flower’ and “poor man’s orchid”.

Schizanthus grows best where summers are cool, where night temperatures consistently drop below 65°F (18.3°C). It is a good choice for planting in cottage gardens and small-space gardens. It also makes a good container plant.

There are about 15 species of Schizanthus. Schizanthus is a close relative of both the petunia and Nicotiana, flowering tobacco.

Schizanthus is also called Poor Man’s Orchid

Get to know Schizanthus

  • Plant type: Annuals and biennials
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 3 to 10
  • Hardiness: Tender; will be killed by frost
  • Height and width: To 24 inches (61cm) tall and 12 inches (30cm) wide
  • Foliage: Alternate, plumelike, fine-cut leaves are 5 inches (12.7cm) long
  • Flowers: Clusters of orchidlike flowers 1 to 1 ½ inch (25-38mm) across.
  • Flower colors: Pink, red, violet, purple, yellow, and white
  • Bloom time: Summer to autumn
  • Uses: Add Schizanthus to beds, mixed border, cottage garden, and rock gardens; grow in containers. Schizanthus is a good cut flower.
  • Common name: Schizanthus, poor man’s orchid, butterfly flower
  • Botanical name: Schizanthus
  • Family: Solanaceae
  • Origin: Rocky slopes and canyons of Chile

Where to plant Schizanthus

  • Grow Schizanthus in full sun.
  • Plant Schizanthus in humus-rich, well-drained soil.
  • Schizanthus prefers a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.5.

Schizanthus uses

  • Schizanthus is a good choice for an annual border.
  • Plant Schizanthus in a container for a patio or in a courtyard garden.
  • Schizanthus last well as cut flowers.
  • Plant Schizanthus with cineraria and Primula malacoides.

When to plant Schizanthus

  • Sow seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost in spring.
  • Sow seed outdoors after the last frost in spring.
  • Set container-grown plants in the garden after the last frost in spring when the ground is easily worked.
Schizanthus flowers
Schizanthus flowers

Planting and spacing Schizanthus

  • Sow seeds in six-packs or flats in sterile seed starting mix. Sow seeds in a cool location where the temperature ranges between 60° to 65°F (15.6°-18.3°C).
  • Barely cover the seeds with soil; darkness is required for germination.
  • Space Schizanthus 12 inches (30cm) apart.

How to water and feed Schizanthus

  • Water young Schizanthus regularly; keep the soil evenly moist.
  • Established plants can tolerate drought.
  • Fertilize Schizanthus lightly at planting time with an all-purpose fertilizer. Feed plants every 4 weeks during the growing season.

Schizanthus care

  • Pinch seedlings and young plants to encourage branching and bushy growth.
  • Mulch around Schizanthus with aged compost to conserve soil moisture.
  • Shelter Schizanthus from wind.
  • Schizanthus resists pests and diseases.

Schizanthus propagation

  • Propagate Schizanthus from seed. Collect seeds from spent flowers.
  • Seeds germinate in 7 to 14 days at 60° to 70°F (16°-21°C).
  • Schizanthus will self-sow if seeds are allowed to drop.

Schizanthus varieties to grow

  • Schizanthus pinnatus, butterfly flower. Annual grows 6 to 18 inches tall with fernlike leaves and clusters of 3- to 4-inch-wide flowers in shades of pink, purple, red, yellow, or white; blooms often have throats marked in contrasting colors.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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