How to Grow Schizanthus Plants (Butterfly Flower)

Guide to Growing Butterfly Flower, Poor Man's Orchid, and Fringeflower

Schizanthus plants are bushy half hardy annuals that range from 30 cm to 1.2 m (One to four feet) in height.

They bloom from spring to autumn (dependent upon when sown), with double lipped, orchid like flowers of pink, purple, red or yellow. These usually have a yellow center.

Schizanthus pinnatus
Schizanthus pinnatus – Butterfly Flower by Udo Schröter.

Some of the common names for Schizanthus include Fringe Flower, Butterfly Flower, and Poor Man's Orchid.

How to Grow Schizanthus Plants in the Garden

It is best to grow Butterfly flower, Fringe flower and other members of the Schizanthus genus indoors from seeds.

They should be sown at a depth of 3 mm in a rich soil of pH 6 to 7 about 2 months before the last expected frost of spring.

It should take about two or three weeks for the Schizanthus seeds to germinate in the dark at a temperature of 15 to 23 degrees centigrade.

Once growing, transplant the Schizanthus (Fringe flower) seedlings outdoors in the middle of spring a couple of weeks after the last chance of a frost.

They should be grown in a sunny part of the garden and spaced from 25 cm (small Schizanthus species), 40 cm (medium varieties) or 60 to 80 cm (large Schizanthus varieties) apart.

Poor Man's Orchid
Schizanthus - Poor Man's Orchid by Hunda. Both photographs under creative commons licence.

Caring for Butterfly flower, Fringe Flower - Schizanthus

It is not easy to look after Schizanthus species such as Butterfly flower and Fringe Flower.

To get a nice bushy growth the plants should be pinched back at the tips when they reach 8 cm, and again when they reach 16 cm in height.

The young plants should be supported with stakes. Water them regularly to keep the soil moist, but avoid getting water on the leaves and flowers.

If you require more Schizanthus plants then it is best to grow them from seed or to purchase them from a garden center.

Main Schizanthus Species, with Photographs for Identification

Schizanthus pinnatus: Butterfly flower; Poor Man's Orchid

Schizanthus pinnatus typically reaches 20 to 50 cm (8 to 20 inches) in height. Leaves are green, and compound with distinct narrow leaflets. They reach about 3 cm (1.25 inches) in length.

They are cool but not cold hardy and grows well as an annual in most zones, but bear in mind that they will struggle as soon as temperatures drop to about 5°C (41°F).

Plants bloom in late spring and early summer. Flowers are natively pink, white, or violet, but cultivars are also available with red,, purple, and yellow flowers too.

schizanthus pinnatus, the Butterfly flower
Schizanthus pinnatus photograph by 阿橋 HQ; CC.

Schizanthus grahamii: Pajarito Cordillerano, Graham's butterfly orchid

Plants are cool hardy and grow well outdoors in the summer in most places. It isClassified as UK zone H1c (temperatures must remain above 5°C (41°F).

Schizanthus grahamii are usually bigger than Schizanthus pinnatus, reaching heights of 30 to 80 cm (12 to 32 inches), with longer leaves of about 8 cm (3 inches).

They bloom in summer with pink through to purple flowers with a yellow lobe.

schizanthus grahamii flower
Schizanthus grahamii photograph by Dick Culbert; CC.

Schizanthus X wisetonensis: Angel Wings

Schizanthus wisetonensis plants tend to have a dwarf compact nature with a bushy habit, typically reaching 10 to 30 cm (4 to 12 inches) in height, with as spread of around 20 cm (8 inches).

Flowers may be white, lavender, or rose pink, with a yellow eye, and are double lipped, their leaves are green and fern like.

An advantage of this plant over other Schizanthus plants is that they are a little hardier, rated by the RHS as hardy to zone H3 (-5°C (23°F)).

schizanthus wisetonensis
Schizanthus X wisetonensis photograph by Dr. Boli; CC.

Schizanthus Plant Growing and Care Guide

Common Names: Butterfly Flower, Poor Man's Orchid, Fringeflower.
Life Cycle: Half hardy annual. Hardy biennial.
Height: 16 to 40 inches (40 to 100 cm).
Native: South America.
Growing Region: Zones 2 to 11. Does not like cool temperatures, classified in the UK as zone H1c.
Flowers: Spring, summer and/or autumn.
Flower Details: Double lipped. Red, yellow, white, pink, purple. Multicoloured. Speckled. Sometimes orange fringed, Blotched. Orchid-like.
Foliage: Lobed. Fern-like. Pinnately dissected.

Sow Outside: 1/8 inch. In warm areas sow seeds every two weeks from early spring until mid-spring, and in the autumn. In cooler areas start seeds indoors. Spacing 10 to 30 inches (25 to 75 cm).
Sow Inside: Germination time: one to three weeks. Temperature 65 to 70°F (18 to 21°C). Two months before expected last frost. Transplant outdoors a couple of weeks after the last frost; temperatures should not drop below 41°F (5°C).

Care Requirements: Full sunlight. Soil pH 6 to 7. Good drainage. Loam. Fertile soil. Regular light watering; avoid getting plant wet. Provide support. Pinch tips twice, once when the plant reaches about three inches (8 cm) and again at six inches (15 cm).
Family: Solanaceae.
Miscellaneous: The common name for members of the Schizanthus genus is given because the flowers have a butterfly-like look.

I hope that you enjoyed this guide on how to grow Schizanthus plants. You may also enjoy the following Gardener's HQ growing guides: How to grow Petunia Hybrids and Nicotiana plants.