- How to Divide a Coneflower
- What Does Coneflower Echinacea Look Like?
- Growing Echinacea From Seed
- How To Care For Coneflowers
- Common Coneflower Diseases and Pests
- How To Use Echinacea In The Landscape
- Growing Echinacea In Pots
- Overwintering Coneflower Plants In Pots
- Use Echinacea For Healing
- Traditional Varieties of Echinacea
- Interesting Echinacea Hybrids
- How to Grow Echinacea
- Uses in the Landscape
- Coneflower Varieties
- Learn About Echinacea
- Ask Mr. Smarty Plants
- Related Content
- Growing Echinacea (Coneflower)
- How to Winterize Coneflower
How to Divide a Coneflower
Coneflower is a delightful perennial that produces blossoms that are similar in appearance to a daisy except the coneflower’s blossoms are much grander in appearance. Like all perennials, coneflower must be divided at least once every three to four years to maintain optimal health and growth.
Dividing a coneflower plant is fairly easy and the divisions are easily transplanted or given away as charming gifts. The following information details exactly how to successfully divide coneflowers.
Step 1 – Prepare to Divide in Spring or Late Fall
Coneflower can be divided in early spring before the plant has begun to bloom or in late fall after all of the blossoms have died down. Division is the least invasive and damaging during these two periods of time because the plant is either resting or in a state of dormancy.
Step 2 – Uproot the Coneflower and Remove the Unhealthy Roots
Use a large shovel to dig a trench around the roots of your entire coneflower plant; take care to dig vertically into the ground to prevent root damage. Make sure that the trench is as deep as the roots of the plant so you can easily remove it from the ground.
After the trench has been dug, use the tip of your shovel to completely uproot the plant. It is helpful to use your shovel around the circumference of the coneflower to gently dislodge the root system before completely uprooting the plant.
Once the plant is completely uprooted, use your hands or a garden hose to dislodge all of the soil that has become entangled and caked on to the plants’ roots. This will expose the entire root system and allow you to eradicate any unhealthy or unproductive roots. Use a pair of cutting tools to remove any soggy, slimy, or discolored roots from the root ball.
Step 3 – Divide Your Coneflower Into Separate Entities
With the roots exposed, you should be able to determine where the best and natural place to divide your coneflower is. Use a tool to pull apart the coneflower into separate divisions, taking care not to mutilate or disrupt the root system more than you have to.
After successfully dividing the coneflower, it is a good idea to trim back one-third of each of the divided plants root mass. This will free up room for the plant to send out new fresh roots. These roots will be stronger and more efficient than those that they are replacing. Not to mention, the new roots will be able to organize themselves within their new location far better than any pre-existing root could.
Step 4 – Plant the Divisions and Water Them In
After dividing the original coneflower plant into several separate plants you should place them into their new homes in the ground immediately. After you have located the place where you want to replant the divisions, dig a hole into the ground that is just a little larger than the root system of the division. Place the plant into the hole and cover the root system with dirt. Water the division thoroughly and keep the plant’s soil moist for the next two weeks until the roots have established.
Echinacea (aka Purple Coneflower Plant) is a wildflower that has been adapted and developed for garden use.
This pretty member of the aster family makes a beautiful flower addition to a butterfly garden.
The pollen attracts bees, and the seeds attract birds. It is also a good addition to your kitchen or medicinal garden as all parts of the plant can be used to make tea and natural medicines. It’s a lovely landscape or container plant, and the flowers are pretty and long-lasting in arrangements.
In this article, we will discuss the care of coneflowers in the garden and as a container plant. We will also share information about the many new and exciting coneflower hybrids available today. Read on to learn more.
What Does Coneflower Echinacea Look Like?
As a member of the Aster family, Echinacea plants produce daisy-like flowers in a wide array of colors and sizes. These flowers are commonly called coneflowers because of the raised, cone-like center formed by the flower’s seeds.
Coneflowers bloom during the summer months and produce a riot of color. All of the many varieties do well with little care and are quite drought tolerant.
Echinacea Plant Quick Growing Guide:
Botanical Name: Echinacea
Origin: Prairies and Open woodlands of North America
Common Names: Narrow-leaved Purple Coneflower, Kansas Snakeroot, Black Samson, Red Sunflower, Sampson Root, Comb Flower, Scurvy Root, Black Susan, Rudbeckia, Hedgehog, Snakeroot
Uses: Houseplant, container plant, garden herbaceous perennial. Good for cut flowers, dried as tea and/or used in folk medicine.
Height: 1-4′ depending upon the variety
USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9
Flowers: Typically daisy-like flower heads with a bloom time of summer through autumn, Many bloom colors, shades of pink, purple, red, yellow, orange and white – new hybrids present interesting variations.
Foliage: Coarse lance-like or oval, toothed basal leaves. Typically covered with stiff hairs, but some varieties have smooth leaves.
Echinacea Plant Care Requirements: Likes full sun to part shade. Loamy, fast draining soil. Deep occasional watering. In the landscape, “fertilize” annually with a top dress of finished compost. In containers, use a weak solution of water soluble 10 10 10 fertilizer twice a month.
Miscellaneous: Planting Echinacea attracts butterflies for the pollen and birds for the seeds. The plant is non-toxic to pets and may attract rabbits. Leaves, petals and roots may be used to make tea which may be drunk to boost the immune system or applied topically to soothe minor skin irritations such as sunburn and rash.
Growing Echinacea From Seed
To plant Echinacea in the garden, you must begin will well-tilled, loose, well-draining soil. Till the soil to a depth of about fifteen inches. Turn two-to-four inches of finished compost into the soil.
When growing coneflowers from seed, it’s most convenient to plant in early spring. Seed can be sown directly into the soil. Space the seeds one-to-three feet apart depending upon the type of echinacea you choose. Read packaging information carefully to determine how much spread your plants will need.
It is also possible to sow seed in the late autumn or during the winter for spring blooming. Exposing the seeds to four-to-six weeks of cold, wet weather stratifies them and helps ensure good germination.
Plants can also be propagated through division and by use of root cuttings in the autumn.
How To Care For Coneflowers
In the springtime, top dress your echinacea with a layer of compost covered by a couple of inches of mulch. This combination feeds the plant and helps the soil retain water.
These plants have very deep taproots and need watering like the wildflowers they are. Give them a deep soaking occasionally. If your area receives under an inch of rain weekly, provide an inch of water once a week.
Deadhead your echinacea throughout the blooming season to promote more blossoms and to prevent having them go to seed during the spring and summer.
At the end of the blooming season, leave the last blossoms in place and allow them to go to seed. This will re-seed your garden for the next year and provides a sweet autumn treat for the birds.
Do coneflowers spread?
Coneflowers spread by seed and by roots. Every three or four years, it’s a good idea to divide your plants to give them more space and prevent overcrowding. Be careful not to overdo this.
If you divide them more frequently than every three years, they will become bushy and will not bloom as much.
Common Coneflower Diseases and Pests
Keep in mind these plants are very close to wildflowers, so they are pretty tough and pest and disease resistant.
In their natural setting, they thrive on the prairies and in light woodlands. They like light, loamy soil and plenty of sunshine.
Their taproots grow deep, thick, and store water to get through times of drought. If you over-water or if your plants are otherwise stressed, they may be prone to:
- Japanese beetle attacks
- Powdery mildew outbreaks
- Bacterial spots
- Vine weevils
- Leaf miners
- Gray mold
- Aphids – Tips on organic treatment for aphids here
These problems can mostly be avoided by:
- Planting in a good, light, well-draining soil mixture
- Spacing plants properly
- Keeping them trimmed
- Deadheading spent flowers and blooms
- Thinned to promote good air circulation
Remove damaged foliage and blossoms promptly and dispose of clippings appropriately to prevent the spread of mites and aphids.
Although echinacea is deer resistant, it is not rabbit resistant. If rabbits eat your plants, try sprinkling a little cayenne pepper on the soil surrounding your plants to repel them.
How To Use Echinacea In The Landscape
There are lots of beautiful varieties of coneflower, and they are just as at-home in a formal, manicured setting as in a naturalized wild garden. Low-growing varieties are a good choice as border plants and look lovely in combination with:
- Leucanthemum maximum (Shasta Daisy)
- Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s Ear)
- Phlox paniculata (Garden Phlox)
- Monarda (Pink Bee Balm) and (Monarda Clinopodia White Bergamot)
- Calamintha (Calamint)
- Liatris (Blazingstar)
- Achillea (Yarrow)
- Nepeta (Catmint)
- Verbena hybrida
Add a backdrop of tall ornamental grasses for a dazzling effect.
If you keep a prairie or meadow garden, coneflowers are lovely mixed in with a variety of native plants and grasses. Examples include:
- Ratibida pinnata (Gray-Headed Coneflower)
- Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed)
- Rudbeckia (Black-Eyed Susan)
- Solidago (Goldenrod)
Growing Echinacea In Pots
Echinacea can also be grown as a container plant as long as the container is deep enough to accommodate the plant’s taproot.
They may be kept indoors in the winter with measured success, but they do well on porches, decks, and patios as spring and summer container plants. Follow these steps to successfully transplant seedling coneflowers to containers.
- Select a deep, sturdy plastic or resin pot or container with plenty of drainage holes. It should be at least two or three gallons.
- Line the bottom of the container with two or three inches of crushed gravel to ensure proper drainage.
- Add enough loose, well-draining potting mix to fill the container halfway. Tamp it down and add more if needed to keep the container half full.
- Remove your seedlings from their pots and massage the root ball to spread the roots. Position the plants in your pot or container as desired. The top of the root ball should be about an inch below the rim of the container.
- Begin adding soil at a rate of about three inches at a time. Tamp it down lightly between additions. Stop when the soil level is even with the top of the root ball.
- Water thoroughly and allow excess water to drain through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.
- Keep your plants in a relatively sheltered location for a couple of days until they adjust to repotting, then choose a permanent location that receives full morning sun and partial afternoon shade.
- Check the soil a couple of times a week. Water thoroughly when the top inch of soil is dry. Always allow excess water to drain out. It’s best to water in the morning. Avoid getting the leaves wet or allowing water to splash up from the surface of the soil as this may cause the development of mold and/or disease problems.
- Fertilize every couple of weeks with a water-soluble 10-10-10 fertilizer. Add a tablespoonful of fertilizer to each gallon of water used for regular watering.
- Prompt dead-heading stimulates blossom production. As soon as flowers begin dropping their petals, clip them off at the base of the flower stem. Use a sharp, clean pair of scissors or pruning shears.
- Inspect your plants for signs of pests and disease once or twice a week. If you notice problems, address them promptly. Pests, such as leaf miners and aphids can be knocked off with a stream of water if caught early. If your plants become infested with these pests, you will need to use an insecticidal soap or neem oil solution.
- Every three or four years, divide and repot your echinacea plants. Do this in the springtime after new growth has started.
Overwintering Coneflower Plants In Pots
In the autumn, when plant growth begins to slow, prune your plants back to soil level and move them to an area with low-to-moderate, indirect light where the temperature will stay between 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Check the soil every couple of weeks and water lightly when the top three inches are dry.
When new growth begins to appear, transition the plant to a brighter, warmer (60-70 degrees) setting. Moving the plant helps in preparation for going outdoors for the spring and summer.
If you wish to transplant them into the garden, begin by digging a hole two times the diameter of the pot.
Follow standard transplanting protocol by massaging roots to stimulate them. Place the plant carefully into the hole so that the top of the root ball is even with the surface of the soil.
Surround the root ball with a mixture of the native soil and finished compost. Fill the hole to the same level as the top of the root ball.
Don’t surround the stem of the plant with fresh dirt as this will lead to rotting. Give the plant a thorough watering. Add more soil if watering causes the soil to settle significantly.
Use Echinacea For Healing
These attractive plants can be enjoyed in the yard and garden throughout the spring and summer and harvested for use as a general tonic during the wintertime.
All parts of the plant may be used fresh or dried to brew immune boosting tea or to make a wide variety of tinctures and other health-giving concoctions.
Echinacea Tea Recipe
Drinking a cup of Echinacea tea weekly, year-round helps boost your immune system.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- A quarter cup of dried echinacea leaves, roots and/or flowers.
- One or two teaspoonfuls of raw honey
- A cup of fresh water
Here’s what you’ll do:
- Put the water in a small pot. Bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer.
- Stir in the dried Echinacea bits and pieces.
- Lower the heat, cover the pot tightly and simmer the concoction for about 15 minutes.
- Allow it to sit and cool/steep (covered) for about 5 minutes.
- Pour the mixture through a strainer into a mug. Add honey to suit your tastes.
Drink this brew weekly, year-round to ward off the common cold. If you do happen to catch a cold, have a cup of Echinacea tea right away, and drink a cup two times daily while you are sick to boost your immune system and reduce symptoms.
This is just one of the many ways Echinacea can be used to benefit your health. Purple coneflower has been recognized by Native Americans as a folk cure for many centuries, and now its benefits are also scientifically recognized.
Traditional Varieties of Echinacea
Echinacea Angustifolia (Narrow-Leaved Coneflower)
This is a compact plant that typically grows to a height of one or two feet. The leaves are lance-shaped and have a coating of stiff hairs. The top stems are generally bare and sport pretty, rose-pink flowers about 2 or 3 inches across. The plant is hardy in USDA zones 3-8.
Echinacea Tennesseensis (Tennessee Coneflower)
This is a compact plant which grows to be 1-3 feet high and may spread two feet. Its reddish-purple petals sweep up giving it a cup-like appearance. This unusual coneflower is hardy in USDA zones 4-8.
Echinacea Paradoxa (Yellow Coneflower)
This mid-sized plant grows to be two or three feet high and may spread as much as two feet. This bright yellow coneflower is different from most others in that it grows in dense, multi-stemmed clumps. Its leaves are broad and lance-shaped and grow mostly at the base. It is hardy in USDA zones 4-8.
Echinacea Pallida (Pale Purple Coneflower)
This plant can attain a height of four feet and may spread to two feet. The plant is hardy in USDA zones 4-8. The branches are sturdy and separate. Lance-shaped leaves, covered with stiff hairs are found at the base of the stems. The pale rose-colored flowers are large and attractive.
Echinacea laevigata (Smooth Coneflower)
This variety is very much like Pale Purple Coneflower, but the leaves are hairless. The plant is hardy in USDA zones 4-8.
Echinacea Purpurea (Purple Coneflower Care)
This is the most familiar coneflower. This enthusiastic grower can attain a height of four feet and a spread to three feet. The plant grows like a shrub with very leafy stems and lots of pretty flowers in shades of rosy pink and reddish purple. It is hardy in USDA zones 3-8.
White Lustre is a variation of Echinacea Purpura with very similar characteristics, but its blossoms are bright white.
Interesting Echinacea Hybrids
Many coneflower hybrids have been developed, and many more are emerging as plant breeders continue to work with this fascinating, hardy, beautiful, useful plant.
These seven hybrids have proven to be very easy to grow:
- Kim’s Knee High is an excellent choice as a container plant as it tops out at only 18 inches high.
- Razzmatazz grows to be a two or three feet high. It is the first double-flowering variety of Echinacea. It cannot rightly be called a “coneflower” because it does not have a cone. Instead, it has a central dome that is covered in short upright petals. Longer, draping petals surround this centerpiece.
- Green Envy grows to a maximum height of three feet. This unusual plant produces green blossoms with fat, deep green petals and purplish veins. The center cones are also green when the flower first opens; however, they transition to a purplish-brown color as the blossom matures.
- Sunrise grows to be about three feet high and produces big, pretty, sweet-smelling yellow blossoms. The central cones are green when the flower first opens but the transition to gold as the bloom matures.
- Harvest moon is a combination of Purple Coneflower and Yellow Coneflower. As such, it produces loads of 4″ wide orange blossoms.
- Cheyenne Spirit grows to between 18 and 30 inches high. This plant produces multi-colored blossoms and can only be grown from seed.
- Double-Decker grows to be about four feet high. Its flowers produce two sets of petals, one at the base of the cone and one at the top of the cone. The blossoms have the usual daisy-like petals as well as a fringe of smaller petals that grow from the tip of the seed cone.
With all these choices in Echinacea varieties, you could easily amass an eclectic, varied collection to create a dazzling flower garden that requires very little care.
No matter which varieties of coneflower you choose, all you need is loamy, well-drained soil, moderate watering and plenty of sun for a thriving, pollinator-pleasing, beautiful flower garden.
Echinacea, commonly referred to as coneflowers, are beloved by cottage gardeners and butterfly enthusiasts alike. The large daisy-like flowers with mounded heads and showy rose or pink rays (petals) are usually borne singly on stout stems, well above the foliage. They’re erect perennials with coarse lanceolate to ovate, often toothed leaves.
Plants grow from thick taproots that are quite deep on mature plants. The plant is often used to help alleviate skin rashes and internally for stimulating the immune system.
How to Grow Echinacea
Dorota Pytel / EyeEm/getty
Coneflowers are plants of prairies and open woods. Give them average, loamy soil in full sun or light shade. Plants grow best with adequate moisture but are quite tolerant of extended drought.
These tough plants have deep taproots that enable them to store some water for lean times. Plants increase to form broad clumps.
They flower throughout summer, and the rayless seed heads are attractive throughout fall and winter. Division is seldom necessary and not recommended. Once divided, plants tend to become bushy with compromised flower production.
Propagate by root cuttings in fall. Sow seed outdoors in fall or indoors in winter. Give seeds 4 to 6 weeks of cold, moist stratification to promote uniform germination.
Uses in the Landscape
Marcel Mendez / EyeEm/getty
Coneflowers are comfortable additions to formal and informal landscapes alike. Plant them in borders with catmints (Nepeta), garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), blazingstars (Liatris), yarrows (Achillea), and Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum maximum). Create a pastel combination with lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina), verbenas, pink bee balms (Monarda), calamints (Calamintha), and cranesbills (Geranium) backed with ornamental grasses. In meadow and prairie gardens, plant coneflowers with native grasses, gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), goldenrods (Solidago), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), and black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia). They respond well to pot culture if planted in a deep container.
Showy purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea Alba) are extremely heat-tolerant and drought-tolerant. They have thick, deep taproots that store moisture for lean times.
Axel Fischer / EyeEm/getty
Echinacea angustifolia, narrow-leaved coneflower
Size: 1 to 2 feet tall and wide. A compact coneflower with spare, lance-shaped basal leaves with stiff hairs and mostly leafless stems topped by 2-inch heads with short (1-inch) drooping rose-pink rays. USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 (possibly 2) to 8.
E. pallida, pale purple coneflower
Size: 3 to 4 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide. A sparsely branching plant with stout, nearly leafless stems topped with large heads of drooping pale rose rays. The basal leaves are lance-shaped and covered in stiff hairs. E. laevigata, smooth coneflower, is similar but has smooth leaves. Zones 4 to 8.
E. paradoxa, yellow coneflower
Size: 2½ to 3 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide. This is an unusual coneflower in that its rays are bright yellow. The plants grow in tight, multi-stemmed clumps with mostly basal leaves. The leaves are broadly lance-shaped. An important plant in current breeding programs. Zones 4 to 8.
E. purpurea, purple coneflower
Size: 2 to 4 feet tall (rarely to 6 feet), 2 to 3 feet wide. A shrubby, well branched plant with leafy stems and dozens of flowers with flat or drooping rose-pink to red-violet rays. Bright Star is a graceful selection with mostly flat rose-pink flower heads. Kim’s Knee High is an excellent compact selection to 2½ feet with large heads of gracefully drooping rays. Kim’s Mop Head is white. Magnus has huge, flat flower heads. Springbrook’s Crimson Star has delicate, deep crimson flowers on sturdy 3-foot stems. One of the best. White Lustre has larger, brighter white flowers than Alba and White Swan. Zones 3 to 8.
E. tennesseensis, Tennessee coneflower
Size: 1 to 3 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide. The upswept rays of this species make it unique among coneflowers; the overall impression is of a rose-purple cup. This species has contributed its unique form to many new hybrids that will be released in the future. Zones 4 to 8.
Learn About Echinacea
Common Disease Problems
Alternaria Leaf Spot: Small, round reddish brown spots with white to gray centers form on the upper surface of the leaves and along the midrib. The lesions may encircle the stems and cause wilt. This disease is worse in warm, wet or very humid weather. Burpee Recommends: Avoid getting water on the foliage. Remove infected plant parts and do not work around wet plants. Provide plenty of air circulation. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.
Aster Yellows: Plants are stunted, develop witch’s brooms (excessive growth), petals turn green and become deformed. This virus-like condition is caused is spread by leaf hoppers. Burpee Recommends: Remove infected plants and control leaf hoppers. Remove weeds in the area.
Botrytis: This fungus causes a grey mold on flowers, leaves, stems and buds. It thrives in cool wet weather conditions. Burpee Recommends: Remove affected plant parts, avoid watering at night and getting water on the plant when watering, make sure plants have good air circulation. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.
Powdery Mildew: This fungus disease occurs on the top of the leaves in humid weather conditions. The leaves appear to have a whitish or greyish surface and may curl. Burpee Recommends: Avoid powdery mildew by providing good air circulation for the plants by good spacing and pruning. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.
Sclerotinia Crown Rot: Dark spots appear on lower stems and roots, plants wilt and rot. A white fungus with dark structures appear on the dead plant tissue. Burpee Recommends: Remove affected plants. Make sure there is good drainage.
Common Pest and Cultural Problems
Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps who feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.
Eriophyld Mites: Mites live in the flower buds and cause distortion in the flowers. Burpee Recommends: Cut back the plants in fall and remove all plant debris where the mites overwinter.
Leafhoppers: Leafhoppers cause injury to leaves and stunt growth. They also spread disease. Burpee Recommends: Remove plant debris. Use insecticidal soaps. Consult your Cooperative Extension Service for other insecticide recommendations.
Japanese Beetles: Burpee Recommends: Hand pick early in the morning into a bucket of soapy water.
Plants die over the winter in recommended zones: Wet soils with poor drainage in winter can kill plants. Burpee Recommends: Make sure plants are in a well-drained soil. For container grown plants, add one zone colder than your zone when selecting varieties, and keep containers in a protected area outside, mulch heavily.
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Monday – August 26, 2013
From: Springfield, MT
Topic: Container Gardens, Watering, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Wintering Purple Coneflowers in pots in Springfield MO
Answered by: Barbara Medford
I have some 8 month old purple cone flowers in containers on my porch. They did not bloom this summer because they were seedlings when given to me. I can not put them in the ground. How can I keep them over the winter so they might continue to live and bloom for me next summer? Can they be brought inside to keep them from freezing or left out? I have found no information on just what to do, can you help me? Thanks
We noticed that you indicated you were from Springfield, MT, which is apparently mostly a fictitious town from the TV program The Simpsons. However, we also noticed that your e-mail indicated Missouri State Edu. We are changing your town designation from “MT” to “MO” and answering your question accordingly. If we are wrong and you really DO live in Springfield MT, please forgive us and let us know and we will answer you in light of that area of the country instead. We also checked and Missouri State University is located in Springfield MO. This member of the Mr. Smarty Plants Team has had family in that area dating back to the late 1800’s. It is a lovely place to garden, and we hope we have the right location.
Operating on that assumption, here is what we know about Echinacea purpurea (Eastern purple coneflower). According to this USDA Plant Profile Map, it does grow natively in Green Co., MO. So, that means the climate is right for the plant, but we must consider the roots exposed to the cold in winter. Please read our How-to Article on Container Gardening with Native Plants and note especially this paragraph on protection in colder weather:
“In freezing weather, plants in containers are more vulnerable than plants in the ground. They can be shielded on the south side of a wall with leaves, blankets, or given extra warmth with strings of holiday lights. Particularly tender plants should be brought inside. Remember to uncover your plants after a few days when the weather warms up and avoid over-watering dormant plants to prevent rotting.”
Here are the growing conditions from our webpage on Purple Coneflower:
Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Soil Description: Well-drained, sandy or richer soils.
Conditions Comments: Echinacea is a suitable addition to a prairie garden and attractive in flower arrangements. It is a popular perennial with smooth stems and long-lasting, lavender flowers. Rough, scattered leaves that become small toward the top of the stem. Flowers occur singly atop the stems and have domed, purplish-brown, spiny centers and drooping, lavender rays.”
We don’t think you should have to carry your plants in and our of your house with changing weather; for one thing, this plant needs quite a bit of sunshine. If you can find a somewhat sheltered spot that still gets some sunlight, that would be perfect. Since this is a perennial, if a sudden hard cold snap freezes back some of the foliage, as long as the roots have not been frozen the plant will re-emerge in the Spring. If the water in the roots freezes, it will burst the roots, killing the plant, so the mounding up of extra insulation around the pot itself would be wise. We think they will do great in Springfield, MO – sure hope that is where you garden!
From the Image Gallery
Eastern purple coneflower
Eastern purple coneflower
Eastern purple coneflower
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Terra Nova Nursery’s Dan Heims with one of his favorite new Echinacea introductions (Mamma Mia) growing in his own garden
Coneflowers (Echinacea sp.) are hot. But dead plants are not.
Have you had the experience of planting one of these super-sexy new orange or yellow coneflowers in your garden, only to find they failed to return the following spring?
If you’ve had this problem, you’re not alone. The exciting developments in color in coneflowers – once mostly seen in purple and white and now available in a range of hues of orange, red and yellow – came at a price… especially frustrating when one gallon plants cost upwards of $15.
So what gives? For insights, I went straight to the Pacific Northwest’s own authority on the subject, Dan Heims. Dan is co-founder and plantsman extraordinaire at Terra Nova Nursery, a wholesale nursery and breeder that has been developing echinaceas, heucheras, tiarellas and other trendy plants. He gave me the backstory:
First gardeners were growing Echinacea purpurea and E. angustifolia, the two pretty purple or sometimes white species most commonly used in medicine. Breeders began to hybridize these handsome, old-fashioned flowers with species like E. paradoxa to introduce more exciting colors like yellow and even red into the flowers. Problem is, E. paradoxa isn’t particularly vigorous in the garden. When this plant was hybridized with the sturdy pink species, more interesting colors emerged but the plants were less adaptable to winter wet or cold. Consumers started to complain about plants being weak or not surviving our wet winters. Now, breeders and hybridizing these beautiful but less vigorous coneflowers with E. tenneseensis, a vigorous species producing masses of flowers and basal shoots… as this breeding progresses, the new red and orange echinaceas are becoming stronger and more floriferous.
Meantime, here’s how to succeed with the first generation of yellow and orange coneflowers:
Tip #1: give your coneflower good drainage. These plants don’t thrive where water stands over the winter. Heavy, waterlogged soil is a far cry from the well-drained, sandy soil of the American Midwest prairie, from whence these plants hail. It’s also important with potted plants: you can more easily overwinter a root-bound coneflower than a little plant swimming in a big pot of saturated potting soil.
Tip #2: remove all flowers and flower buds during the plants’ first year in the garden – by the end of August at the latest. (Luckily, they’re long-lasting in bouquets.) Just as we pick off blueberry flowers in their first year so they focus their energy on getting established instead of fruiting, we should remove the flowers of coneflowers during their first year. What you want by October is a plant that has at least a few strong basal crowns (little rosettes of leaves): this is your best guarantee that the coneflower will make it over the winter.
Finally, I asked Dan for his favorite new hybrids combining great color and garden toughness. He picked three new introductions that are beautifully colored but more garden tolerant:
Echinacea ‘Firebird’ (photo courtesy of Terra Nova)
Echinacea ‘Flamethrower’ (photo courtesy of Terra Nova)
Echinacea The Secret Series – there are six plants in this group – check them out here
He added a coneflower that’s been available for a few years: Echinacea ‘Ruby Giant’, a stalwart, vigorous hybrid with 5″ diameter, fragrant flowers. It’s a tough plant that’s proven itself in recent years as garden-worthy, he says. Best of all, it not only provides pollen for bees and butterflies but also has fertile seed for the birds. (Most hybrids, including all doubles and most red and orange hybrids, lack seed so there’s no seed for the birds to eat.)
Echinacea ‘Ruby Giant’ (photo courtesy of Terra Nova)
Echinaceas are in flower in the nurseries right now, and are looking fantastic. It’s nice to see the flowers so you really know what you’re getting when you buy them: just cut the flower stems off at the base by the end of the month! And look for plants with at least one strong basal rosette. The more the better. This is your guarantee that the plant has massed up enough basal growth to overwinter successfully. And of course, once the plants are established in the ground, you don’t have to do anything special. They should increase like any other garden perennial.
Growing Echinacea (Coneflower)
Latin Name Pronunciation: ek-in-ay’see-uh
These sturdy perennials bloom from early summer until frost. Butterflies revel in the flowers and the seed heads are beloved of goldfinches. Easy to grow and trouble-free, Coneflowers are at home in the wild garden as well as in the more refined perennial border, and make ideal cut flowers. Please note: So plants may properly establish before winter, we recommend early fall planting of Echinacea in colder zones (Zones 5 and lower).
Light/Watering: Flowering is at its best in full sun, although plants will tolerate light shade. Deep taproots make these plants quite drought-tolerant once established.
Fertilizer/Soil and pH: Applying a couple inches of organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, around the plants in early spring will take care of nutritional needs; no further fertilizing will be necessary. Echinacea purpurea is adaptable to most soil types but prefers a sandy, well-drained loam and a pH from 6.0 to 7.0.
Pests/Diseases: Echinacea is rarely troubled by pests or diseases, none serious enough to warrant control measures. Plants do attract beneficial insects, especially firefly-like soldier beetles, which feed on aphids and caterpillars.
Companions: Shorter perennials camouflage occasional basal legginess; compact varieties of Catmint (Nepeta) are ideal companions as are perennial Geraniums, dwarf Goldenrods (Solidago), and Salvia. Taller companion plants include Perovskia, Phlox, Sedum, Veronica, and Monarda.
Reflowering: Echinacea has a long bloom season even without deadheading, but that practice will result in more blooms. Plants can be cut back by half in early summer, resulting in a later bloom time but more compact form. Leave some seed heads to provide food for goldfinches — there are few sights more delightful than watching the small, golden birds wave about as they pick out the seeds.
Dividing/Transplanting: Plants rarely need dividing, and transplanting older plants can be tricky due to the taproot. It can be done, however, as long as you dig deeply and keep a good amount of soil around the roots.
End-of-Season Care: Plants may be left standing through winter as the seeds heads collect the snow in pretty little puffs.
Calendar of Care
Early Spring: Divide or transplant now, watering well afterward.
Late Spring: Provide supplementary water only if the season is extremely dry or if the Coneflowers are newly planted.
Summer: Deadhead if desired, but leave some seeds for the goldfinches. Watch for beneficial soldier beetles in August and do not harm them. Plants may be cut back by half in June; this will result in later-flowering, more compact growth.
Fall: A light mulch in colder regions is beneficial.
How to Winterize Coneflower
Coneflowers are a beautiful and hardy perennial. These plants are a great addition to any garden. Not only are they attractive, birds and insects love the flowers. Since this plant is native to North America, birds recognize coneflowers as a food source. Coneflowers can be trimmed in the fall or spring and the plant will do just fine. If you want to help out your local bird population, let the plants stand through winter. This will give them a natural food source and help them survive through the winter.
Allow the flowers to dry out and turn brown. Cut off some seed heads and save them for planting later. Break up the seed heads and use them for birdseed in the winter. Goldfinches love coneflower seeds.
Let the coneflowers stand for the entire winter. Doing so adds interest to your garden when nothing else is standing during winter. Birds will seek out and feed at these coneflowers.
Or, if you want to tidy up the garden, cut the coneflowers back in the fall. Once the seed heads have dried, cut the plants back to 4 or 6 inches. Try not to trim any lower than this or plant health may be affected. Use the trimmings for compost next year.
Cut the coneflowers down once spring arrives, but before the plants start to actively grow. Leave 2 to 4 inches of the stalks remaining. Mulch the stems to use as compost later.
Fall is not the time to give up and ignore your perennial garden. Proper clean-up and pruning will ensure that the garden is even better next spring. Perennials fall into several general categories regarding their pruning needs:
Shrubby perennials like lavender, Russian sage, and caryopteris (blue spirea) should not be hard-pruned in the fall. While a gentle “tidy up” trim is permissible, leave any hard pruning to the spring, when you can assess any winter-kill, and shape the plant for the coming season. Hard-pruning encourages a plant to flush out with new growth, exactly what is not wanted in the fall., as the new growth will likely be killed in a harsh winter.
Daisies, yarrow, rudbekia, salvia, and coneflowers keep a small low tuft of leaves through the winter. While birds will enjoy the seedheads, the tidy gardener will want to cut down the dead top growth and leave the low basal growth to over-winter.
Heucheras, liriope, pulmonaria, and several other shade perennials require no pruning, and will actually stay fairly attractive over the winter. In the spring, the dead leaves can be pruned out to make room for the new growth.
Peonies, lilies, hostas, coreopsis, and many other perennials are killed to the ground by hard freezes. After the foliage blackens, it can be cut several inches about ground level (leave stubs so you remember where the plant is!). Diseased foliage should never be composted, but discarded in the trash.