- How to care for purple coneflowers
- Planting echinacea
- Pruning and caring for echinacea
- Therapeutic uses of echinacea
- All there is to know about echinacea
- Smart tip about echinacea
- Coneflowers: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties
- Three Cheers for Coneflowers!!
- Coneflowers in the Garden
- Strategic Coneflower Pruning
- Echinacea Varieties
- Medicinal Uses for Echinacea
- What’s In a Name?
- All the Colors of the Rainbow
- Sun, But No Salt, Please
- Bake a Cake, Receive a Plant
- Low-Maintenance Lovelies
- Problems to Look For
- An American Original
- Coneflower Facts
- Colors of Coneflowers
- Echinacea flowers
- Tips for Growing Echinacea
- Propagating Coneflowers
- Uses for Echinacea
- Varieties of Coneflowers
How to care for purple coneflowers
A native to the eastern United States, purple coneflowers are found in many flower gardens. Planting purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) in the garden or flower bed draws bees and butterflies, ensuring that nearby plants have plenty of pollinators. The purple coneflower is generally considered to be a wildflower, though is often planted in cultivated gardens. The roots of this flower are widely used in herbal medicine, under the name of echinacea. The plant also provides a tall background or repeating rows of large (often 6 inches across) purple, daisy-like flowers. The sturdy stalks, which may reach 5 feet in height, rarely bend or require staking for an upright appearance. Coneflower plants may actually display pink flowers, when the cultivar Echinacea purpurea ‘Pink Double Delight’ is planted.
Once planted and established, learning how to care for coneflowers is easy. In seasons with normal rainfall, additional watering is not necessary. Purple coneflower plants are drought resistant and often thrive in dry summers. Coneflower care may include limited fertilization, but this is often not needed. If flowers are small or poorly developed, try working in a small amount of well composted material in the soil around the plants. When late summer blooms of the purple coneflower begin to look tired or ragged, cut the plant back by a third. This rejuvenates the plant and often produces a new display of beautiful blooms that last until frost. Coneflower care is as simple as that and the plants will reward you with abundant flowering each and every year thereafter.
Purple coneflower plants grow best in poor or lean soil. Rich or heavily amended soil may result in lush foliage and poor flowering. When planting purple coneflower, locate them in a full sun area. Full sun is defined as at least 6 hours of sun each day. In more southern areas, morning sun may facilitate the best performance, with late afternoon shade protecting the plants from burning. Purple coneflower plants may be started from seed or root division:
If you wish to collect seeds for next year’s crop of purple coneflower plants, do so before the birds have eaten all the seeds. Place a brown paper bag over the seed head, turn right side up and let seeds drop into the bag. Professional growers believe stratification (chilling) of the seeds for a few weeks, after they are planted in moist soil, produces a more abundant bloom when growing purple coneflowers. Those in areas where temperatures remain warm year long may want to try this technique. Alternately, planting purple coneflower seeds in autumn, in areas with cold winters, allows the seeds to chill naturally.
Purple coneflower plants may be started from root division in fall. Only plants that have been in the ground for three years or longer should be divided. Younger coneflower plants may not have developed a root system that is extensive enough for division. Root division should be limited to every three to four years.
Growing purple coneflower from seeds is easy enough for the beginning gardener, while long-time gardeners delight in the ease of how to care for coneflowers.
The Native Americans used coneflower plants for toothache, colds, and sore throats and as an analgesic. In the 1870s, a patent medicine salesman named H. C. F. Meyer marketed a coneflower concoction as a cure for pain, disease and snakebites, becoming one of the first snake-oil salesmen. The medical community took notice and began serious study of the coneflower. Herbalists use both buds and roots.
Coneflower’s (Echinacea purpurea) medicinal popularity began in Europe instead of its native North America. Dr. Gerhard Madaus, a German herbalist, harvested the seeds of Echinacea purpurea during a visit to the United States, mistaking the plant for Echinacea angustifolia. After studying the plant, European herbalists commonly prescribed Echinacea purpurea to support the immune system until the onset of antibiotics. Consumers still use prepared Echinacea extracts as a cold remedy, energy booster and for general well-being. Because of the supplement’s popularity, illegal harvesters damage wild populations of coneflower, digging and selling the roots. Consult your physician before taking any type of medication or health supplements.
Purple coneflower is a natural in cutting gardens, rain gardens or wildflower gardens. It’s also the perfect addition to wildlife gardens. Blossoms attract butterflies and other pollinators. Allow plants to set seed and flocks of birds, including goldfinches, will arrive for a seedy feast. In perennial plantings, pair the coneflower with Russian sage, balloon flower, prairie blazing star or blue fescue. Try the purple coneflowers in your garden today and you will appreciate its’ beauty for years to come.
• Edith Fleming is a master gardener with the Prince George Virginia Cooperative Extension Office. Virginia master gardeners are volunteer educators who work within their communities to encourage and promote environmentally sound horticulture practices through sustainable landscape management education and training.
America’s grasslands are home to a brilliant array of flowers, and echinacea, or the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), is one of the best. These hardy perennials, with their large daisy-like flowers, make a lovely, water-wise choice for borders, native-grass lawns and xeric gardens.
A cottage garden favorite, growing echinacea creates an impressive display of color, especially when planted among shorter perennials where the showy, purple, pink and white flowers stand above other foliage. Plants bloom heavily from July through September and are popular with both bees and butterflies. This sturdy, eye-catching perennial stands about 3-4 feet tall.
Fun Fact: Echinacea is used medicinally to boost the immune system and is popular for the treatment of flu and colds.
Heirloom flowers — the ones that Grandma used to grow — add charm and beauty to your gardens. Planting instructions are included with each seed packet and shipping is FREE!
Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Caring for Echinacea
- Easy-care, low-water plants produce strong pink blooms
- Plant in full sun; prefers rich soil, but is very adaptable
- Grow from direct-seeding, nursery stock or division
- Attracts bees and butterflies
- Blooms from midsummer to fall; tolerates light frost
Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade
Maturity: 90-120 days from seed to flower
Height: 36 to 48 inches
Spacing: 12 to 24 inches apart in all directions
Purple coneflowers are not fussy and will endure most conditions. However, give them rich, well-drained soil and plenty of sunshine and plants will thrive. Generous amounts of organic compost or aged animal manure mixed into the ground prior to planting will vastly improve the health of plants (watch Flower Gardening from the Ground Up – video). Coneflowers will tolerate heat and drought.
How to Plant
Echinacea is easy to grow from nursery stock, seed or division. Sow outdoors 1/2 inch deep when a light frost is still possible. Seeds will germinate in 10-20 days. Flowers reliably bloom the first year from seed if sown early (see Summer Flowers for Color).
Pinch off spent flowers on a regular basis — or use them as cuttings in flower arrangements — to extend the blooming period. Apply a quality flower fertilizer several times during the gardening season to promote big, beautiful blossoms. Mulch to prevent weeds, conserve moisture and improve aesthetics.
Cut plants to the ground in late winter after flowers have gone to seed.
Insect & Disease Problems
Echinacea is vulnerable to a number of garden pests including Japanese beetles, aphids and leaf hoppers. Check often and if problems exist, use the following steps for a safe and sane approach to pest control:
- Remove weeds and other garden debris to eliminate alternate hosts.
- Discard severely infested plants by securely bagging and putting in the trash.
- Release commercially available beneficial insects to attack and destroy insect pests.
- Spot treat pest problem areas with neem oil spray or other organic pesticide.
Foliage and flowers are also susceptible to several diseases such as anthracnose, powdery mildew and aster yellows, which will disfigure leaves and flowers. To reduce plant diseases common to coneflowers:
- Avoid overhead watering whenever possible (use soaker hoses or drip irrigation)
- Properly space plants to improve air circulation
- Apply organic fungicides to prevent further infection
Seed Saving Instructions
Purple coneflower will produce lots of seed but you must get there before the birds. When the blooms dry out, cut them off and hang upside down in bundles. The seeds are contained in the heads between the spikes. Once the heads are dry and crisp they can be lightly hand-crushed, with gloves on for protection, and the seed winnowed from the chaff. Read our article on saving heirloom flower seeds here.
Echinacea, a fabulous perennial with colored flowers, blooms from summer to fall and it is simply beautiful.
Excerpt of Echinaceae facts
Namen – Echinacea
Family – Asteraceae
Type – perennial
Height – 36 to 48 inches (90 to 120 cm)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – ordinary
Foliage – evergreen
Flowering – July to October
Take delight in these beautiful flowers that adapt to our climates so well, for which care is so easy it is perfect for beginners.
In spring in a sheltered spot and in full sun. Purple coneflower requires rather rich and well drained soil because it loathes having its roots dwell in water.
Particularly resilient to drought, feel very free to place it in a very hot and sun-bathed corner.
- Propagation through cuttings is very easy for this perennial. Perform in spring or at the end of summer.
- One can also divide the crown in spring or fall. This is actually highly recommended every 3-4 years to regenerate the plant.
Pruning and caring for echinacea
Easy to grow and care for, purple coneflower requires little attention and will bloom abundantly all summer long. A few good tips should help you increase the blooming still more.
- Remove wilted flowers regularly (deadheading) in order to boost flower-bearing.
- Give it a round shape at the beginning of spring, pruning the plant back lightly (about ⅓ the height of the stems).
- Add flower plant fertilizer in spring to stimulate the blooming.
Therapeutic uses of echinacea
Purple coneflower is a plant for which many health benefits have been recognized, and it is widely included in capsule preparations for herbalism.
From the purple coneflower, the root and the rest of the part are used for therapeutic purposes. Three varieties often come up for medicinal use: Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea pallida and Echinacea purpurea.
- It reinforces the immune system by supporting our body’s defense mechanisms.
- It treats respiratory tract infections.
- It helps treat diseases such as flu, colds, or pharyngitis.
- Lastly, purple coneflower treats urinary tract infections.
All there is to know about echinacea
Quite hardy and disease-resistant, it poses absolutely no problems in terms of care.
Echinacea purpurea, a close cousin to rudbeckia, will bear leafage and flowers that will give your flower beds new colors.
Also, echinacea has medicinal properties that the Indians had discovered long ago, and which are still part today of many therapeutic solutions for them, and increasingly for the rest of the Western world, too.
Smart tip about echinacea
Echinacea purpurea or angustifolia are both very much at ease in pots, and the result is often a great success.
Coneflowers: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties
Coneflower is a native North American perennial sporting daisylike flowers with raised centers. The flower, plant, and root of some types are used in herbal remedies.
Widely renowned as a medicinal plant, coneflowers are a long-flowering perennial for borders, wildflower meadows, and prairie gardens. Blooming midsummer to fall, the plants are relatively drought-tolerant and rarely bothered by pests. The flowers are a magnet for butterflies, and the seeds in the dried flower heads attract songbirds. Flower colors include rose, purple, pink, and white, plus a new orange variety. Plants grow 2 to 4 feet tall, depending on variety.
Special features of coneflowers
Easy care/low maintenance
Good for cut flowers
Tolerates dry soil
Choosing a site to grow coneflowers
Select a site with full sun to light shade and well-drained soil.
Plant in spring, spacing plants 1 to 3 feet apart, depending on the variety. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot the plant is in. Carefully remove the plant from its container and place it in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Carefully fill in around the root ball and firm the soil gently. Water thoroughly.
Apply a thin layer of compost each spring, followed by a 2-inch layer of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. Deadhead spent flowers to extend flower period, but leave late-season flowers on the plants to mature; the seedheads will attract birds. Divide plants every 3 to 4 years as new growth begins in the spring, lifting plants and dividing them into clumps.
A common misconception about purple coneflower is that they are sun-worshiping prairie dwellers. Not so. In nature they grow in the woods, open woods that is, or savannas where the trees are widely spaced, limbs are high and only patchy-filtered sunlight reaches the ground floor.
By Scott Woodbury
June is the month for garden tours. Gardens are fresh, unscarred by summer drought and many showy native plants are in full glorious bloom. American aloe, Missouri evening primrose, lance-leaved coreopsis, purple poppy mallow, mountain mint, butterfly milkweed, wild bergamot, and royal catchfly to name a few.
The centerpiece in June is purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea with its sweet scent of
Purple coneflower in a savannah setting, photo by Scott Woodbury.
rose, purplish ray petals and orange disc flowers full of nectar and pollen. Its nectar is loved by butterflies and bumblebees alike, though the hairy buzzing bees are doing most of the pollinating. Turns out, smooth-slender butterfly legs aren’t as effective as stout hairy bee legs at catching pollen. It also helps if you have a hind leg pollen basket. Yes bumblebees have these to carry their pollen, nectar and spit. Who would have thunk it? Purple coneflowers are also visited by skippers, brush-footed butterflies, bee flies, sweat bees, mason wasps, syrphid flies, fireflies and the predators who love to eat them…hummingbirds and praying mantises. The world is so full of a number of things. Don’t forget to pull up a beanbag chair for a front-row seat at one of the greatest feeding frenzies on earth. And it’s right in your own backyard.
A common misconception about purple coneflower is that they are sun-worshiping prairie dwellers. Not so. In nature they grow in the woods, open woods that is, or savannas where the trees are widely spaced, limbs are high and only patchy-filtered sunlight reaches the ground floor. That’s why I like to call it queen-of-the woods. In older neighborhoods like Webster Groves, gardens with trees like these have what is called high shade. Purple coneflowers thrive in this environment. Gold finches devour purple coneflower seeds in late summer but a few seeds are missed and sprout the following April. Seedlings develop quickly and are easily transplanted in May or June.
Horticulturist Scott Woodbury is the Curator of the Whitmire Wildflower Garden at Shaw Nature Reserve, where he has worked with naitve plant propagation, design and educationf or more than 20 years.
Each purple coneflower has a singular flowerhead positioned atop the terminal shoot. The flowerheads are quite large, measuring 6.5-10 cm. in width, and are radially symmetrical. The bloom has a prominent, brown, spiny central cone that is surrounded by downward drooping, long, whitish purple long, prominently linearly-veined, bristle-tipped petal-like rays. Rays grow form the underportion of the central cone.
The leaves of the purple coneflower are thin and lanceolate-to-ovate in shape. The leaves have long petioles, are prominently veined, and have serrated margins. Leaves are several and grow irregularly along the length of the stalk
Purple coneflower grows best in fields, prairies, or dry open woods.
Purple coneflower is a medicinal plant whose flowers can be used to make a tea that strengthens the immune system. Liquid capsule- or pill form plant extract is commercially sold in most drugstores.
The genus name of purple coneflower comes form the Greek word echino, meaning hedgehog, and refers to its spiny brown central cone
Echinacea has a very special place in my heart and my garden. There’s so much to love about these gorgeous spiky flowers. They are drought tolerant and won’t complain about poor soil. They are extremely low maintenance once established and produce a ton of eye candy that brings an added pop of color to the garden. Echinacea make wonderful cut flowers, attractive pollinator plants, are an important food source for birds in the winter, and they have medicinal properties to help us build our immunity.
Three Cheers for Coneflowers!!
Sponsored Content: This post is sponsored by Fiskars who also provided me with the PowerGear2® Pruner and the SoftGrip® Micro-Tip® Pruning Snips. All opinions in this post remain my own.
I have been using both of these tools tirelessly through the season, and I can see why both have been recognized by the Arthritis Society as accessible tools that are ideal for people with arthritis or limited hand strength (or anyone who is suffering from pruning fatigue in general!).The PowerGear2® Pruner was awarded the Arthritis Friendly Award and the SoftGrip® Micro-Tip® Pruning Snips have been awarded the Arthritis Foundation’s Ease of Use Commendation. Doing a lot of pruning can be exhausting for my hands as I have Fibromyalgia and residual weakness from the peripheral neuropathy that accompanied my disability issues 10 years ago. Both of these tools help make the job a lot easier, which I’m thrilled about because pruning is one of my favorite jobs in the garden!
Coneflowers in the Garden
Coneflowers are very low maintenance once they are established. Here are a few things you can do to get them started off right.
Pick a location with the brightest light that you have. Echinacea loves bright light and thrives in full sun. The plants will tolerate partial sun as well and still produce plenty of flowers. I have a lot of shade in my garden and I try to pop in as many coneflowers as I can anyway. They still bloom in the shade but are less floriferous and can tend to flop over.
Echinacea are also very easy going when it comes to watering. Water them well to establish new plants in the garden and encourage deep roots. Once established, they won’t need any supplemental watering unless you are in periods of extreme drought.
Coneflowers don’t need any special fertilizers throughout the year. Plant them with some well-rotted compost and then add compost again in the spring. Follow your normal soil building strategies and you won’t have to add any supplemental nutrition for the plants.
Echinacea grow a long taproot which helps them suck up water from deep down in the soil and give them that hardiness. This taproot also means that they aren’t a good perennial to divide. Allow the plants to clump and if you want to plant more start them from seed, cuttings, or grab a new transplant.
Strategic Coneflower Pruning
These low-maintenance plants don’t need pruning throughout the year, but you can prune them to increase blooms and extend bloom time.
Echinacea are already quite a long-blooming plant starting in midsummer and going all the way into the mid fall in my Zone 7 garden. If you’re lucky enough to have a large space with a collection of plants, you can really extend the bloom time by cutting back some of the plants in midsummer.
Cutting back the plants delays blooming so you can either cut back all your plants for a late summer and fall display, or only cut back some of the plants and stagger the bloom times for an even longer season. This is where the Fiskars PowerGear2® Pruner comes in quite handy. The power gear action makes it easy to cut back even the thickest of stems with very little effort.
You can also deadhead Echinacea to increase the size of the newer blooms. If you follow the stem down to the first set of leaves you might see flower buds forming.
This is a perfect time to go in and remove the flower above. Cut the stem right above the new flower growth and you can add the bloom to a flower arrangement. Cutting off the older flowers encourages the plant to put energy into producing the newer flowers rather than producing seeds on the old flower. I keep my Fiskars SoftGrip® Micro-Tip® Pruning Snips handy with me at all times so that I can quickly and easily snip off the stems and save them as cut flowers. I also use them to harvest edible flowers, which you can see here.
When the second wave of flowers blooms, I keep those in place for fall and winter as the birds LOVE to snack on the seeds. The seed heads dry with a spiky cone above a tall stem. I dry the cut flowers for their seed heads to use in crafts and leave the rest in the garden for winter interest.
There are so many hybrid varieties of Echinacea now available. This ornamental seems to be a favorite of breeders as new coneflowers are popping up every year. New varieties are being introduced every year that have new or brighter colors, taller or smaller plants, different growing habits, more prolific blooming, and double blooms.
Here are a few new varieties to look out for in garden centers next year. I was able to see these in person this year through tours and garden trials and I really love how they have performed.
Evolution ™ Fiesta Coneflower – spicy coral petals that fade to a more romantic muted tone as they age. From Monrovia.
Evolution ™ Green Eye Coneflower – an enchanting green cone surrounded by pink petals. From Monrovia.
Echinacea Sombrero® Sangrita has vibrant red-orange petals and a burgundy flower stem from Darwin Perennials. Note: in my garden, the color came out much more orange than red.
Echinacea Sombrero® Granada Gold has a bright yellow color that doesn’t fade and a yellow cone that holds some of its hue when dried, making it really nice for dried flower arrangements. From Darwin Perennials.
Medicinal Uses for Echinacea
Echinacea has been used medicinally throughout the ages. The following information is from Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health.
Echinacea pallida and E. angustifolia are primarily wild Echinacea that can be found on the edges of wooded areas. The most common and easy-to-grow Echinacea for gardens is E. purpurea. These three varieties are most commonly used as medicinal plants. The roots, leaves, and flowers all have healing properties. Echinacea is a powerful immune-system booster that has no side effects and is safe for children, the elderly, and everyone in between.
To use Echinacea as a medicinal plant from your garden, ensure that you are growing an organic plant that has not been sprayed or treated with pesticides or herbicides. The leaves and flowers can be infused into tea and dried for the winter months. And the entire plant can be used to make a tincture that’s handy to have around in cold-and-flu season. Take frequently in small doses at the first sign of a virus but stop taking it once you get better as its effectiveness wanes if it’s used too frequently.
Fiskars has generously agreed to giveaway a set of PowerGear2® Pruners, SoftGrip® Micro-Tip® Pruning Snips, and PowerGear2® Loppers. This contest is now closed. Congratulations to our winner, Sharon.
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Coneflower (Echinacea) is an attractive plant indigenous to the North American plains that is well-loved not only for its beauty and its ability to attract butterflies, but also for its medicinal value.
Numerous Plains tribes, such as the Cheyenne and Sioux, used echinacea as an antiseptic and painkiller. They also used it to treat insect and snake bites.
Today, many herbal medicine adherents use the plant’s roots to treat viral and bacterial infections, reduce inflammation, and heal wounds.
Even if you’re not interested in its purported medicinal properties, the upright, herbaceous perennial sprouts masses of 3- to 4-inch flowers and is a lovely addition to many garden settings.
Let’s learn more!
What’s In a Name?
This plant takes its common name from the cone-shaped mound of tiny flowers at the center of its larger flowerhead. Its scientific name is derived from the Greek word for hedgehog.
The plant grows in an upright form and can become as tall as four feet.
The most widely known variety, the purple coneflower, grows to about 18 inches tall, and sprouts a clump of flowers about two feet wide.
The plant’s flowers are daisy-like, with attractively drooping petals in a wide range of colors.
Its rough leaves are dark green and 4 to 8 inches long.
All the Colors of the Rainbow
In addition to purple coneflower, nine other native species have been identified:
Smooth coneflower is quite rare and is included on the federal Endangered Species Act list of species in danger of disappearing.
In addition to the above naturally occurring species, dozens of varieties have been developed by commercial breeders, each seemingly more showy and vivid than the last.
Hot Papaya Coneflower
Hot Papaya, available at Nature Hills Nursery, is one example. We love the vibrant orange double bloom.
You can also find the popular native purple version at Holland Bulb Farms, available via Amazon.
Sun, But No Salt, Please
Various varieties are hardy in zones 3-9.
They prefer full sun, although some types do well in part shade.
This species likes evenly moist, well-drained soil and will tolerate drought once established.
It will do best in rich, organic soil. It doesn’t like salty soil, but will do well in pretty much any soil pH.
Bake a Cake, Receive a Plant
You can start this fantastic flower from seed, nursery starts, or by division. If your neighbor has an enviable clump or two, take over a homemade cake , and ask for a share.
If you’re planting seeds, sow them at a depth of ⅛ inch in 70° to 75°F soil and expect a 15- to 30-day germination period. Some gardeners have better luck sowing the seeds in the fall, to allow for cold stratification.
This is a process by which the seed freezes and thaws repeatedly, softening the seed coat and stimulating embryonic growth.
Plant seedlings in spring or fall. Choose a sunny spot, loosen the soil in a 10-inch-diameter circle around the planting site, and dig a hole the depth of the root ball.
Lower the plant into the hole, backfill with removed dirt, and gently tamp down.
To divide your neighbor’s plant, choose a nice spring or fall day, and cut into the soil with your shovel in a circle about 6 inches out from the clump.
Gently slide your shovel under the mass of the plant and lift it out. Use your shovel blade to cut the plant into 8-inch-diameter sections.
Replace your neighbor’s portions, plant your sections in your garden, and water everything well.
Deadhead spent flowers to encourage more blooming.
You can also cut blooms in their prime to use in flower arrangements.
Remove dead foliage and stems as needed.
Coneflowers aren’t heavy feeders. You can maintain their health and vigor with an application of 12-6-6 slow-release fertilizer annually, just before new leaves emerge.
During dry periods, give these colorful beauties one inch of water once a week. No supplemental water is required during the rainy season.
Problems to Look For
While there are a few nasties to look out for, none pose a serious risk to plants of this type.
Powdery mildew can plague echinacea. To curb this fungal disease, mix together 1 teaspoon of baking soda, ½ teaspoon of liquid soap, and 1 gallon of water. Spray on affected plants.
Aphids, beetles, and mites can also be a problem for these plants. Use insecticidal soaps to rid plants of these pests.
An American Original
Ready to add a slice of Americana to your garden?
With dozens of varieties to choose from and blooms that last from early summer to late fall, easy-care echinacea is certainly a worthy addition to many landscapes.
No word on whether these plains natives will attract bison to your yard, but you’ll certainly have lots of butterflies stopping by.
If you were to plant coneflower, would you choose a native variety or one of the new hybrids? Tell us, below in the comments section!
Product photos via Holland Bulb Farms, Nature Hills Nursery, and Wayside Gardens. Uncredited photos: .
The staff at Gardener’s Path are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Gardener’s Path and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using plant-based remedies or supplements for health and wellness.
About Gretchen Heber
A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.
If you like the look of cottage gardens, you’ll love purple coneflowers (echinacea purpurea). These tips for growing echinacea will have butterflies, birds and bees flocking to your garden in droves!
This easy care perennial draws insects and birds to it, making sure that neighboring plants will have plenty of pollinators all season long. This coarse looking perennial is native to meadows and open fields.
There are about 10 species of echinacea but purple echinacea is the most popular. It has a fibrous root system instead of the long tap root that some of the wild varieties have. This makes it a better plant for general garden conditions where the plants will need to be divided or transplanted.
The purple coneflower is native to the South Eastern United States. If you are looking for a plant that will draw butterflies and birds to your garden, the perennial coneflower us a great choice.
Echinacea flowers are attractive and rugged. They sit on tall stems and have a raised center area surrounded by petals. The center of the plant is where the seeds of the plant lie and it is very attractive to bees, butterflies and birds.
The plant blooms in the middle of the summer, but the dried flowers also have fall and winter interest for birds long after the bloom time.
The coneflower plant is drought tolerant and is a great perennial if you live in an area that has high heat. They can really take temperatures that would make other plants shrivel and die!
Coneflowers are perennials which means that, once established, the plant will return year after year.
The size of the plant and depends of the type that you grow, as well as your growing conditions. Most purple coneflowers will grow to 2-4 feet tall and about 18-24 inches wide. Some of the dwarf varieties will grow to only about a foot and a half.
Colors of Coneflowers
The most commonly grown variety of this sturdy plant are the purple coneflowers, also known by their botanical name echinacea purpurea.
The name is a bit of a misnomer, since not every echinacea will have purple flowers. They also come in yellow and the modern hybrids have a large range of colors.
The petals also come in double and single layers and the center of the flower can vary to a large degree, depending on variety. One version has such a large raised center that it is known as a “sombrero Mexican hat coneflower!”
Purple coneflower plants will bloom in the summer of their second year and then each year after that. The cone shaped flowers sit above the plant on 2-5 foot tall flower stalks. Each flower head will remain in bloom for several weeks.
The flowers are daisy like in appearance and can be quite large (some as large as 6 inches in diameter.) The plant rarely needs staking in spite of the tall flower stalks.
Removing the flower stalks as the plant sets seed will prolong the flowering cycle. Deadheading during the flowering cycle will also extend bloom time but is not necessary.
Tips for Growing Echinacea
With minimal care, this robust perennial will give you years of showy flowers. Here are some tips that will show how to care for purple coneflowers.
Sunlight needs for Echinacea
This perennial is a real heat lover. Grow coneflowers in full sunlight so that the plant gets at least 5 hours of sunlight a day. The plant will tolerate light shade but does best in full sun since those grown in shadier spots will “reach” for the sun.
Moisture and Soil requirements for Coneflowers
The coneflower plant is quite drought-tolerant but likes well draining fertile soil. It will tolerate poor soil quite well, though. Even though it can tolerate dry conditions, it still likes to get about an inch of rain each week. If your area receives less than this, you will need to add water to the plant.
Although coneflowers like a bit of organic matter at planting time, be careful of adding too much. This can result in the plant having very lush green foliage but not many flowers. The plant likes a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.
Pests and Diseases
The coneflower is relatively easy to care and not bothered too much by diseases, but can sometimes be affected by powdery mildew, gray mold, leaf miners or vine weevils. Fungus diseases can usually be managed by growing the plants where they receive good ventilation.
Coneflowers are also a favorite plant for Japanese beetles. If the infestation is not too large, just knock the beetles off into a bucket of soapy water.
Even though purple coneflowers (and other varieties) are drought tolerant, they are also quite cold tolerant. The majority of varieties are cold hardy in zones 3-8, which means they can be grown in most areas of the USA.
You may need to give the plant some protection in the first winter in your garden, but after this, they are tough and rugged.
Although deadheading is not a requirement when it comes to growing echinacea, the plant can begin to look a bit tired or ragged in late summer. When this happens, cut the plant back by 1/3.
This will help to rejuvenate the plant and often will give you another round of flowering that will last until the first frost.
At the end of the summer, be sure to leave the dried blooms on the plants. Birds that are still around later in the year, such as goldfinches, love to feast on the seeds of dried coneflower plants.
Companion Plants for coneflowers
Companion plants are those that can be grown together because the require the same care, and also those that are beneficial to each other in some way. Many assist each other by attracting beneficial insects, repelling pests, or providing nutrients to the soil.
The plant combines well with other native prairie type plants such as butterfly weed, Joe Pye Weed, Black Eyed Susans and Yarrow. They also do well alongside ornamental grasses.
These plants are also drought tolerant so a garden bed with them all planted will be quite easy care.
The main ways to grow coneflowers is from seed, or division of existing plants. The plant will also grow from root cuttings. The best time to try cuttings is later in the season when the plant is dormant.
How to grow Coneflowers from Seeds
Growing echinacea from seeds is the most common way to propagate the plant. The seeds germinate best when they have been cold stratified. (Store the seeds for 2-3 months at 31-37 degrees.) A fridge is a good place to keep them indoors.
You can purchase packages of seeds or collect your own when the plant starts to set seed later in the growing season.
To plant coneflower seeds, just loosen your soil with a garden tiller to about 12-15 inches and then add a layer of compost or other organic matter.
Plant the seeds in the spring, well after the last frost. The idea temperature for planting is about 68 º F. Plant the seeds about 1-3 feet apart, depending on your variety. Water thoroughly until and keep moist.
Germination will happen in 3-4 weeks and will show two or three sets of leaves after about week 12.
Collecting Coneflower seeds
You can begin collecting coneflower seeds when the plants are about 2 years old. Allow the soil to dry out in the last summer – early fall. The seeds develop on the cone shaped flower center. Be sure to collect the seeds before the birds get to them!
To harvest the seeds, cut the flower head from the plant and remove the petals. Gently break up the cone to release the seeds.
Don’t strip the whole plant of flower stems. Be sure to leave some seeds on the plant at the end of the year to attract winter birds.
Division of Coneflowers
Dividing coneflowers is a great way to get additional plants for your garden or for a friend. A coneflower plant, like many perennials, will grow into a clump and will need dividing every 3-4 years.
The best time to do this is in spring before the plant starts growing, or in autumn when the flowering cycle is complete. Coneflowers don’t like to be disturbed during the middle of the growing season.
Uses for Echinacea
Interestingly enough, coneflowers not only attract butterflies and bees, but they are also deer resistant, so you can have the best of all worlds by planting them. (Deer will eat baby plants but unusually leave mature ones alone.)
The plants make great cut flowers since the stems of the flowers are quite long. They are a staple of many cottage gardens. Coneflowers are also good candidates for dried flowers (see how to dry flowers with Borax here.)
Echinacea has several good uses in the garden but is also known for it’s herbal remedies. Native Americans have used preparations of the enchinacea root for generations as an all around cure-all.
It is believed that echinacea stimulates the immune system to reduce the length of colds and the flu. Today many people use echinacea in extracts, oils, ointment and pills. All parts of the plant are used in herbal medicine. (roots, stems, leaves and flower heads.)
Drinking Echinacea Tea is thought to combat pain, and a mild infusion of purple coneflower is believed to destroy bacteria to provide sunburn relief.
Varieties of Coneflowers
There are many coneflower varieties. Here are a few that may interest you.
- White Swan Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) 24-36″ with creamy white petals and a raised yellow cone center.
- Maslin Echinacea – Dark Blue Perennial Flower
- Pow Wow Wild Berry – Deep Rose purple petals with a dark orange center. 24-24″
- Echinacea Firebird – Dark red coneflower with a brown center
- Ruby Star Coneflower – Pink with 10-12 petals on each flower
- Native American Prairie Coneflower – Yellow with a sombrero raised head.
- Tangerine Dream Coneflower – Orange with a brown center
- Purple coneflower – pale purple with a rust colored center
If you would like to be reminded later of the tips for growing echinacea, just pin this image to one of your Pinterest gardening boards.
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