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How to Grow: Black Eyed Susan
Learn how to grow Rudbeckia or Black Eyed Susans including new varieties.
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Brown eyed Susan
Full sun, part sun
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
mid summer to fall in colors such as yellow, red, green and bronze
Mature Height x Spread
1 to 5 feet x 2 to 3 feet
attracts beneficials, attracts hummingbirds, native, drought tolerant, deer resistant
A standard late summer flower in gardens and wildflower meadows, black-eyed Susans brighten up the landscape with their daisy-like blossoms. The wild species have black centers and yellow petals and are often seen growing in abandoned fields and meadows. Recent breeding has created a whole range of flower colors on black-eyed Susans from mahogany to green on single or even double flowers. These new varieties are great as curt flowers and add a new dimension to this tried and true perennial. However, I have found these new hybrids don’t tend to be as hardy as the original yellow petaled species. Most varieties grow only a few feet tall, but some can reach 5 to 6 feet. They’re great pollinator plants attracting bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Where, When and How to Plant
Black-eyed Susans are hardy throughout our area, but some newer hybrids only last a few years. They can be started from seed indoors under grow lights 6 to 8 weeks before a last frost date and transplanted in the garden or sown directly in the garden in spring. You can also purchase transplants from the local garden center and plant from spring to early fall. Directly sown seeds tend to flower the second year, while transplants will flower the first year. Plant black-eyed Susans in full or part sun in well-drained soil. Space plants 1 to 2 feet apart or let them naturalize in groups.
Keep plants well watered the first year. Once established, they are drought tolerant.
Black-eyed Susans don’t require additional fertilizing during the growing season. In fact, too much fertilizer can create week stems that tend to flop.
Regional Advice and Care
If grown in a meadow or naturalized setting, let black-eyed Susan’s spread. They self sow readily. In the garden divide plants every 2 to 3 years to prevent them from taking over. Instead of deadhead spent blooms, consider leaving the cones on the flowers for birds to eat the seeds in late summer and fall.
Companion Planting and Design
Grow the yellow flowered, black-eyed Susans as wildflowers in a meadow. If growing these in a flower garden, weed out self-sown seedlings in spring or they can take over. Grow black-eyed Susans next to ornamental grasses, tall garden phlox and asters. Grow the newer varieties that don’t spread as readily in perennial flower gardens next to Russian sage, coneflowers and sedum or in a cut flower garden.
“Goldstrum” is a popular, yellow petaled variety that’s similar to the wild species, flowers for along period of time and is tough. “Cherokee Sunset” is a new variety that’s short-lived but self sows and has flowers in colors with shades of yellow, orange, and bronze. “Toto” is a dwarf variety that only grows 1 foot tall. “Irish Eyes” features a green center or cone with yellow petals.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.
Rudbeckia or black-eyed susans, are such a common flower we often overlook them. These wildflowers are found naturalized along roadsides and, of course, in many home gardens. While the native version is very common and popular for discerning true love, you know she loves me, she loves me not, there are some great new varieties of rudbeckia that expand the color pallet and size of this perennial flower.
“Indian Summer” and “Cherokee Sunset” are two hybrids with semi double, bronze, red, and orange petaled flowers. “Irish Eyes” features an unusual green cone with yellow petals. “Toto” only grows 1 foot tall and “Green Wizard” has green petals with a large black cone. Unfortunately some of these new hybrids are only short lived perennials in our climate. For hardier rudbeckias that come back faithfully for years, try “Golden Glow” and “Goldstrum.” “Golden Glow” is also known as the privy plant. While rudbeckias usually stand 2 to 3 feet tall, this giant grows 6 to 7 feet tall with double golden colored flowers. It used to be grown around outhouses to camouflage them.
Rudbeckias are easy to grow. They love full sun and well-drained, moist soil. The hardier types self sow readily so be prepared to weed them out each spring. Allow 2 to 3 feet between plants if you have a problem with powdery mildew disease. This will allow plants to dry out before nightfall. Deadhead spent flowers to encourage more blooms, but leave some of the cones on plants for birds to enjoy the seeds. I love watching finches pick off rudbeckia seeds in fall. Mulch tender hybrids in autumn to help them survive tough winters.