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How to Grow: Echinacea
Learn about the varieties and how to grow this popular perennial flower.
Listen to Podcast:
How to Grow: Echinacea
full sun, part sun
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Early summer to late summer in colors such as purple, white, yellow, pink and orange
Mature Height x Spread
1 to 4 feet x 1 to 2 feet
Native, attracts beneficials, drought tolerant, deer resistant
Known for its medicinal benefits, coneflowers also a beautiful native, low maintenance perennial. Coneflowers have gone through a revolution in the past 20 years as breeders have taken the purple or white flowered native species and produced different sized plants with an array of flower colors and shapes. New varieties offer flower colors such as yellow, white, red and orange. Some have double flowers that don’t even look like coneflowers any longer. Some plants are small enough to fit in containers and small space gardens. Unfortunately, I find these newer varieties aren’t as tough or hardy as the original species. However, they still are worth growing as an attractive addition to your flower garden. The flowers and cones also make excellent cut flowers.
Where, When and How to Plant
Coneflowers are hardy throughout New England, but some newer varieties may be short-lived perennials. You can start coneflowers from seed, but the plants may take a few years to bloom in the garden. It’s better to purchase transplants from a local garden center or obtain self-sown seedlings from a friend’s garden. Coneflowers grow best in full or part sun on well-drained soil. Plant in spring to early fall in compost-amended soil. Space plants 1 to 2 feet apart depending on the selection.
Coneflowers don’t require special fertilizer or watering. They’re drought tolerant once established and an annual application of compost in spring is plenty for fertility. Hybrid varieties may need more pampering and fertilizing to look their best.
Regional Advice and Care
Coneflowers self-sow readily, but the seedling’s flowers may not come true to the color of the parent plant. If growing in a meadow or large border and you want a mass of coneflowers, leave the flower heads on the plant after petal fall to sow seeds. In a smaller gardens, deadhead spent flowers in summer to prevent self-sowing and weed out any seedlings the following spring. If powdery mildew is a problem on your coneflowers, plant in an open area with good breezes that will dry out the foliage and plant resistant varieties.
Companion Planting and Design
Coneflowers look great planted en mass in a wildflower setting or mixed with other perennials, such as rudbeckia, Shasta daisies, and tall garden phlox, in a perennial border. Plant dwarf varieties in front of flower borders or in containers. Container grown coneflowers will have to be protected in winter by moving the plants into a garage or basement.
The purple coneflower species is the toughest type of coneflower to grow and often found in wildflower mixes. For flowers of a different color, “Fragrant Angel” is a white variety with scented petals. “Orange Meadowbrite” has thin orange petals. “Pixie Meadowbrite” only grows 18 inches tall. “Harvest Moon” features golden petals. “Hot Papaya” has unusual, double, fuzzy red flowers.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.
Ahh echinacea. This simple native midwestern prairie plant has garnered so much interest from a medical standpoint, that some people overlook its beauty in the perennial garden. Not me, or plant breeders. There are new hybrid varieties of echinacea with imaginative colors and shapes that sometimes barely resemble the original species. Love them or hate them, there are lots of new coneflowers on the market. The plus side is these new hybrids flower the first year and for longer in the garden. The downside is they aren’t as tough as the species coneflowers. Even the species coneflowers normally only last a few years in the garden. But, they self-sow readily so your patch keeps expanding. The new hybrids don’t self-sow as well as the species, so don’t be surprised if these “perennials” disappear after a few years. Here are a few of the new ones I think are worth trying.
The Big Sky series was one of the first lines to introduce new coneflower colors to the garden. ‘Sundown’, ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Harvest Moon’ have orange, pale yellow and golden colored petals respectively. The bright red ‘Fire Bird’ and orange colored ‘Mango Meadowbrite’ are two other new colorful varieties I recently saw and liked. If you can’t choose between colors, try the new award winning ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ seed collection that features multi-colored echinacea all in one seed packet.
Most echinacea grow 2-to 4-feet tall, however, there are some dwarf varieties such as ‘Pixie Meadowbrite’ that grow around 18 inches tall. It’s perfect for the front of the flower border.
For something completely different look at the cone-fection series. These echinaceas are best described as looking like toy poodles. The cones are colorful, fuzzy, and look like pom-poms. I’m not a big fan, but you might be.