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Coneflower: How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Echinacea spp.

One of the best flowers for attracting butterflies, purple coneflower is easy to grow and adds color to the late summer landscape.

Echinacea

America’s grasslands are home to a brilliant array of flowers, and Coneflower (Echinacea), 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, white and various other colored flowers stand above other foliage.

These stunning flowers are deer-resistant, thanks to the often prickly lower stem of the plant which deters deer.

Plants bloom heavily from June through September and are popular with songbirds, and other pollinators like bees and butterflies. This sturdy, eye-catching perennial stands about 3-4 feet tall.

Botanical Name: Echinacea spp.

Common Name: Coneflower

Family: Asteraceae

Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial

Hardiness Zones: 3 – 8 (depending on variety)

Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

Soil Type: clay, loam, sandy

Soil pH: 6.0 – 7.0

Maturity: 90 – 120 days from seed to flower

Height: 36 to 48 inches

Spacing: 12 to 24 inches apart in all directions

Bloom Time: Summer (June to September)

Flower Colors: Purple, pink, magenta, white, yellow, orange, green

Native Area: North America

Fun Fact: Echinacea is used medicinally to boost the immune system and is popular for the treatment of flu and colds.

Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Caring for Coneflower (Echinacea)

  1. Easy-care, low-water plants produce stunning blooms
  2. They come in a variety of colors, namely purple, pink, magenta, red, white, orange, yellow, green
  3. Plant in full sun; prefers rich soil, but is very adaptable
  4. Grow from direct-seeding, nursery stock, or division
  5. Attracts bees and butterflies
  6. Blooms from midsummer to fall; tolerates light frost

Coneflower (Echinacea) Plant Care

Stunning and hardy coneflowers get their name from the flower’s distinctive cone-like center which attracts many pollinators, especially bees and butterflies.

Their genus name, Echinacea, is derived from the Latin name for hedgehog, echinus, to refer to their often prickly lower stem which in turn deters deer away.

The most popular variety, purple coneflower, was used by plain Native Americans as their primary medicine, to boost the immune system where the roots were steeped to make a remedy for colds, coughs, and flu.

Light

Coneflowers prefer full sun, so plant them in a spot that gets at least six to eight hours of full sunlight each day. They can also tolerate partial shade, but your blooms won’t be as abundant.

Soil

Coneflowers thrive in gardens with neutral soil pH levels ranging from 6.0 to 7.0. They can grow in a wide range of soil types, including sandy, loamy, and clay. On the other hand, they detest soil that is either too wet or too muddy.

If you want your coneflowers to thrive, it’s best to add some compost to the soil before you plant them.

They are hardy perennials and are tolerant of drought, heat, humidity, and even poor soil. However, this is a general soil tip since it may vary depending on the particular variety that you are growing.

Water

Although coneflowers are frequently described as drought-tolerant plants, they benefit greatly from fairly frequent watering. After you plant them, water them every day for the first week.

After that, give them an inch of water every week for the rest of their first year. Plants in their second and third years may only require watering during droughts.

Temperature and Humidity

Coneflower is a native prairie plant that does best in hot, dry climates, but it can handle a wide range of changes in temperature and humidity.

However, they struggle in regions with persistently wet soil, such as those that experience high levels of humidity year-round, or rainy areas.

Fertilizer

Even though soils rich in organic matter are ideal for coneflower growth, too much additional fertilizer can make plants leggy. Adding compost each spring typically provides the necessary nutrients for healthy foliage and flowers.

Pruning and Deadheading

Coneflowers can benefit from pruning, but it’s not required. You can leave the plants standing throughout the winter to provide food for birds, and pruning them back in the spring will result in bushier, longer-blooming plants.

Having said that, deadheading is the most important maintenance for coneflowers. Since they bloom frequently, you can prolong the blooming season by deadheading i.e., removing the spent flowers from living plants.

Each flower blooms at the top of the stem and continues to bloom for a few weeks. Additional side shoots and buds will grow along the stem as the primary flower fades.

Keep deadheading the plants and you’ll get more flowers. This process will also help to prevent the plant from self-seeding excessively.

Varieties of Coneflower (Echinacea)

There are many different varieties of coneflowers currently available, with native breeders developing new varieties with improved colors each year. Let’s look at some interesting varieties you can consider planting:

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Purple coneflower (E. purpurea) is the most common and easily accessible. This purple coneflower, as its name suggests, has long, light-purple rays that cascade down its center cone.

PowWow Wild Berry (Echinacea purpurea PAS702917)

PowWow Wild Berry Coneflower

PowWow Wild Berry can be grown from seeds in a large garden, and it will bloom 20 weeks after the seeds are planted. Even if you don’t remove dead flowers from this stunning variety, it will keep making new buds.

Compared to other types of coneflowers, this one stays smaller and thrives best in milder temperatures. In most areas, it blooms between the months of June and August.

Sombrero Salsa Red (Echinacea purpurea Balsomsed Sombrero Salsa Red)

The Sombrero Series of cultivars is available in a variety of hues, including pink, white, yellow, and orange, in addition to this vibrant orange-red variety known as ‘Salsa Red’. Interestingly, it also has the cultivar name ‘Balsomsed’.

Its original name came from the center cone, which is said to have a sombrero-like shape. The blooming period for this brightly colored coneflower extends from late spring through late summer, and sometimes possibly longer.

Hot Papaya (Echinacea Hot Papaya)

Echinacea Hot Papaya

This stunning showstopper is a variety introduced to us by the Dutch.   The color of newly opened flowers varies from brilliant gold to tropical flame orange. This variety blooms from early to mid-summer.

Cheyenne Spirit Coneflower (Echinacea Cheyenne Spirit)

This incredible variety will possibly produce cheerful blooms with shades of yellow, white, cream, red, pink, orange, yellow, or purple ray flowers with brown disk centers, possibly all on the same plant! These seeds started indoors after Christmas will produce summer flowers. This variety blooms from June to August.

Green Jewel Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea Green Jewel)

Green Jewel Coneflower

Green Jewel is another great variety by the Dutch.  The large, bright green ray petals are accented with dark green center cones. Coneflowers have a light scent and look great as accents in rock gardens and woodland gardens. They also look stunning as highlights along borders.

This variety will bloom beginning in late spring and continuing through late summer, and it may even produce a few flowers up until the first frost.

Magnus Superior Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea Magnus Superior)

Magnus Superior Coneflower Echinacea Purpurea

The Magnus Superior variety produces rosy-violet rays that do not droop and can grow to be three to five inches in diameter, and even up to seven inches in diameter in rare cases.

From late spring to late summer, and possibly until frost, these lovely, large daisy-like flowers can provide an ocean of pink.

How to Plant and Grow Coneflower (Echinacea)

Site Preparation

Coneflowers are generally 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 the video Flower Gardening from the Ground Up to learn more). Coneflowers will tolerate heat and drought.

How to Plant and Grow Coneflowers from Seeds

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.

Seed Saving Instructions

Coneflowers will produce lots of seed but you must get there before the birds. When the blooms dry out, cut them off and hang them 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.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Echinacea (coneflower) is vulnerable to a number of garden pests including Japanese beetlesaphids, 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 them and putting them in the trash.
  • Release commercially available beneficial insects to attack and destroy insect pests.
  • Spot treat pest problem areas with neem oil sprayor other organic pesticide.

Foliage and flowers are also susceptible to several diseases such as anthracnosepowdery 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

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5 Responses to “Coneflower: How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Echinacea spp.”

  1. Emma Jex on April 22nd, 2019 at 12:06 pm #

    Found this very helpful, but all I needed to know was when to plant the seeds … couldn’t seem to find that. ? Thanks!

    • Sarah on May 5th, 2019 at 1:08 pm #

      “Sow outdoors 1/2 inch deep when a light frost is still possible. Seeds will germinate in 10-20 days. “

  2. Angie on May 7th, 2019 at 1:05 pm #

    How deep do you plant a transplanted “root”?

  3. Lori on September 19th, 2019 at 7:10 am #

    I had a hard time figuring light frost comment as well. I am in Texas and am staring at many dried echinacea heads: it’s August- not rain and very hot. Have cut them off and bagged them (paper- never plastic as they will mold in plastic) and wondering if I can plant in fall which would then germinate in spring?

    A miracle anything grows here in central Texas in August / September..

    • JJ on September 29th, 2019 at 4:01 pm #

      Echinacea requires stratification first, that’s why you need to plant before frost. I put the seeds in a small container with moistened vermiculite in the refrigerator (to replicate the cold) for about 3 months and then plant them as soon as I can outdoors in early spring. You can start them indoors sooner if you see the seeds have germinated.

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