Echinacea, sometimes known as coneflowers, is a hardy perennial in the daisy family (Asteraceae). They are indigenous to the eastern and central United States, from Colorado to Texas in the south and the Great Lakes in the north. Here is how to cultivate this native American plant in your garden.
These quick-growing plants have a height range of 2 to 4 feet, blossom from midsummer till the first fall frost, and self-sow profusely. Coneflowers are named for their elevated, conical centers that draw bees and butterflies. The seed heads draw songbirds like goldfinches once they blossom. Once they are established in a conventional garden or a meadow of wildflowers, coneflowers enjoy the heat and are trouble-free.
The majority of echinacea species are purple (E. purpurea), but there are up to nine naturally occurring varieties that are yellow or purple (E. paradox). More sizes and colors are available with hybrids, but there are drawbacks as well: many of them lack genetic diversity and are sterile, which means they cannot produce viable seed.
The lower stem of the plant, which is frequently prickly, is referred to by its genus name Echinacea, which is derived from the Latin word for hedgehog, echinus. Coneflowers are so named because their elevated, cone-shaped centers are filled with seeds that draw butterflies. After bloom, leave the seed heads on the plant to draw in songbirds like goldfinches! They are less susceptible to deer than other floral plants since they are native plants with thorny stems.
When grown in large groups, coneflowers are spectacular, especially when they are a combination of different colors.
Coneflowers prefer soil that drains well and direct sunlight. Although coneflowers can thrive in a variety of soil types, nutrient-rich soil is where they bloom at their finest. 12 to 15 inches of loose soil should be added, along with a 2 to 4 inch layer of compost or aged manure. Pick a spot where the coneflowers won’t be shaded out or languish in soggy ground. If the correct circumstances exist, they will spread quickly. (Read up on how to get soil ready for planting.)
When to Plant Coneflowers
Coneflowers are typically purchased as little plants that will soon bloom. Planting time for these should be in the spring, early summer, or fall.
- Coneflowers should be planted while they are young and will bloom in the spring or early summer.
- Eight to ten weeks prior to the last spring frost date, seeds can be started inside. Alternately, plant them outside after the soil has warmed to at least 65°F (18°C). Plants grown from seeds are unlikely to blossom for two to three years.
- Note: Coneflower plants will rapidly self-seed if you don’t clip them back.
- Coneflowers should only be divided or moved in the spring or fall.
How to Plant Coneflowers
- Coneflowers should be spaced 1 to 3 feet apart, depending on the variety’s mature size.
- Dig a hole that is almost twice as wide as the pot if you are planting from one. The root ball of the plant should be level with the soil surface when it is placed. To the top of the root ball, fill in.
- At planting, give it plenty of water.
- To help keep plants wet and discourage weeds, cover the soil top with thin layers of compost, followed by mulch.
Learn more about the advantages of planting coneflowers by watching our video:
Coneflowers can withstand drought, although young plants require water from time to time, and more frequently if the spring is particularly dry.
- To help keep the plants wet and discourage weeds, mulch and compost in thin layers should be placed around them.
- Fertilizer is rarely needed in native soil. When you plant, make sure your soil has a lot of organic matter.
- If the spring is particularly dry or your coneflowers are recently planted, just add extra water in the late spring.
- When flowers start to fade, deadhead to extend the bloom duration. Trim stems to a leaf close to a bud. Late-season deadheading stops self-seeding and bird feeding.
- Optional: When coneflower plants bloom, prune them back by a foot to promote delayed blooming for fall enjoyment. Because coneflowers have a tendency to become lanky, this will result in later blossoming and more compact growth. For more evenly spaced bloom heights and periods, cut certain flowers but not others.
- August could bring on beneficial army beetles that resemble wasps. They pollinate plants and eat bug eggs and larvae. Avoid hurting them.
- In cooler areas, scatter mulch around plants in the late fall.
- When stems wilt or after a hard cold, trim them back to the soil line. Cut back in the late winter to encourage self-seeding. When cleaning up the garden in the late winter or early spring, prune back the plants.
- Optional: Think about allowing late-season flowers to develop on the plants. Birds will be drawn to the seed heads, which will encourage self-seeding. If you prefer not to have self-seeding, deadheading will stop it. Cut the dead flower back to a leaf where you can see a bud that is about to swell in order to deadhead.
- Coneflowers can be divided or moved in the spring or fall.
Growing Coneflowers in Pots
Coneflowers are often grown in the ground as perennial plants, but you can grow them in pots if the pots are deep enough to accommodate the plant’s taproot. Use containers with drainage holes that are at least 2 or 3 gallons in size. For drainage, spread crushed gravel in the pots’ bottoms. With potting mix, halfway fill the pot. Slow down. Spread the roots out and plant the root ball an inch below the container’s rim. Gently press down the soil after adding it gradually until it is level with the top of the root ball. Deep breathing.
- Place pots in full morning sun and half afternoon shade after keeping them in partial shade for two to three days.
- Always deeply water the soil when it feels dry to the touch. There is a risk of fungus from water on leaves.
- Every few weeks, fertilize the soil with a water-soluble 10-10-10 product.
- For sustained flowering, remove the dead flowerheads slightly below the flower’s base.
- When plant development slows in the fall, trim plants to the soil level to overwinter them.
- Move to a spot with low to moderate indirect light and a cool (40 to 50 °F) temperature.
- Every few weeks, check the soil and water it lightly if the top 3 inches are dry.
- If new growth starts to sprout in the spring, relocate to a warmer (60 to 70 °F) and more sunny spot. Moving the plant aids in preparing it for life in the spring and summer outdoors.
- Avoid watering leaves from above since this can promote fungus on the leaves. Instead, hydrate the soil. If you notice any bugs or aphids, use a neem oil solution spray or an insecticidal soap.
- Dividing and repotting echinacea plants every three to four years following the start of new growth is recommended.
- Echinacea purpurea cultivar “Robert Bloom” features pronounced, dark orange centers and vivid scarlet flower petals.
- The dark mauve flower petals of Tennessee coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis) have greenish-pink cores.
- Echinacea purpurea’s “Finale White” variety includes flower heads that are creamy white with greenish-brown cores.
- The soft-yellow petals of the hybrid echinacea “Cleopatra” have golden-green cores.
Which month is ideal for coneflower planting?
- Before cutting down to the ground to get ready for fresh growth in the spring, let plants stand through the winter to provide food for wildlife.
Coneflowers are a must-grow if you appreciate watching pollinators buzz and flit about lovely, trouble-free flowers that bloom for a long time. Although purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) are the most prevalent, there are many new coneflower cultivars available in a rainbow of cheery hues, including pink, yellow, orange, red, and white. These flowers don’t just provide joy for a short time; they return year after year because they are perennials.
Because of the “cone that starts to poke up in the center of the circle of petals as each flower matures, coneflowers get their name. Actually, this is a group of seed heads that, when allowed to dry on the plant, serve as Mother Nature’s bird feeder, luring a large number of cardinals, goldfinches, and other hungry birds.
How to Choose Coneflowers
Which of the dozens of different coneflower kinds should you grow? The quickest response is: whichever ones you deem attractive and have room for (check the plant tag for info on this). Want some recommendations? Use these
- There are numerous native coneflower species, but the purple coneflower, which typically reaches heights of 2 to 4 feet, is the most well-known.
- ‘White Swan’ is a well-known variety that grows up to 4 feet tall and has big white blossoms among other widely available types.
- A lot of dwarf coneflower types, like “Kim’s Knee High,” remain fairly compact (with pinkish-purple flowers). If you have a small garden, consider planting them because you will get many blossoms in a short amount of space.
- Coneflower variants are also available that hardly resemble coneflowers at all, notably hybrid double types with two rows of petals. Just be mindful that some of plants produce flowers that fade more quickly than others in the garden.
Where to Plant Coneflowers
Coneflowers should be planted in an area with at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. However, in warmer climates (zones 8 and higher), a little midday shadow is beneficial because it will prevent the blooms from fading. As a result of their clump-forming nature, these plants won’t spread as widely as some other perennials. If you leave blossoms in situ, many of the older kinds may self-seed, which is a simple way to grow new plants!
Coneflowers grow best in the spring, after all threat of frost has passed. You can plant in the early fall as well. Just make sure your new plants have at least 6 weeks before the first anticipated frost to form roots; otherwise, they might not reappear in the spring.
How to Prepare the Soil for Planting Coneflowers
Coneflower roots need a healthy environment to flourish, so strengthen your natural in-ground soil by adding 3 inches of Miracle-Gro Garden Soil for Flowers to the top 6 inches of soil. The Moisture Control technology in this nutrient-rich garden soil helps to safeguard plants when they unintentionally receive too much or too little water. Additionally, if you use Miracle-Gro soil and plant food (and adhere to all instructions), you’ll get up to three times as many blossoms during the growing season (compared to unfed), so be sure to read the part below on “How to Feed Coneflowers.” Just one coneflower planted? Make a hole, then mix garden soil and the recently excavated earth 50:50.
1. Determine the location where you’ll plant your coneflowers, making sure to allow enough room between each plant. (The plant tag ought should indicate how much room you need.)
2. Create a hole for each plant that is identical in depth and width to the root ball.
3. To give root growth a boost for the first 30 days, drop a Miracle-Gro Quick Start Planting Tablet into the planting hole (as per the instructions on the label).
4. Remove a coneflower plant from its pot and insert it into the gap. The top of the root ball should be level with the surrounding soil.
5. Fill in the area surrounding the plant and firm up the dirt there.
6. Water sources.
7. Spread a 3-inch layer of mulch around the plant, being careful not to let it contact the stem, to help keep the soil moist and to block sunlight so weeds can’t develop.
How to Stake Coneflowers
Coneflowers rarely need to be staked because of their sturdy stems and large flowerheads. However, if you do encounter floppy plants, drive a strong stake close to the middle of the plant (avoid going through the plant), and then loosely wrap twine around the stake and the individual stems. Or, you can purchase a circular stake intended for clumping flowers. In either case, the finished product should appear natural, not constricted around the plant’s middle.
How to Water Coneflowers
Coneflowers can tolerate drought pretty well once they’ve had some time to establish themselves. Check on them every other day after planting; if the top inch of soil is dry, thoroughly water. Your coneflowers’ droopy leaves are another indication that they need water. Coneflowers shouldn’t require watering after a full growth season in the garden unless it hasn’t rained in at least two months.
How to Feed Coneflowers
Want a ton of lovely flowers? As soon as fresh leaves begin to grow in the spring, begin feeding your coneflowers Miracle-Gro Water Soluble Bloom Booster Plant Food. Your plants will grow bigger and produce more blooms as a result of this flower feast, which gets to work right away. Additionally, since you may apply water-soluble fertilizer when watering, it won’t require any extra time to do so.
How to Deadhead and Prune Coneflowers
Deadhead coneflowers frequently at the start of the bloom season to promote greater flowering by removing the faded blossoms before they set seed. Always prune back to a leaf or section of the stem where a new bud is visible. You can just leave them alone later in the season when the plant starts to produce fewer blooms.
To feed the birds over the winter, let the plants alone. Prune them to the ground in late winter. In the early spring, leaves will appear at ground level, soon to be followed by flower stalks.
Try this simple trimming tip to prolong the blooming period of your plants’ coneflowers by at least a season. Cut back some of the stems by half as they start to grow again in the spring to postpone flowering on those stalks. The cut stems will lend their beauty a bit later in the season after the uncut stems have finished blooming.
Can I Divide Coneflowers?
Coneflowers don’t require dividing like some perennials do in order to thrive. Because each plant has a single taproot, they’re not easy to split up. Therefore, simply let them be.
Coneflowers should be planted in what areas?
Coneflower plants can withstand both heat and drought, making them simple to grow even for novices. Coneflowers bloom in about 60 to 90 days, according to Sears, and prefer full sun. “USDA zones three to nine will be ideal for most coneflowers.” Coneflowers grow best in full sun (at least six hours per day) and loose, well-drained soil, but will also withstand heavy clay and even shallow, rocky soils with aplomb, according to Quindoy. Just make sure you plant them somewhere they’ll see lots of light. Once established, these extremely adaptive plants are also drought-tolerant.
Spreading Purple Coneflowers
I’ve cultivated countless coneflowers of various types over the years. I now fully understand how coneflowers proliferate and how to handle them. So, let me tell you what I’ve learned….
Coneflowers reproduce through self-seeding and developing a deeper root system. Coneflowers do not, however, spread their roots and take over gardens (rhizomes). Each Spring, a coneflower plant may produce several seedlings, and its root mass may enlarge by one to two diameters. However, it won’t produce runner roots.
So, if you’re interested in learning how far a coneflower will spread, continue reading and check out the images.