Echinacea (aka Purple Coneflower Plant) is a wildflower that has been adapted and developed for garden use.
This pretty member of the aster family makes a beautiful flower addition to a butterfly garden.
The pollen attracts bees, and the seeds attract birds. It is also a good addition to your kitchen or medicinal garden as all parts of the plant can be used to make tea and natural medicines. It’s a lovely landscape or container plant, and the flowers are pretty and long-lasting in arrangements.
In this article, we will discuss the care of coneflowers in the garden and as a container plant. We will also share information about the many new and exciting coneflower hybrids available today. Read on to learn more.
What Does Coneflower Echinacea Look Like?
As a member of the Aster family, Echinacea plants produce daisy-like flowers in a wide array of colors and sizes. These flowers are commonly called coneflowers because of the raised, cone-like center formed by the flower’s seeds.
Coneflowers bloom during the summer months and produce a riot of color. All of the many varieties do well with little care and are quite drought tolerant.
Echinacea Plant Quick Growing Guide:
Botanical Name: Echinacea
Origin: Prairies and Open woodlands of North America
Common Names: Narrow-leaved Purple Coneflower, Kansas Snakeroot, Black Samson, Red Sunflower, Sampson Root, Comb Flower, Scurvy Root, Black Susan, Rudbeckia, Hedgehog, Snakeroot
Uses: Houseplant, container plant, garden herbaceous perennial. Good for cut flowers, dried as tea and/or used in folk medicine.
Height: 1-4′ depending upon the variety
USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9
Flowers: Typically daisy-like flower heads with a bloom time of summer through autumn, Many bloom colors, shades of pink, purple, red, yellow, orange and white – new hybrids present interesting variations.
Foliage: Coarse lance-like or oval, toothed basal leaves. Typically covered with stiff hairs, but some varieties have smooth leaves.
Echinacea Plant Care Requirements: Likes full sun to part shade. Loamy, fast draining soil. Deep occasional watering. In the landscape, “fertilize” annually with a top dress of finished compost. In containers, use a weak solution of water soluble 10 10 10 fertilizer twice a month.
Miscellaneous: Planting Echinacea attracts butterflies for the pollen and birds for the seeds. The plant is non-toxic to pets and may attract rabbits. Leaves, petals and roots may be used to make tea which may be drunk to boost the immune system or applied topically to soothe minor skin irritations such as sunburn and rash.
Growing Echinacea From Seed
To plant Echinacea in the garden, you must begin will well-tilled, loose, well-draining soil. Till the soil to a depth of about fifteen inches. Turn two-to-four inches of finished compost into the soil.
When growing coneflowers from seed, it’s most convenient to plant in early spring. Seed can be sown directly into the soil. Space the seeds one-to-three feet apart depending upon the type of echinacea you choose. Read packaging information carefully to determine how much spread your plants will need.
It is also possible to sow seed in the late autumn or during the winter for spring blooming. Exposing the seeds to four-to-six weeks of cold, wet weather stratifies them and helps ensure good germination.
Plants can also be propagated through division and by use of root cuttings in the autumn.
How To Care For Coneflowers
In the springtime, top dress your echinacea with a layer of compost covered by a couple of inches of mulch. This combination feeds the plant and helps the soil retain water.
These plants have very deep taproots and need watering like the wildflowers they are. Give them a deep soaking occasionally. If your area receives under an inch of rain weekly, provide an inch of water once a week.
Deadhead your echinacea throughout the blooming season to promote more blossoms and to prevent having them go to seed during the spring and summer.
At the end of the blooming season, leave the last blossoms in place and allow them to go to seed. This will re-seed your garden for the next year and provides a sweet autumn treat for the birds.
Do coneflowers spread?
Coneflowers spread by seed and by roots. Every three or four years, it’s a good idea to divide your plants to give them more space and prevent overcrowding. Be careful not to overdo this.
If you divide them more frequently than every three years, they will become bushy and will not bloom as much.
Common Coneflower Diseases and Pests
Keep in mind these plants are very close to wildflowers, so they are pretty tough and pest and disease resistant.
In their natural setting, they thrive on the prairies and in light woodlands. They like light, loamy soil and plenty of sunshine.
Their taproots grow deep, thick, and store water to get through times of drought. If you over-water or if your plants are otherwise stressed, they may be prone to:
- Japanese beetle attacks
- Powdery mildew outbreaks
- Bacterial spots
- Vine weevils
- Leaf miners
- Gray mold
- Aphids – Tips on organic treatment for aphids here
These problems can mostly be avoided by:
- Planting in a good, light, well-draining soil mixture
- Spacing plants properly
- Keeping them trimmed
- Deadheading spent flowers and blooms
- Thinned to promote good air circulation
Remove damaged foliage and blossoms promptly and dispose of clippings appropriately to prevent the spread of mites and aphids. [source]
Although echinacea is deer resistant, it is not rabbit resistant. If rabbits eat your plants, try sprinkling a little cayenne pepper on the soil surrounding your plants to repel them.
How To Use Echinacea In The Landscape
There are lots of beautiful varieties of coneflower, and they are just as at-home in a formal, manicured setting as in a naturalized wild garden. Low-growing varieties are a good choice as border plants and look lovely in combination with:
- Leucanthemum maximum (Shasta Daisy)
- Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s Ear)
- Phlox paniculata (Garden Phlox)
- Monarda (Pink Bee Balm)
- Calamintha (Calamint)
- Liatris (Blazingstar)
- Achillea (Yarrow)
- Nepeta (Catmint)
- Verbena hybrida
Add a backdrop of tall ornamental grasses for a dazzling effect.
If you keep a prairie or meadow garden, coneflowers are lovely mixed in with a variety of native plants and grasses. Examples include:
- Ratibida pinnata (Gray-Headed Coneflower)
- Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed)
- Rudbeckia (Black-Eyed Susan)
- Solidago (Goldenrod)
Growing Echinacea In Pots
Echinacea can also be grown as a container plant as long as the container is deep enough to accommodate the plant’s taproot.
They may be kept indoors in the winter with measured success, but they do well on porches, decks, and patios as spring and summer container plants. Follow these steps to successfully transplant seedling coneflowers to containers.
- Select a deep, sturdy plastic or resin pot or container with plenty of drainage holes. It should be at least two or three gallons.
- Line the bottom of the container with two or three inches of crushed gravel to ensure proper drainage.
- Add enough loose, well-draining potting mix to fill the container halfway. Tamp it down and add more if needed to keep the container half full.
- Remove your seedlings from their pots and massage the root ball to spread the roots. Position the plants in your pot or container as desired. The top of the root ball should be about an inch below the rim of the container.
- Begin adding soil at a rate of about three inches at a time. Tamp it down lightly between additions. Stop when the soil level is even with the top of the root ball.
- Water thoroughly and allow excess water to drain through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.
- Keep your plants in a relatively sheltered location for a couple of days until they adjust to repotting, then choose a permanent location that receives full morning sun and partial afternoon shade.
- Check the soil a couple of times a week. Water thoroughly when the top inch of soil is dry. Always allow excess water to drain out. It’s best to water in the morning. Avoid getting the leaves wet or allowing water to splash up from the surface of the soil as this may cause the development of mold and/or disease problems.
- Fertilize every couple of weeks with a water-soluble 10-10-10 fertilizer. Add a tablespoonful of fertilizer to each gallon of water used for regular watering.
- Prompt dead-heading stimulates blossom production. As soon as flowers begin dropping their petals, clip them off at the base of the flower stem. Use a sharp, clean pair of scissors or pruning shears.
- Inspect your plants for signs of pests and disease once or twice a week. If you notice problems, address them promptly. Pests, such as leaf miners and aphids can be knocked off with a stream of water if caught early. If your plants become infested with these pests, you will need to use an insecticidal soap or neem oil solution.
- Every three or four years, divide and repot your echinacea plants. Do this in the springtime after new growth has started.
Overwintering Coneflower Plants In Pots
In the autumn, when plant growth begins to slow, prune your plants back to soil level and move them to an area with low-to-moderate, indirect light where the temperature will stay between 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Check the soil every couple of weeks and water lightly when the top three inches are dry.
When new growth begins to appear, transition the plant to a brighter, warmer (60-70 degrees) setting. Moving the plant helps in preparation for going outdoors for the spring and summer.
If you wish to transplant them into the garden, begin by digging a hole two times the diameter of the pot.
Follow standard transplanting protocol by massaging roots to stimulate them. Place the plant carefully into the hole so that the top of the root ball is even with the surface of the soil.
Surround the root ball with a mixture of the native soil and finished compost. Fill the hole to the same level as the top of the root ball.
Don’t surround the stem of the plant with fresh dirt as this will lead to rotting. Give the plant a thorough watering. Add more soil if watering causes the soil to settle significantly.
Use Echinacea For Healing
These attractive plants can be enjoyed in the yard and garden throughout the spring and summer and harvested for use as a general tonic during the wintertime.
All parts of the plant may be used fresh or dried to brew immune boosting tea or to make a wide variety of tinctures and other health-giving concoctions.
Echinacea Tea Recipe
Drinking a cup of Echinacea tea weekly, year-round helps boost your immune system.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- A quarter cup of dried echinacea leaves, roots and/or flowers.
- One or two teaspoonfuls of raw honey
- A cup of fresh water
Here’s what you’ll do:
- Put the water in a small pot. Bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer.
- Stir in the dried Echinacea bits and pieces.
- Lower the heat, cover the pot tightly and simmer the concoction for about 15 minutes.
- Allow it to sit and cool/steep (covered) for about 5 minutes.
- Pour the mixture through a strainer into a mug. Add honey to suit your tastes.
Drink this brew weekly, year-round to ward off the common cold. If you do happen to catch a cold, have a cup of Echinacea tea right away, and drink a cup two times daily while you are sick to boost your immune system and reduce symptoms.
This is just one of the many ways Echinacea can be used to benefit your health. Purple coneflower has been recognized by Native Americans as a folk cure for many centuries, and now its benefits are also scientifically recognized. [source]
Traditional Varieties of Echinacea
Echinacea Angustifolia (Narrow-Leaved Coneflower)
This is a compact plant that typically grows to a height of one or two feet. The leaves are lance-shaped and have a coating of stiff hairs. The top stems are generally bare and sport pretty, rose-pink flowers about 2 or 3 inches across. The plant is hardy in USDA zones 3-8.
Echinacea Tennesseensis (Tennessee Coneflower)
This is a compact plant which grows to be 1-3 feet high and may spread two feet. Its reddish-purple petals sweep up giving it a cup-like appearance. This unusual coneflower is hardy in USDA zones 4-8.
Echinacea Paradoxa (Yellow Coneflower)
This mid-sized plant grows to be two or three feet high and may spread as much as two feet. This bright yellow coneflower is different from most others in that it grows in dense, multi-stemmed clumps. Its leaves are broad and lance-shaped and grow mostly at the base. It is hardy in USDA zones 4-8.
Echinacea Pallida (Pale Purple Coneflower)
This plant can attain a height of four feet and may spread to two feet. The plant is hardy in USDA zones 4-8. The branches are sturdy and separate. Lance-shaped leaves, covered with stiff hairs are found at the base of the stems. The pale rose-colored flowers are large and attractive.
Echinacea laevigata (Smooth Coneflower)
This variety is very much like Pale Purple Coneflower, but the leaves are hairless. The plant is hardy in USDA zones 4-8.
Echinacea Purpurea (Purple Coneflower Care)
This is the most familiar coneflower. This enthusiastic grower can attain a height of four feet and a spread to three feet. The plant grows like a shrub with very leafy stems and lots of pretty flowers in shades of rosy pink and reddish purple. It is hardy in USDA zones 3-8.
White Lustre is a variation of Echinacea Purpura with very similar characteristics, but its blossoms are bright white.
Interesting Echinacea Hybrids
Many coneflower hybrids have been developed, and many more are emerging as plant breeders continue to work with this fascinating, hardy, beautiful, useful plant.
These seven hybrids have proven to be very easy to grow:
- Kim’s Knee High is an excellent choice as a container plant as it tops out at only 18 inches high.
- Razzmatazz grows to be a two or three feet high. It is the first double-flowering variety of Echinacea. It cannot rightly be called a “coneflower” because it does not have a cone. Instead, it has a central dome that is covered in short upright petals. Longer, draping petals surround this centerpiece.
- Green Envy grows to a maximum height of three feet. This unusual plant produces green blossoms with fat, deep green petals and purplish veins. The center cones are also green when the flower first opens; however, they transition to a purplish-brown color as the blossom matures.
- Sunrise grows to be about three feet high and produces big, pretty, sweet-smelling yellow blossoms. The central cones are green when the flower first opens but the transition to gold as the bloom matures.
- Harvest moon is a combination of Purple Coneflower and Yellow Coneflower. As such, it produces loads of 4″ wide orange blossoms.
- Cheyenne Spirit grows to between 18 and 30 inches high. This plant produces multi-colored blossoms and can only be grown from seed.
- Double-Decker grows to be about four feet high. Its flowers produce two sets of petals, one at the base of the cone and one at the top of the cone. The blossoms have the usual daisy-like petals as well as a fringe of smaller petals that grow from the tip of the seed cone.
With all these choices in Echinacea varieties, you could easily amass an eclectic, varied collection to create a dazzling flower garden that requires very little care.
No matter which varieties of coneflower you choose, all you need is loamy, well-drained soil, moderate watering and plenty of sun for a thriving, pollinator-pleasing, beautiful flower garden. [source]