There are three major types of gardeners in the world.
- The first type loves ornamental plants and prefers to grow flowers.
- The second type likes the reward of growing crop plants to save money.
- But a third type does their homework and knows that some seemingly ornamental plants are also important crops.
This is where the genus Echinacea comes in. Also known as coneflowers, the 10 species in this genus are proud members of the Asteraceae family.
There has yet to be a serious study regarding the benefits of these plants when ingested. Still, the Native Americans have been using them for thousands of years, and echinacea supplements can be found in nearly every vitamin section.
Growing coneflowers can provide a splash of color to your garden even if you don’t plan to consume them, but did you know they provide benefits to other plants as well?
Coneflower Companion Plants
Companion planting (AKA complimentary gardening) is the practice of grouping plants together that either visually complements each other or improve nearby plants’ quality of life.
Let’s look at what coneflowers can do for your garden and discuss some popular companions for this attractive flowering plant.
The Benefits Of Coneflowers
Excluding the debate on whether or not echinacea is beneficial when consumed, there are a lot of things we know for certain that these plants can do for your garden.
Coneflower flowers to seed in the fall if you don’t deadhead them.
The seeds are a popular feast for goldfinches and wide other varieties of birds.
The result is a lot of colorful activity in your garden, often pushing into early winter.
In fact, a single echinacea clump can live for 5 to 6 years and is capable of self-seeding, giving you even more reason not to deadhead.
Instead, cut the plants back in the spring for more vigorous growth and the shortest possible break in their beauty.
With their huge 4 to 6” inch flowers and a long blooming period that stretches into fall, it shouldn’t be a surprise that pollinators love echinacea.
Both bees and butterflies flock to a coneflower in full bloom and will visit other nearby plants.
Coneflowers have long tap roots, which make them drought-resistant and can be grown very close to plants with shallower root systems without competing.
They can grow up to 4’ feet tall and – while they do love their sunlight – can tolerate a little shade.
This makes them a perfect backdrop for smaller plants and a great way to surround trees and other tall plants that might look a little barren otherwise.
Perfect Companions For Coneflowers
There are several plants out there that not only add a visual appeal to coneflowers but also provide practical benefits as well.
Here are some great choices to pair with your favorite echinacea species or cultivar.
Bee Balm (Monarda Bradburiana)
This popular member of the mint family can grow just about anywhere and produces pink flowers and attractive purple-green foliage.
These bee palms are great for deer resistance, attracting pollinators, and just plain looking good, and they can also help reduce the risk of mildew problems.
Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia Fulgida)
A fellow member of the Asteraceae family, Black-eyed Susans share a visual similarity in their flower shapes but have bright yellow to orange petals, providing a wonderful contrast to the darker tones of echinacea.
But the benefits don’t stop there, as these are also pollinator magnets and are slightly shorter at 3’ feet tall.
Black-eyed Susans are deer-resistant and have sturdy stems, which help prevent the sometimes top-heavy echinacea from leaning too far.
Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias Tuberosa)
These 3’ foot tall butterfly magnets have bright orange-yellow flowers that look great beside echinacea.
As a bonus, Butterfly Milkweed plants are sturdy and can support echinacea while complementing most wildflowers.
Catmint (Nepeta Mussinii)
Once you’ve grown catmint, it’s hard to imagine a time you didn’t.
The plant features edible greens and spikes of bluish-purple flowers that are sure to please.
While your echinacea is bringing in the pollinators, catmint will help out by repelling several common pests, such as aphids and squash bugs.
Coral Bells (Heuchera Americana)
Bearing colorful foliage and flowers, coral bells are yet another great pollinator magnet that goes really well with echinacea.
However, their true strength lies in the ability to deter deer, rabbits, and other foliage foragers.
Salvia (Salvia spp.)
Sage has a lot of great benefits, depending on the species.
In the case of blue sage (Salvia farinacea), you get spikes of deep blue flowers that butterflies absolutely love.
Other species have uniquely-scented leaves or are used in cooking.
They’re resistant to both deer and drought and (depending on the species) can often repel common insect pests such as ants, aphids, and mealybugs with their strong scent.
Stachys (Hummelo Betony)
With their dark green foliage and lavender flower spikes, the visual benefits of Stachys are obvious.
However, these shorter 2’ foot flowers are deer resistant and will help protect your wildflower collection from getting munched on.
Even better, these plants attract bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds to the garden, further bolstering the benefits of echinacea.
Stonecrop (Hylotelephium spp.)
Bearing wonderful balls of pink, rose, or white flowers, the stonecrop has plenty of character.
But what makes these a great companion for echinacea is the plant’s ability to draw in even more pollinators and even songbirds.
In fact, butterflies find this plant so attractive that it’s become a staple in many butterfly gardens.
Other Great Companions For Coneflowers
We could go on for hours about all the wonderful plants that mix well with echinacea, but there’s only so much a single article can hold.
Therefore, here’s a quick rundown of a few other great companion options:
- Bachelor buttons (Centaurea cyanus)
- Beard Tongue (Penstemon spp.)
- Blanket Flower (Gaillardia spp.)
- Blazing Star Liatris
- Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
- Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus)
- Goldenrod (Solidago)
- Ornamental Oregano
- Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum)
- Shasta daisy