When to plant echinacea?

Table of Contents

Companion Plants For Echinacea: Learn What To Plant With Coneflowers

Echinacea, or purple coneflower, is an outstanding perennial that thrives on neglect. These cheery pinkish-purple flowers can grow up to 3 feet in height with a similar spread. They attract pollinating insects and add statuesque color to a perennial flower garden. Companion plants for Echinacea should have similar cultural requirements and can create a bed with attractive blooms for any beneficial insect. To create a lively color bed, choose Echinacea companions that offer dimension as well as tones and textures that set off these stoic beauties.

Coneflower Companion Plants

Echinacea produces a rayed flower that spans 2 to 4 inches in width. When contemplating what to plant with coneflowers, consider other flowering plants as well as foliage superstars to enhance their beauty. Another garden scheme to consider is to use all natives as companions for Echinacea. Echinacea is native to the central and eastern parts of North America. These easy bloomers are hardy to United States Department of Agriculture zones 3 to 9.

Native plants are perfect for the perennial garden. Because they are native, they are very adaptable to the existing conditions and do not require as much care as introduced species. An excellent native to pair with Echinacea is butterfly weed, or Asclepias. It has bright orange blooms and does indeed attract butterflies.

Gaillardia has all the tones of a sunset, while black eyed susan brings cheery yellow and a similar rayed flower. Lupinescome in an array of tones and are early season color, while hardy geranium creates a carpet of jewel tones and makes an excellent base plant in the bed.

Other native coneflower companion plants include:

  • Bee Balm
  • American Basket flower
  • Gentian
  • Cardinal Flower
  • Phlox
  • Goat’s Beard
  • Coreopsis
  • Beard Tongue

Pollinator Attracting Companion Planting with Echinacea

If you want to bring in the bees, butterflies and other pollinators, a flowering and fruiting garden can help and there are many brightly colored choices. A sea of jewel tones and softer pastels will draw pollinators like a magnet and improve the overall health of your landscape.

Goldenrodprovides a cloud of lemony blooms, while sedum plants have puffs of pink to yellow flowers on hardy succulent bases. Other companion plants for Echinacea might be:

  • Achillea
  • Salvia
  • Baby’s Breath
  • Oriental Poppy
  • Gayfeather
  • Russian Sage
  • Catmint

Foliage Accents for Coneflowers

Companion planting with Echinacea isn’t just about the flowers. If you are wondering what to plant with coneflowers, there are many foliage plants that will provide just the right accent amongst the blooms. Many of the new coleuscultivars are now just as happy in sun as they are in shade.

Heuchera, or coral bells, are tough perennials with fluted leaves and numerous colors from which to choose. Smoke bush may get a little large but is an excellent foliage plant for the back of the perennial garden. Outstanding blue green leaves or burgundy foliage offer options for contrast.

Lily turf has strappy leaves, often variegated and is hardy in most zones. Ornamental grasses that prefer sunny, well-drained soil are excellent Echinacea companions. Their movement and grace are perfect complements to coneflower’s bright beauty and there are numerous varieties from which to choose that often produce fascinating inflorescences to add double interest to the garden.

America’s grasslands are home to a brilliant array of flowers, and echinacea, or the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), 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 and white flowers stand above other foliage. Plants bloom heavily from July through September and are popular with both bees and butterflies. This sturdy, eye-catching perennial stands about 3-4 feet tall.

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


Heirloom flowers — the ones that Grandma used to grow — add charm and beauty to your gardens. Planting instructions are included with each seed packet and shipping is FREE!​

Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Caring for Echinacea

  1. Easy-care, low-water plants produce strong pink blooms
  2. Plant in full sun; prefers rich soil, but is very adaptable
  3. Grow from direct-seeding, nursery stock or division
  4. Attracts bees and butterflies
  5. Blooms from midsummer to fall; tolerates light frost

Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade
Maturity: 90-120 days from seed to flower
Height: 36 to 48 inches
Spacing: 12 to 24 inches apart in all directions

Site Preparation

Purple coneflowers are 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 Flower Gardening from the Ground Up – video). Coneflowers will tolerate heat and drought.

How to Plant

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.

Insect & Disease Problems

Echinacea is vulnerable to a number of garden pests including Japanese beetles, aphids 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 and putting in the trash.
  • Release commercially available beneficial insects to attack and destroy insect pests.
  • Spot treat pest problem areas with neem oil spray or other organic pesticide.

Foliage and flowers are also susceptible to several diseases such as anthracnose, powdery 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

Seed Saving Instructions

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


Coneflower (Echinacea) is an attractive plant indigenous to the North American plains that is well-loved not only for its beauty and its ability to attract butterflies, but also for its medicinal value.

Numerous Plains tribes, such as the Cheyenne and Sioux, used echinacea as an antiseptic and painkiller. They also used it to treat insect and snake bites.

Today, many herbal medicine adherents use the plant’s roots to treat viral and bacterial infections, reduce inflammation, and heal wounds.

Even if you’re not interested in its purported medicinal properties, the upright, herbaceous perennial sprouts masses of 3- to 4-inch flowers and is a lovely addition to many garden settings.

Let’s learn more!

What’s In a Name?

This plant takes its common name from the cone-shaped mound of tiny flowers at the center of its larger flowerhead. Its scientific name is derived from the Greek word for hedgehog.

The plant grows in an upright form and can become as tall as four feet.

The most widely known variety, the purple coneflower, grows to about 18 inches tall, and sprouts a clump of flowers about two feet wide.

The plant’s flowers are daisy-like, with attractively drooping petals in a wide range of colors.

Its rough leaves are dark green and 4 to 8 inches long.

All the Colors of the Rainbow

In addition to purple coneflower, nine other native species have been identified:

Smooth coneflower is quite rare and is included on the federal Endangered Species Act list of species in danger of disappearing.

In addition to the above naturally occurring species, dozens of varieties have been developed by commercial breeders, each seemingly more showy and vivid than the last.

Hot Papaya Coneflower

Hot Papaya, available at Nature Hills Nursery, is one example. We love the vibrant orange double bloom.

Purple Coneflower

You can also find the popular native purple version at Holland Bulb Farms, available via Amazon.

Sun, But No Salt, Please

Various varieties are hardy in zones 3-9.

They prefer full sun, although some types do well in part shade.

This species likes evenly moist, well-drained soil and will tolerate drought once established.

It will do best in rich, organic soil. It doesn’t like salty soil, but will do well in pretty much any soil pH.

Bake a Cake, Receive a Plant

You can start this fantastic flower from seed, nursery starts, or by division. If your neighbor has an enviable clump or two, take over a homemade cake , and ask for a share.

If you’re planting seeds, sow them at a depth of ⅛ inch in 70° to 75°F soil and expect a 15- to 30-day germination period. Some gardeners have better luck sowing the seeds in the fall, to allow for cold stratification.

This is a process by which the seed freezes and thaws repeatedly, softening the seed coat and stimulating embryonic growth.

Plant seedlings in spring or fall. Choose a sunny spot, loosen the soil in a 10-inch-diameter circle around the planting site, and dig a hole the depth of the root ball.

Lower the plant into the hole, backfill with removed dirt, and gently tamp down.

Water generously.

To divide your neighbor’s plant, choose a nice spring or fall day, and cut into the soil with your shovel in a circle about 6 inches out from the clump.

Gently slide your shovel under the mass of the plant and lift it out. Use your shovel blade to cut the plant into 8-inch-diameter sections.

Replace your neighbor’s portions, plant your sections in your garden, and water everything well.

Low-Maintenance Lovelies

Deadhead spent flowers to encourage more blooming.

You can also cut blooms in their prime to use in flower arrangements.

Remove dead foliage and stems as needed.

Coneflowers aren’t heavy feeders. You can maintain their health and vigor with an application of 12-6-6 slow-release fertilizer annually, just before new leaves emerge.

During dry periods, give these colorful beauties one inch of water once a week. No supplemental water is required during the rainy season.

Problems to Look For

While there are a few nasties to look out for, none pose a serious risk to plants of this type.

Powdery mildew can plague echinacea. To curb this fungal disease, mix together 1 teaspoon of baking soda, ½ teaspoon of liquid soap, and 1 gallon of water. Spray on affected plants.

Aphids, beetles, and mites can also be a problem for these plants. Use insecticidal soaps to rid plants of these pests.

An American Original

Ready to add a slice of Americana to your garden?

With dozens of varieties to choose from and blooms that last from early summer to late fall, easy-care echinacea is certainly a worthy addition to many landscapes.

No word on whether these plains natives will attract bison to your yard, but you’ll certainly have lots of butterflies stopping by.

If you were to plant coneflower, would you choose a native variety or one of the new hybrids? Tell us, below in the comments section!


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Product photos via Holland Bulb Farms, Nature Hills Nursery, and Wayside Gardens. Uncredited photos: .

The staff at Gardener’s Path are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Gardener’s Path and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using plant-based remedies or supplements for health and wellness.

About Gretchen Heber

A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

Echinacea, commonly referred to as coneflowers, are beloved by cottage gardeners and butterfly enthusiasts alike. The large daisy-like flowers with mounded heads and showy rose or pink rays (petals) are usually borne singly on stout stems, well above the foliage. They’re erect perennials with coarse lanceolate to ovate, often toothed leaves.

Plants grow from thick taproots that are quite deep on mature plants. The plant is often used to help alleviate skin rashes and internally for stimulating the immune system.

How to Grow Echinacea

Dorota Pytel / EyeEm/getty

Coneflowers are plants of prairies and open woods. Give them average, loamy soil in full sun or light shade. Plants grow best with adequate moisture but are quite tolerant of extended drought.

These tough plants have deep taproots that enable them to store some water for lean times. Plants increase to form broad clumps.

They flower throughout summer, and the rayless seed heads are attractive throughout fall and winter. Division is seldom necessary and not recommended. Once divided, plants tend to become bushy with compromised flower production.

Propagate by root cuttings in fall. Sow seed outdoors in fall or indoors in winter. Give seeds 4 to 6 weeks of cold, moist stratification to promote uniform germination.

Uses in the Landscape

Marcel Mendez / EyeEm/getty

Coneflowers are comfortable additions to formal and informal landscapes alike. Plant them in borders with catmints (Nepeta), garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), blazingstars (Liatris), yarrows (Achillea), and Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum maximum). Create a pastel combination with lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina), verbenas, pink bee balms (Monarda), calamints (Calamintha), and cranesbills (Geranium) backed with ornamental grasses. In meadow and prairie gardens, plant coneflowers with native grasses, gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), goldenrods (Solidago), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), and black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia). They respond well to pot culture if planted in a deep container.

Showy purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea Alba) are extremely heat-tolerant and drought-tolerant. They have thick, deep taproots that store moisture for lean times.

Coneflower Varieties

Axel Fischer / EyeEm/getty

Echinacea angustifolia, narrow-leaved coneflower

Size: 1 to 2 feet tall and wide. A compact coneflower with spare, lance-shaped basal leaves with stiff hairs and mostly leafless stems topped by 2-inch heads with short (1-inch) drooping rose-pink rays. USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 (possibly 2) to 8.

E. pallida, pale purple coneflower

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide. A sparsely branching plant with stout, nearly leafless stems topped with large heads of drooping pale rose rays. The basal leaves are lance-shaped and covered in stiff hairs. E. laevigata, smooth coneflower, is similar but has smooth leaves. Zones 4 to 8.

E. paradoxa, yellow coneflower

Size: 2½ to 3 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide. This is an unusual coneflower in that its rays are bright yellow. The plants grow in tight, multi-stemmed clumps with mostly basal leaves. The leaves are broadly lance-shaped. An important plant in current breeding programs. Zones 4 to 8.

E. purpurea, purple coneflower

Size: 2 to 4 feet tall (rarely to 6 feet), 2 to 3 feet wide. A shrubby, well branched plant with leafy stems and dozens of flowers with flat or drooping rose-pink to red-violet rays. Bright Star is a graceful selection with mostly flat rose-pink flower heads. Kim’s Knee High is an excellent compact selection to 2½ feet with large heads of gracefully drooping rays. Kim’s Mop Head is white. Magnus has huge, flat flower heads. Springbrook’s Crimson Star has delicate, deep crimson flowers on sturdy 3-foot stems. One of the best. White Lustre has larger, brighter white flowers than Alba and White Swan. Zones 3 to 8.

E. tennesseensis, Tennessee coneflower

Size: 1 to 3 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide. The upswept rays of this species make it unique among coneflowers; the overall impression is of a rose-purple cup. This species has contributed its unique form to many new hybrids that will be released in the future. Zones 4 to 8.

Commonly known as coneflower, echinacea is a delightful addition to any garden in USDA zones 3-8. The common name comes from the cone-shaped central disc that stands out prominently among the single layer of petals. The petals themselves are slightly reflexed or droopy, a common characteristic shared by most echinacea species.

Purple coneflower or E. purpurea is the most well known of coneflower species, but you can find several other species and hybrid varieties. Here are some very good reasons why you should welcome these tall plants with large, showy flowers into your garden.

1. Echinacea flowers are bold and beautiful

The first time you come across echinacea plants in their full summer glory, this is the thought that crosses your mind. They are bold and beautiful. The tall clumps stand erect, holding large, single flowers well above the foliage. The daisy-like flowers may be 4-6 inches across, and are long-lasting both on the plant and as cut flowers.

2. You have several color and form variations to choose from

The purple coneflower E. purpurea with its purplish pink flowers may be the most commonly seen, but echinacea species come in many other colors. E. paradoxa, for instance, has yellow flowers, while E. pallida flowers are a very light pink. Over the last few years, many new varieties in attractive shades and flower forms have been developed.

Hybrids of the purple and yellow coneflowers have flowers in various shades of peaches, pinks and purples, orange, and even red. Pure white and greenish white coneflowers are there, along with creams, cream-pinks. If you’re not particularly fond of the baldy look of coneflowers, go for varieties that have the center disc filled in with colorful, yet tinier ray flowers.

3. They attract pollinators to your garden

Echinacea has a long blooming season in summer that stretches into fall. The central disc florets of echinacea flowers produce plenty of nectar that attracts bees, butterflies, and other insects into your garden. It is a visual feast watching colorful butterflies fluttering over coneflower beds in full bloom.

Attracting bees and butterflies into the garden benefits other crops growing there. These pollinators help increase the yield of vegetable and fruit crops that favor cross-pollination.

4. It is a goldfinch magnet in fall and winter

As the flowers fade and the nectar dries up, the flower heads of echinacea continue to attract winged beauties, but it is time for the birds now. Goldfinches are particularly fond of echinacea seeds. Many gardeners refrain from removing the dried up plants just to have these birds visit their garden.

5. It is a native plant

Echinacea is a true North American native, which explains the great attraction it holds for insect pollinators and birds. Native plants need to be promoted because they are critical to the native ecosystem. Native wildlife depends mostly on native plants for their sustenance.

Plants introduced into the land often become invasive, edging out many native plants. This deprives many native animals of their food and shelter. Coneflowers are worth preserving for this reason alone, although they have many other positives going for them.

6. Echinacea has healing properties

Echinacea is one of the easily recognized of the medicinal herbs. It has a long history of being used as a general tonic to increase immunity, especially against cold and flu viruses and pathogenic bacteria. Its antimicrobial activity promotes wound healing and its anti-inflammatory property makes it useful in the treatment of upper respiratory inflammations, skin rashes, and swellings due to insect bites.

We have a duty to preserve the herbal wealth of our land for future generations, and echinacea can very well be considered a mascot of North American medicinal plants. Both E. angustifolia and E. purpurea have medicinal properties, although the former is more widely used.

7. You can make a healing tea with its leaves and flowers

The medicinal properties of this common wildflower were known to the native people, who used the roots in many of their herbal preparations. Echinacea is commercially available in many forms, and they become hugely popular during cold and flu seasons.

If you have echinacea growing in your garden, you can easily prepare the healing tea at home to improve your immunity against diseases and to combat bacterial and viral infections. You can find a simple method for making echinacea tea towards the end of this article.

8. Echinacea is easy to grow

Echinacea is a native wild plant that self-seeds readily. It is easy to grow from seeds, cuttings, and divisions and easily adapts to a wide range of climatic and cultural conditions. It does not demand much attention or pampering from you, so it is a great choice for novice gardeners.

There are many new varieties of echinacea available now, so you can choose the ones that are best for your garden. Most species of echinacea grow up to 4 feet, but you can choose dwarf varieties that barely reach knee height.

9. Echinacea is a perennial

But why should that be a good reason to grow them?

Perennials should be treasured in gardens because they spare you the trouble of starting new plants every year. Perennials generally die down in winter and then magically resurrect in spring, putting out vigorous growth from their underground parts. You don’t have to start seeds early, harden off the seedlings, and then transplant them in their target sites.

Echinacea does not completely die down in winter. Many gardeners find that the spent plants covered in dry seed heads actually add winter interest to their gardens. The visits from goldfinches add to the charm. Removing the remains of echinacea plants in spring is actually better than doing it in fall. It results in more vigorous spring growth.

As a perennial, echinacea is short-lived. Many gardeners find their original clumps disappearing in 5-6 years. Self-seeding often makes it less obvious, though.

10. It is drought resistant and shade tolerant

Echinacea plants adapt well to a wide range of growing conditions. Although it appreciates getting a moderate amount of water regularly, it is tough enough to tide over extended periods of drought.

The long tap root of echinacea may be able to access moisture deep down in the soil. The roots are fleshy and capable of storing some water. That is one of the reasons why drainage is important for this plant from the dry prairies. They are often planted in raised beds or mounds to ensure good drainage.

Echinacea thrives in full sun, but can do well in partial shade too. That gives you some amount of flexibility as to where you can grow them in the garden. In small yards with space limitations, these tall plants can be planted against the house, garage, or a wall, where they will make a good backdrop for shorter plants. As long as the plants get 3-6 hours of direct sun, they will remain happy and put up a good flower show.

How to grow Echinacea

Echinacea is a cold hardy perennial that grows well in Zones 3-8. You can grow it from seeds, divisions, and root cuttings. Although this North American native plant with a wide distribution is not very particular about soil, it needs good drainage. It is tolerant of partial shade, but a sunny location brings the best out of this floriferous plant.

From seeds

To grow echinacea from seeds, cold stratification is required. One way to do this is sowing the seeds out in the garden or in containers in late fall, and allowing winter to provide the dormancy the seeds require before germination. The seedlings will emerge in spring.

But if you want to get large flowering plants in the very first season, give them a head start by starting the seeds indoors. Place the seeds in a wet tissue paper or a wad of sphagnum moss and store them in a box in the refrigerator for 6-8 weeks. Sow them in seed cups afterward and transplant the seedlings in spring.

From cuttings

Root cuttings should be taken in late fall or early winter since it is least disturbing for the dormant parent plant. Water the area the previous evening to dampen the soil. Start digging a few inches away from the base of the plant until its fleshy roots become visible. Gently remove the soil around the exposed root until you can get a 3-inch section with a healthy sprout growing from it. Sever the root section by making a clean cut at each end of the section.

After trimming the sprout to 2-3 inches, plant it in a potting mixture of 3 parts sand and 2 parts peat. Place the pot in a protected area away from direct sun and keep the medium barely moist until new growth appears. It usually takes 2-3 weeks.


Division of clumps is the least preferred way to propagate echinacea. This method gives you bushy plants, but they may not be as floriferous as seed grown plants. Water a clump until the soil is saturated. Cut into the middle of the clump and lift up one section, filling up the hole immediately to keep the other half steady. Pot up the division in moist, but well-draining soil mix. Keep it in partial shade until it is fully revived.


Echinacea is an easy-care plant that does not need much pampering. It does not need fertilizers when starting out. Overfeeding can, in fact, results in lanky plants that do not perform well. Avoid overwatering too. Lack of drainage can cause root rot, which may kill the plant. Too much mulch around the plant in winter is also known to create damp conditions that result in rot. Spontaneous dying out of echinacea clumps could be due to this.

Deadheading is the main maintenance task required of you. It extends the summer blooming season well into fall. It also prevents uncontrolled self-seeding all around the garden.

Collecting and storing Echinacea root

Echinacea angustifolia is the species more popularly used medicinally, but E. purpurea also have similar healing properties. Native Indians used echinacea roots for their herbal medicines, but many gardeners find it difficult to dig up the roots. If you are up to it, you can harvest the roots in late fall or early winter when a clump is 3 years old.

Wash all the dirt off the roots and cut them up into smaller pieces with a pair of garden clippers. The roots are too tough to be cut with a knife. Although the root pieces can be dried and stored, fresh echinacea roots are more often used to make tinctures.

To make Echinacea root tincture:

Fill ¾ of a glass jar with the root pieces and pour twice the quantity of vodka or vegetable glycerin. Shake well and cap the glass jar. keep it in a warm place for 1-2 months, shaking the bottle once or twice a day. Filter the liquid out into clean glass jars and store in a cool place.

Use the tincture internally for treating cold, flu, and other respiratory infections. Use it topically on rashes, insect bites, wounds, and skin infections.

Collecting and storing Echinacea flowers and leaves

The leaves and flowers of echinacea are almost as effective as the root, but a lot milder, and easier to harvest and use. Collect mature leaves and flowers in their prime, wash them quickly under running water, and hang them up to dry or spread on a wire screen. Keep a sheet of paper or a piece of clean cloth to catch the petals that fall.

Drying should be done in a dark but well-ventilated area. When the petals as well as the cones are completely dry, store them in large glass jars. One teaspoon of dried and crushed echinacea flowers is equivalent to one cup of fresh flowers in herbal preparations.

How to make an herbal tea from fresh Echinacea

When you have echinacea growing in your garden, you can make use of its wonderful medicinal properties by brewing a healing tea at the very first sign of cold or flu.

You will need:

  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 cup of echinacea flowers or leaves
  • A stalk of lemon grass
  • A sprig of spearmint
  • ½ a lemon
  • 2 teaspoons of honey

Place the echinacea plant parts, lemongrass and mint in a glass or ceramic bowl with close-fitting lid. Boil the 2 cups of water and pour it over the herbs. Cover the bowl and allow them to steep for 15-20 minutes. Strain the tea into a jug and add honey and a squeeze of lemon. This is optional. You can use stevia instead for sweetness.

Echinacea has anti-inflammatory properties, but part of its benefits comes from its immune-boosting action. So it is most effective if the tea is taken at the start of the cold or flu. It is good for throat and ear infections too.

This tea is mild enough to be given to children, but for a more potent tea, you can use the root. Echinacea root tea is bitter, but it is the traditionally used portion of the plant. Root tinctures are much more palatable.

So, while you are planning your garden this spring, don’t forget to include some of these amazingly beautiful and highly therapeutic beauties in your plans!

Caring for Your Echinacea

Common Name(s):



With its season-long colorful display of daisy-like flowers, Echinacea is the perfect perennial for sunny locations. The striking, colorful, and fragrant flowers have a prominent central cone held high on sturdy stems. Recent breeding efforts have resulted in an ever expanding range of flower colors, blooming characteristics, and plant habits. They produce masses of eye-catching blossoms in the mid-summer that last through the remainder of the growing season. Today’s cultivars produce a wide range of flower colorations consisting of various hues of magenta, orange, pink, purple, white, and yellow. There are also numerous flower types available including single, double, quilled, or cultivars with bi-color blooms or petals that changes color over time. Breeding breakthroughs will surely continue the demand for these very popular garden perennials.


The genus Echinacea was named after the Greek word echinos which means hedgehog or sea urchin and refers to the prickly, spiky central cone of the flower.

USDA Hardiness Zones:

Coneflowers are generally hardy throughout Zones 4 to 9. However, several cultivars are hardy to Zone 3 and some of them can survive the heat of Zone 10.

AHS Heat Zones:

9 to 1

Growth Habit:

The plant height when blooming varies widely by the cultivar and ranges from 12 to 40 inches with most varieties reaching 24 to 36 inches tall. At maturity, this upright, clump forming perennial reaches 12 to 24 inches wide.

Preferred Conditions:

Echinacea prefers to be planted in locations with moderately fertile, well-drained soils. They do not perform well in locations with poor drainage or soils that remain constantly damp. Provide ample water during the first year after transplanting. Once Echinacea are established (2-3 years) they are quite drought resistant. Coneflowers prefer to be planted in full sun, but also grow well under partial shade. When they are grown in a shadier location they will not grow as vigorously and fewer flowers will be produced.


These exciting perennials are easy to grow and generally require few maintenance activities. Deadheading the spent flowers will promote additional blooming, but will not produce as spectacular flower display as the initial flush of blooms. Taller cultivars may need additional support from cages to prevent the flower spikes from lodging. Pinching them back in the late spring and not providing excessive nutrients will often eliminate the need for caging.

Pests and Diseases:

Some of the most common insect pests that may be observed feeding on Echinacea include aphids, caterpillars, grasshoppers, Japanese beetles, leafhoppers, and whiteflies. Most of these pests, under normal circumstances, do not cause significant injury to them with the exception of leafhoppers. Leafhoppers transmit a disease called Aster yellows which often causes the plant to appear abnormal (most notably the flowers often remain green and become distorted). Besides Aster yellows, Echinacea are also susceptible to powder mildew and root rot diseases.

Uses in the Garden:

Coneflowers are commonly used as accent plants or in mixed borders, open woodlands, and mass plantings. Coneflowers are also deer resistant.

Other Uses and Attributes:

This native of the eastern and central United States is widely used as an aromatic border plant to attract butterflies and birds in to the gardens. They are commonly used as cut flowers or in dried floral arrangements. When Echinacea are not cut back in the fall, the seed heads will provide added winter interest to the often barren landscape and provide a source of food for songbirds.

Companion Plants:

Echinacea combine nicely with other coneflowers and numerous sun loving perennials such as Coreopsis, Gaillardia, Hemerocallis, ornamental grasses, Nepeta, Perovskia, Rudbeckia, Salvia, and Sedum.

Additional Information:

For information about caring for your perennials once they arrive and other general perennial information, see our Perennial Care Section.

Written by Paul Pilon: Perennial Solutions Consulting

Coneflowers: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties

Coneflower is a native North American perennial sporting daisylike flowers with raised centers. The flower, plant, and root of some types are used in herbal remedies.

About coneflowers
Widely renowned as a medicinal plant, coneflowers are a long-flowering perennial for borders, wildflower meadows, and prairie gardens. Blooming midsummer to fall, the plants are relatively drought-tolerant and rarely bothered by pests. The flowers are a magnet for butterflies, and the seeds in the dried flower heads attract songbirds. Flower colors include rose, purple, pink, and white, plus a new orange variety. Plants grow 2 to 4 feet tall, depending on variety.

Special features of coneflowers
Easy care/low maintenance
Multiplies readily
Good for cut flowers
Attracts butterflies
Deer resistant
Tolerates dry soil

Choosing a site to grow coneflowers
Select a site with full sun to light shade and well-drained soil.

Planting Instructions
Plant in spring, spacing plants 1 to 3 feet apart, depending on the variety. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot the plant is in. Carefully remove the plant from its container and place it in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Carefully fill in around the root ball and firm the soil gently. Water thoroughly.

Ongoing Care
Apply a thin layer of compost each spring, followed by a 2-inch layer of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. Deadhead spent flowers to extend flower period, but leave late-season flowers on the plants to mature; the seedheads will attract birds. Divide plants every 3 to 4 years as new growth begins in the spring, lifting plants and dividing them into clumps.

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

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Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

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Monday – August 20, 2007

From: West Bloomfield, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Pruning, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Leggy purple coneflower
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Last year I planted purple coneflowers and this year when they bloomed they were extremely tall & leggy. I’d like next year to get them to be shorter and fuller. How do I do that & is it something I should do to them this year or next year? Also, should they be cut all the way down in the fall?


Echinacea purpurea (eastern purple coneflower) is naturally a tall and leggy plant. The height of the plant is given at 2 feet to 5 feet, and that is almost all stems for the flowers, as the basic plant is a low-growing rosette, with smaller leaves along the stems up toward the flowers. Legginess in plants is usually caused by too much shade and, although this plant is said to be tolerant of part shade, perhaps yours are getting too much shade. Since I don’t think there is any way a plant can be trained to be shorter, and since you are obviously growing the plant for its lovely wildlife-attracting flowers, it would seem your choices are to move the plants into a sunnier spot and get used to tall flowers. In answer to your question about cutting them down in the fall, if you would like to give the birds a chance at the seeds in the “cone”, don’t deadhead them too soon. However, just about any plant benefits from having spent flowers and stems clipped off and discarded. This will encourage them to bloom more and help to prevent disease and insects from gathering around the dead plant tissue.

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Learn About Echinacea

Common Disease Problems

Alternaria Leaf Spot: Small, round reddish brown spots with white to gray centers form on the upper surface of the leaves and along the midrib. The lesions may encircle the stems and cause wilt. This disease is worse in warm, wet or very humid weather. Burpee Recommends: Avoid getting water on the foliage. Remove infected plant parts and do not work around wet plants. Provide plenty of air circulation. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Aster Yellows: Plants are stunted, develop witch’s brooms (excessive growth), petals turn green and become deformed. This virus-like condition is caused is spread by leaf hoppers. Burpee Recommends: Remove infected plants and control leaf hoppers. Remove weeds in the area.

Botrytis: This fungus causes a grey mold on flowers, leaves, stems and buds. It thrives in cool wet weather conditions. Burpee Recommends: Remove affected plant parts, avoid watering at night and getting water on the plant when watering, make sure plants have good air circulation. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Powdery Mildew: This fungus disease occurs on the top of the leaves in humid weather conditions. The leaves appear to have a whitish or greyish surface and may curl. Burpee Recommends: Avoid powdery mildew by providing good air circulation for the plants by good spacing and pruning. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Sclerotinia Crown Rot: Dark spots appear on lower stems and roots, plants wilt and rot. A white fungus with dark structures appear on the dead plant tissue. Burpee Recommends: Remove affected plants. Make sure there is good drainage.

Common Pest and Cultural Problems

Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps who feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.

Eriophyld Mites: Mites live in the flower buds and cause distortion in the flowers. Burpee Recommends: Cut back the plants in fall and remove all plant debris where the mites overwinter.

Leafhoppers: Leafhoppers cause injury to leaves and stunt growth. They also spread disease. Burpee Recommends: Remove plant debris. Use insecticidal soaps. Consult your Cooperative Extension Service for other insecticide recommendations.

Japanese Beetles: Burpee Recommends: Hand pick early in the morning into a bucket of soapy water.

Plants die over the winter in recommended zones: Wet soils with poor drainage in winter can kill plants. Burpee Recommends: Make sure plants are in a well-drained soil. For container grown plants, add one zone colder than your zone when selecting varieties, and keep containers in a protected area outside, mulch heavily.

Get Over It! Growing Coneflower (Echinacea) from Seed

When you think of echinacea, two things likely come to mind:

  • That stuff your mom’s always trying to get you to take to boost your immune system
  • Daisy-like purple flowers that look like they partied a bit too hard the night before

Ok, maybe three things:

  • How do you freaking say “echinacea”?

Echinacea, pronounced “eh-kin-asia,” is the genus name for nine species in the Asteraceae family. These notorious nine are commonly referred to as coneflowers, named for the flower’s domed centers and downward-pointing petals. If you ask us, echinacea flowers look more like colorful badminton shuttlecocks than cones.

Echinacea plants are sometimes called “hedge coneflowers,” “American coneflowers” or when referring to the most popular color, “purple echinacea.”

Whatever you think they look like, or whatever you choose to call them, coneflowers are fair game for your garden plant selection and an asset to your herbal medicine cabinet. Friendly bugs love them, and we’re pretty sure you will too. And guess what? Don’t let the botanical name Echinacea purpurea fool you; purple isn’t the only color in which coneflowers bloom.

Coneflower in the Garden

The echinacea genus is native to the eastern United States and like most wildflowers, it’s a hardy and adaptable plant. Ideal conditions enhance bloom displays and foliage vigor but left to its own devices, coneflowers can dress up neglected gardens or add color to xeriscapes.

You don’t have to grow coneflower for any other purpose than to dress up your garden, but in addition to its beauty and its reputation as a medicinal herb, growing coneflower from seed attracts beneficial insects such as predatory wasps and butterflies. Once in a while, a hummingbird might come to visit.

When it goes to seed, small songbirds love to raid the central cones, and when it’s in full flower, honeybees go nuts.

In fact, beekeepers love to set their hives near commercial echinacea fields because raw honey—which is scientifically proven to contain naturally antimicrobial properties—increases its market value when it can be labeled as echinacea honey. Even if there are no studies proving the medicinal benefits of echinacea honey (specifically) on human health, honey connoisseurs place echinacea honey high on their lists of flavor favorites.

USDA Hardiness Zones: Coneflowers are herbaceous perennials in zones 3 to 8.

Sunlight Preferences: Echinacea grows well in partial shade or in full sun. In the hottest areas, afternoon shade will prevent the flowers from fading and the leaves from “scorching.”

Moisture Requirements: Consistent moisture helps the entire plant retain its vigor. Coneflowers won’t be as spectacular in drought-prone areas, but it will hold its own in hot, dry soil if it gets a break from intense sunlight.

Soil Requirements: Coneflowers don’t require rich soils, but a little compost worked into the planting area will help them grow best. It doesn’t handle soggy, poorly-drained soil.

Plant Height: Up to 4.5′ tall.

Plant Width: Up to 1.5′ wide.

Flowers: Three-inch wide compound flowers resemble lazy daisies, and in most species, the petals droop downwards from the center disk—or, in the case of E. purpurea, the “dome.” As with all daisy relatives, the center disk is a cluster of tiny flowers, and each petal “ray” is a flower on its own.

Each upright stem may branch out to hold several flowers.

The center of a coneflower can be the most colorful part of the plant. The central disks often take on a fiery orange appearance, “burning” from a brown or green base. Ray colors may include dark or light purple, magenta, pink, yellow, or white. Hybridized varieties include bi-color petals.

Bloom Period: Coneflowers bloom mid-summer through early fall, and deadheading will encourage consistent and prolonged flowering.

Foliage: Leaves are a medium to dark green. Long, narrow, sword-like basal leaves can be as long as 8″, and the alternating leaves on the flower stems grow as long as 4″.

Growth Habit: Upright, clumping. The flowers grow on long, sparsely-leaved stems.

Maturity Period: Echinacea plants grown from seed bloom in their second year of growth and thrive for 3 to 4 years.

Pests & Diseases: Healthy coneflowers are usually resilient to pests and diseases, but drought-affected leaves open the door for Japanese beetles. These critters will make your flowers and leaves look like they’d been attacked by a shotgun-wielding hillbilly garden fairy.

Hold onto your hooch, and check out to plan a counter-assault.

Maintenance: If you want to tidy up your garden at the end of the season, cut your coneflower plants down to just above ground level. Early in the season, mature coneflowers might be cut back by half to encourage a fuller-appearance, or to prolong the start of the bloom period.

While coneflowers aren’t invasive, they do self-seed rather easily. If you don’t want them to naturalize (and if you want to encourage fresh new flowers) diligently deadhead spent blooms.

Mature, 3 to 4-year-old plants should be divided at their bases if the outside stems start to droop, or “lodge.”

Harvesting: Coneflower’s radial petals quickly wilt when the stems are harvested, but the seed heads make interesting arrangement accents. This is the part of the plant valued for its medicinal purposes; dry the entire stem and flower, inverted, in an airy, warm spot and then keep the centers in an airtight container. Store your echinacea in a cool, dark cupboard, and only crush them when you’re ready to use them.

Growing Coneflower from Seed

Coneflowers aren’t difficult to germinate. Like most plants that easily self-seed, you can scatter them onto damp soil on a wind-free day. To make sure you get the most value from your seeds and ensure the highest germination rates, you’ll want to take a few basic steps.

(Not that we mind selling you more coneflower seeds than you really need. We just want you to be happy with what you’ve got!)

Seed Treatment: Coneflower seeds benefit from 8 to 12 weeks of cold stratification prior to planting.

When to Plant: Scatter seeds in late fall, direct sow early spring or start indoors (after cold stratification) 6 to 8 weeks prior to the last spring frost.

Indoor Planting Tips: Coneflower roots are susceptible to transplant shock, so we recommend starting them in peat pots.

Seed Depth: No more than 1/8″ deep. Coneflower seeds require sunlight to germinate.

Seed Spacing: Thin or plant 12″ to 18″ apart.

Days to Germination: 7 to 30; around 14 days under ideal conditions (65°F-70°F).

Echinacea in Herbal Medicine

Coneflower is almost always referred to by its genus name when it’s marketed as a natural remedy, and it’s among those herbs that firmly established themselves in the mainstream herbal supplement market. While the jury’s still out on whether or not it lives up to all its claims, organic echinacea products sold by reputable companies are considered relatively safe. Issues affecting all commercial herbal supplements include pesticide residue, cheats on actual plant content, issues with consistency, lack of standardization, and tomfoolery. If you want to use echinacea, and you want to know how it’s grown and managed, why not grow your own supply?

Three popular coneflowers are most commonly used in herbal medicine: E. angustifolia, E. pallida (less effective), and E. purpurea. Their chemical properties are reported to treat the following:

  • Colds & flu
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Septicemia (kids, don’t treat this at home)
  • Rattlesnake bite (see above)
  • Genital herpes and syphilis (maybe we need to start selling rubber tree plant seeds)
  • Headaches

This is hardly a complete list, and given the dearth of academic research, the claims in favor of echinacea as a medicinal herb should largely be considered anecdotal. There are, however, studies showing promise for echinacea’s effectiveness on the duration of cold and flu symptoms.

What’s important to note is that echinacea’s most active chemicals include inclalkylamides, alkamides, and phenols. Phenols are antioxidants, and the others are known to boost the immune system and act as antimicrobials.

We always encourage our customers to check with their doctors before using any herb in concentrated form, since—as with prescription compounds—any medication can counteract with others, or have negative effects on pre-existing conditions. Having said that, we’re big fans of pursuing healthy, natural alternatives in any area of our lives, and we want to help you make the most informed decisions possible as you head down your own path to wellness.

Seed Needs: Treating Boringus Gardinitus for More Than a Decade

Whether you’re in need of medicinal herbs, or your garden is fading from lack of late-season color, Seed Needs has the cure. We’ve been around since 2006, slowly growing our family business in response to our customer’s requests…and thanks to tons of great reviews from those who, season after season, trust us to provide them with high-quality, fresh, non-GMO plant seeds.

If you’re interested in any of our coneflower products, or if you’d like to learn more about new additions to our catalog, please contact us! Heck, you can reach out for any reason relating to improving your garden, and if you’d like to suggest a particular herb, vegetable, or ornamental, we’re all ears!

In the meantime, be sure to bookmark our blog, which we constantly update with growing tips and in-depth plant profiles.

Growing Echinacea from seed

A handful of Echinacea seeds

In the 1950s, Swiss herbalist Alfred Vogel met Oglala Lakota medicine man, Ben Black Elk, who introduced him to the medicinal properties of Echinacea, found growing in the wild in the North American prairies. Black Elk presented Vogel with a handful of Echinacea seeds which Vogel took back to Switzerland.

Vogel was so intrigued by the health benefits Echinacea possessed that he set about growing his own crop of Echinacea from the seeds gifted by Black Elk. At his clinic in Teufen, Vogel successfully germinated his small supply of seeds, carefully nurturing the seedlings. Before long, a good crop of Echinacea could be found growing in his herb garden.

Vogel harvested these Echinacea plants, using them to produce an Echinacea tincture which was used to treat his patients. This was the first of what was to become one of the most popular herbal remedies for colds & flu used in the UK and many parts of Europe – A.Vogel Echinaforce® Echinacea drops and tablets.

Growing Echinacea for Echinaforce®

Today, A.Vogel cultivates acres of Echinacea plants from seed, growing them organically in Switzerland. We are one of the very few herbal manufacturers still growing our own herbs. We avoid buying medicinal herbs from third party herb brokers if possible, preferring to have full control over the supply of our medicinal herbs – from seed to harvest.

However, not all the Echinacea plants we grow are used to produce medicines. Each year, a field of Echinacea is left to go to seed – these seeds are collected to produce seedlings for next season’s crop.

Tips from our expert gardeners

Here are some tips from our expert gardeners on growing Echinacea plants from seeds.

  • Before sowing your Echinacea seeds, plan where you will plant your seedlings when they are ready. Echinacea prefers growing in dry sunny spots and is drought-tolerant.
  • From March fill some small 3 inch pots with good organic potting compost. Make a small hole in the compost with a pencil and pop two Echinacea seeds in before closing the hole over. Use degradeable pots for planting out later, allowing the plants to grow without disturbing the roots.
  • Give the compost a light spray of water to bed the seeds in. Place the pots on a windowsill or in a greenhouse.
  • As your Echinacea seeds germinate and start growing, keep the soil moist until the young plants are about 3 inches tall.
  • After the last frost has gone, transplant your young Echinacea seedlings into a sunny spot in the garden to grow.
  • Finally, protect your plants from slugs and snails by making a ‘beer trap’. Use a shallow container (such as a plastic plant saucer), sink this into the soil to ground level near the Echinacea plants and fill with beer.

Your Echinacea plants can be left to grow and flower unhindered for the entire summer, although the fading heads should be removed as soon as they go over to keep the display coming. Unless of course, you wish to have a supply of Echinacea seeds.

Plants will self-sow prolifically if not deadheaded. The dried cones can be collected in winter and the Echinacea seeds harvested and saved. When left to grow, established clumps can and should be divided every 4 to 5 years.

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

Not Yet Rated

Monday – August 26, 2013

From: Springfield, MT
Region: Midwest
Topic: Container Gardens, Watering, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Wintering Purple Coneflowers in pots in Springfield MO
Answered by: Barbara Medford

I have some 8 month old purple cone flowers in containers on my porch. They did not bloom this summer because they were seedlings when given to me. I can not put them in the ground. How can I keep them over the winter so they might continue to live and bloom for me next summer? Can they be brought inside to keep them from freezing or left out? I have found no information on just what to do, can you help me? Thanks

We noticed that you indicated you were from Springfield, MT, which is apparently mostly a fictitious town from the TV program The Simpsons. However, we also noticed that your e-mail indicated Missouri State Edu. We are changing your town designation from “MT” to “MO” and answering your question accordingly. If we are wrong and you really DO live in Springfield MT, please forgive us and let us know and we will answer you in light of that area of the country instead. We also checked and Missouri State University is located in Springfield MO. This member of the Mr. Smarty Plants Team has had family in that area dating back to the late 1800’s. It is a lovely place to garden, and we hope we have the right location.

Operating on that assumption, here is what we know about Echinacea purpurea (Eastern purple coneflower). According to this USDA Plant Profile Map, it does grow natively in Green Co., MO. So, that means the climate is right for the plant, but we must consider the roots exposed to the cold in winter. Please read our How-to Article on Container Gardening with Native Plants and note especially this paragraph on protection in colder weather:

“In freezing weather, plants in containers are more vulnerable than plants in the ground. They can be shielded on the south side of a wall with leaves, blankets, or given extra warmth with strings of holiday lights. Particularly tender plants should be brought inside. Remember to uncover your plants after a few days when the weather warms up and avoid over-watering dormant plants to prevent rotting.”

Here are the growing conditions from our webpage on Purple Coneflower:

“Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Soil Description: Well-drained, sandy or richer soils.
Conditions Comments: Echinacea is a suitable addition to a prairie garden and attractive in flower arrangements. It is a popular perennial with smooth stems and long-lasting, lavender flowers. Rough, scattered leaves that become small toward the top of the stem. Flowers occur singly atop the stems and have domed, purplish-brown, spiny centers and drooping, lavender rays.”

We don’t think you should have to carry your plants in and our of your house with changing weather; for one thing, this plant needs quite a bit of sunshine. If you can find a somewhat sheltered spot that still gets some sunlight, that would be perfect. Since this is a perennial, if a sudden hard cold snap freezes back some of the foliage, as long as the roots have not been frozen the plant will re-emerge in the Spring. If the water in the roots freezes, it will burst the roots, killing the plant, so the mounding up of extra insulation around the pot itself would be wise. We think they will do great in Springfield, MO – sure hope that is where you garden!

From the Image Gallery

Eastern purple coneflower
Echinacea purpurea
Eastern purple coneflower
Echinacea purpurea
Eastern purple coneflower
Echinacea purpurea

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Related Content

Terra Nova Nursery’s Dan Heims with one of his favorite new Echinacea introductions (Mamma Mia) growing in his own garden

Coneflowers (Echinacea sp.) are hot. But dead plants are not.

Have you had the experience of planting one of these super-sexy new orange or yellow coneflowers in your garden, only to find they failed to return the following spring?

If you’ve had this problem, you’re not alone. The exciting developments in color in coneflowers – once mostly seen in purple and white and now available in a range of hues of orange, red and yellow – came at a price… especially frustrating when one gallon plants cost upwards of $15.

So what gives? For insights, I went straight to the Pacific Northwest’s own authority on the subject, Dan Heims. Dan is co-founder and plantsman extraordinaire at Terra Nova Nursery, a wholesale nursery and breeder that has been developing echinaceas, heucheras, tiarellas and other trendy plants. He gave me the backstory:

First gardeners were growing Echinacea purpurea and E. angustifolia, the two pretty purple or sometimes white species most commonly used in medicine. Breeders began to hybridize these handsome, old-fashioned flowers with species like E. paradoxa to introduce more exciting colors like yellow and even red into the flowers. Problem is, E. paradoxa isn’t particularly vigorous in the garden. When this plant was hybridized with the sturdy pink species, more interesting colors emerged but the plants were less adaptable to winter wet or cold. Consumers started to complain about plants being weak or not surviving our wet winters. Now, breeders and hybridizing these beautiful but less vigorous coneflowers with E. tenneseensis, a vigorous species producing masses of flowers and basal shoots… as this breeding progresses, the new red and orange echinaceas are becoming stronger and more floriferous.

Meantime, here’s how to succeed with the first generation of yellow and orange coneflowers:

Tip #1: give your coneflower good drainage. These plants don’t thrive where water stands over the winter. Heavy, waterlogged soil is a far cry from the well-drained, sandy soil of the American Midwest prairie, from whence these plants hail. It’s also important with potted plants: you can more easily overwinter a root-bound coneflower than a little plant swimming in a big pot of saturated potting soil.

Tip #2: remove all flowers and flower buds during the plants’ first year in the garden – by the end of August at the latest. (Luckily, they’re long-lasting in bouquets.) Just as we pick off blueberry flowers in their first year so they focus their energy on getting established instead of fruiting, we should remove the flowers of coneflowers during their first year. What you want by October is a plant that has at least a few strong basal crowns (little rosettes of leaves): this is your best guarantee that the coneflower will make it over the winter.

Finally, I asked Dan for his favorite new hybrids combining great color and garden toughness. He picked three new introductions that are beautifully colored but more garden tolerant:

Echinacea ‘Firebird’

Echinacea ‘Firebird’ (photo courtesy of Terra Nova)

Echinacea ‘Flamethrower’

Echinacea ‘Flamethrower’ (photo courtesy of Terra Nova)

Echinacea The Secret Series – there are six plants in this group – check them out here

He added a coneflower that’s been available for a few years: Echinacea ‘Ruby Giant’, a stalwart, vigorous hybrid with 5″ diameter, fragrant flowers. It’s a tough plant that’s proven itself in recent years as garden-worthy, he says. Best of all, it not only provides pollen for bees and butterflies but also has fertile seed for the birds. (Most hybrids, including all doubles and most red and orange hybrids, lack seed so there’s no seed for the birds to eat.)

Echinacea ‘Ruby Giant’ (photo courtesy of Terra Nova)

Echinaceas are in flower in the nurseries right now, and are looking fantastic. It’s nice to see the flowers so you really know what you’re getting when you buy them: just cut the flower stems off at the base by the end of the month! And look for plants with at least one strong basal rosette. The more the better. This is your guarantee that the plant has massed up enough basal growth to overwinter successfully. And of course, once the plants are established in the ground, you don’t have to do anything special. They should increase like any other garden perennial.