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Growing Echinacea – How to Care for Purple Coneflowers

If you like the look of cottage gardens, you’ll love purple coneflowers (echinacea purpurea). These tips for growing echinacea will have butterflies, birds and bees flocking to your garden in droves!

This easy care perennial draws insects and birds to it, making sure that neighboring plants will have plenty of pollinators all season long. This coarse looking perennial is native to meadows and open fields.

There are many species and varieties of coneflower, but purple echinacea is the most popular. It has a fibrous root system instead of the long tap root that some of the wild varieties have.

This makes it a better plant for general garden conditions where the plants will need to be divided or transplanted.

How to care for Purple coneflowers

Coneflower Facts

The purple coneflower is native to the South Eastern United States. If you are looking for a plant that will draw butterflies and birds to your garden, the perennial coneflower us a great choice.Bees love the coneflower heads

Echinacea flowers are attractive and rugged. They sit on tall stems and have a raised center area surrounded by petals. The center of the plant is where the seeds of the plant lie and it is very attractive to bees, butterflies and birds.

The plant blooms in the middle of the summer, but the dried flowers also have fall and winter interest for birds long after the bloom time.

The coneflower plant is drought tolerant and is a great perennial if you live in an area that has high heat. They can really take temperatures that would make other plants shrivel and die!

Coneflowers are perennials which means that, once established, the plant will return year after year.

Growing echinacea is easy since the plant is quite drought tolerant

The size of the plant and depends of the type that you grow, as well as your growing conditions. Most purple coneflowers will grow to 2-4 feet tall and about 18-24 inches wide. Some of the dwarf varieties will grow to only about a foot and a half.

Colors of Coneflowers

The most commonly grown variety of this sturdy plant are the purple coneflowers, also known by their botanical name echinacea purpurea.Coneflowers come in many different colors even though the common name for echinacea is "purple coneflower."

The name is a bit of a misnomer, since not every echinacea will have purple flowers.  They also come in yellow and the modern hybrids have a large range of colors.

The petals also come in double and single layers and the center of the flower can vary to a large degree, depending on variety. One version has such a large raised center that it is known as a “sombrero Mexican hat coneflower!”Mexican hat sombrero coneflower

Echinacea flowers

Purple coneflower plants will bloom in the summer of their second year and then each year after that. The cone shaped flowers sit above the plant on 2-5 foot tall flower stalks. Each flower head will remain in bloom for several weeks.

The flowers are daisy like in appearance and can be quite large (some as large as 6 inches in diameter.) The plant rarely needs staking in spite of the tall flower stalks.echinacea flowers

Removing the flower stalks as the plant sets seed will prolong the flowering cycle. Deadheading during the flowering cycle will also extend bloom time but is not necessary.

Tips for Growing Echinacea

With minimal care, this robust perennial will give you years of showy flowers. Here are some tips that will show how to care for purple coneflowers.Caring for coneflowers

Sunlight needs for Echinacea

This perennial is a real heat lover.  Grow coneflowers in full sunlight so that the plant gets at least 5 hours of sunlight a day. The plant will tolerate light shade but does best in full sun since those grown in shadier spots will “reach” for the sun.

Moisture and Soil requirements for Coneflowers

The coneflower plant is quite drought-tolerant but likes well draining fertile soil. It will tolerate poor soil quite well, though. Even though it can tolerate dry conditions, it still likes to get about an inch of rain each week. If your area receives less than this, you will need to add water to the plant.

Although coneflowers like a bit of organic matter at planting time, be careful of adding too much.  This can result in the plant having very lush green foliage but not many flowers. The plant likes a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.

Pests and Diseases

The coneflower is relatively easy to care and not bothered too much by diseases, but can sometimes be affected by powdery mildew, gray mold, leaf miners or vine weevils. Fungus diseases can usually be managed by growing the plants where they receive good ventilation.

Coneflowers are also a favorite plant for Japanese beetles. If the infestation is not too large, just knock the beetles off into a bucket of soapy water.

Cold Hardiness

Even though purple coneflowers (and other varieties) are drought tolerant, they are also quite cold tolerant. The majority of varieties are cold hardy in zones 3-8, which means they can be grown in most areas of the USA.

You may need to give the plant some protection in the first winter in your garden, but after this, they are tough and rugged.

Be sure to check out my list of other cold hardy perennial plants here.

Pruning Coneflowers

Although deadheading is not a requirement when it comes to growing echinacea, the plant can begin to look a bit tired or ragged in late summer. When this happens, cut the plant back by 1/3.

This will help to rejuvenate the plant and often will give you another round of flowering that will last until the first frost.Pruning coneflowers later in the growing season by 1/3 can give a second round of flowers

At the end of the summer, be sure to leave the dried blooms on the plants. Birds that are still around later in the year, such as goldfinches, love to feast on the seeds of dried coneflower plants.
dried coneflowers

Companion Plants for coneflowers

Companion plants are those that can be grown together because the require the same care, and also those that are beneficial to each other in some way. Many assist each other by attracting beneficial insects, repelling pests, or providing nutrients to the soil.

The plant combines well with other native prairie type plants such as butterfly weed, Joe Pye Weed, Black Eyed Susans and Yarrow. They also do well alongside ornamental grasses.Companion plants for coneflowers

These plants are also drought tolerant so a garden bed with them all planted will be quite easy care.

Propagating Coneflowers

The main ways to grow coneflowers is from seed, or division of existing plants. The plant will also grow from root cuttings. The best time to try cuttings is later in the season when the plant is dormant.

How to grow Coneflowers from Seeds

Growing echinacea from seeds is the most common way to propagate the plant. The seeds germinate best when they have been cold stratified. (Store the seeds for 2-3 months at 31-37 degrees.) A fridge is a good place to keep them indoors.

You can purchase packages of seeds or collect your own when the plant starts to set seed later in the growing season.The raised head of the coneflower holds the seeds

To plant coneflower seeds, just loosen your soil with a garden tiller to about 12-15 inches and then add a layer of compost or other organic matter.

Plant the seeds in the spring, well after the last frost.  The idea temperature for planting is about 68 º F.  Plant the seeds about 1-3 feet apart, depending on your variety. Water thoroughly until and keep moist.

Germination will happen in 3-4 weeks and will show two or three sets of leaves after about week 12.

Collecting Coneflower seeds

You can begin collecting coneflower seeds when the plants are about 2 years old. Allow the soil to dry out in the last summer – early fall. The seeds develop on the cone shaped flower center. Be sure to collect the seeds before the birds get to them!Coneflower seeds

To harvest the seeds, cut the flower head from the plant and remove the petals. Gently break up the cone to release the seeds.

Don’t strip the whole plant of flower stems. Be sure to leave some seeds on the plant at the end of the year to attract winter birds.

Division of Coneflowers

Dividing coneflowers is a great way to get additional plants for your garden or for a friend. A coneflower plant, like many perennials, will grow into a clump and will need dividing every 3-4 years.

The best time to do this is in spring before the plant starts growing, or in autumn when the flowering cycle is complete.  Coneflowers don’t like to be disturbed during the middle of the growing season.

Uses for Echinacea

Interestingly enough, coneflowers not only attract butterflies and bees, but they are also deer resistant, so you can have the best of all worlds by planting them. (Deer will eat baby plants but unusually leave mature ones alone.)

The plants make great cut flowers since the stems of the flowers are quite long and they last well in a vase. They are a staple of many cottage gardens. Coneflowers are also good candidates for dried flowers (see how to dry flowers with Borax here.)

Echinacea has several good uses in the garden but is also known for it’s herbal remedies. Native Americans have used preparations of the enchinacea root for generations as an all around cure-all.Echinacea have many herbal properties

It is believed that echinacea stimulates the immune system to reduce the length of colds and the flu. Today many people use echinacea in extracts, oils, ointment and pills.  All parts of the plant are used in herbal medicine. (roots, stems, leaves and flower heads.)

Drinking Echinacea Tea is thought to combat pain, and a mild infusion of purple coneflower is believed to destroy bacteria to provide sunburn relief.

Varieties of Coneflowers

There are many coneflower varieties. Here are a few that may interest you.

    • White Swan Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) 24-36″ with creamy white petals and a raised yellow cone center.
    • Maslin Echinacea – Dark Blue Perennial Flower
    • Pow Wow Wild Berry – Deep Rose purple petals with a dark orange center. 24-24″
    • Echinacea Firebird – Dark red coneflower with a brown center
    • Ruby Star Coneflower – Pink with 10-12 petals on each flower
    • Native American Prairie Coneflower – Yellow with a sombrero raised head.
    • Tangerine Dream Coneflower – Orange with a brown center
    • Purple coneflower – pale purple with a rust colored center

If you would like to be reminded later of the tips for growing echinacea, just pin this image to one of your Pinterest gardening boards.Tips for growing echinacea as well as uses, propagation and seed saving.

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Melanie Poser

Sunday 23rd of August 2020

My purple coneflowers petals turn black so quickly. Is this a virus that I can get rid of with a spray?

Carol Speake

Tuesday 25th of August 2020

I am not able to diagnose problems on specific plants without seeing them. Black coloring could be many things, from overwatering to fungus to insect infections.

Molly Cowgill

Saturday 19th of October 2019

How do I care for the plants in the fall? Should I cut them back, or wait until the spring? Should I fertilize them before the frost?

Carol Speake

Tuesday 22nd of October 2019

Hi Molly. You can cut them back either in fall or spring, but if you wait until spring, the winter birds will love the seed heads. No need to fertilize before frost though.

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