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Coneflowers: How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Echinacea | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Coneflowers

Botanical Name
Echinacea spp.
Plant Type
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Soil pH
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How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Coneflowers

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Coneflowers, aka Echinacea, are tough upright perennials in the daisy family (Asteraceae). They are native to the eastern and central United States, extending from Colorado south to Texas and north to the Great Lakes. Here’s how to grow this American native in your garden.

About Coneflowers

These fast growers reach 2 to 4 feet in height, flower from midsummer through fall frost, and self-sow prolifically. Coneflowers have raised cone-like centers (hence, their name, which attract butterflies and bees. After bloom, the seed heads attract songbirds, such as goldfinches. Coneflowers love heat and are trouble-free once established in a traditional garden or wildflower meadow.

The purple species (E. purpurea) is most common, but up to 9 naturally occurring echinacea can be found in purple shades or yellow (E. paradox). Hybrids present more colors and sizes but also caveats: Many are sterile, meaning they do not produce viable seed, and they lack genetic diversity.

Their genus name Echinacea comes from the Latin name for hedgehog, echinus, referring to the often prickly lower stem of the plant. Coneflowers have raised cone-like centers (hence, their name) which contain seeds that attract butterflies. Leave the seed heads after bloom and you’ll also attract songbirds such as goldfinches!  As native plants with prickly stems, they are more deer-resistant than most flowering plants, too. 

Coneflowers are striking when planted in masses, especially as a mix of various colors. 

Coneflower with bee

Planting

Coneflowers prefer full sun and well-draining soil. Coneflowers are very tolerant of poor soil conditions, but they bloom best in soil that’s nutrient rich. Loosen soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches and mix in a 2 to 4 inch layer of  compost or aged manure. Choose a location where the coneflowers won’t get shaded out nor sit in wet soil. They will spread readily in the right conditions. (Learn more about preparing soil for planting.)

When to Plant Coneflowers

More commonly, coneflowers are bought as small plants with blooms already on the way. These should be planted in spring or early summer, or in fall.

  • Plant coneflowers when small, with blooms on the way, in spring or early summer.
  • Seeds can be started indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last spring frost last spring frost date. Or sow them outdoors when the soil has warmed to at least 65°F/18°C. Seed-sown plants are not likely to bloom for 2 to 3 years.
    • Note: Don’t cut back coneflower plants and they’ll self-seed readily.
  • If dividing or transplanting coneflowers, do so in the spring or fall.

How to Plant Coneflowers

  • Plant coneflowers about 1 to 3 feet apart, depending on the mature size of the variety.
  • If planting from a pot, dig a hole about twice the pot’s diameter. Set the plant so that the root ball is level with the soil surface. Fill in to the top of the root ball. 
  • Water it thoroughly at planting.
  • Spread thin layers of compost, then mulch, on the soil surface to help keep plants moist and prevent weeds.

Check out our video to learn more about the benefits of growing coneflowers:

Growing

Coneflowers are drought tolerant, but new plants need water occasionally, and more often if the spring season is especially dry. 

  • Put a thin layers of compost and mulch around the plants to help keep them  moist and prevent weeds.
  • Native in ground seldom need fertilizer. Ensure your soil has plenty of organic matter when you plant.
  • In late spring, provide supplementary water only if the season is extremely dry or your coneflowers are newly planted.
  • To prolong the bloom period, deadhead when flowers fade. Cut back stems to a leaf near a bud. Deadheading in late season prevents self-seeding and bird-feeding.
  • Optional: To encourage delayed blooming for fall enjoyment, cut coneflower plants back by 1 foot when plants come into bloom. This will result in later-flowering, more-compact growth because coneflowers can get leggy. Cut some and not others for more staggered bloom heights and times.
  • Beneficial wasplike soldier beetles may appear in August. They feed on insect eggs and larvae and pollinate plants. Do not harm them.
  • In late fall in colder regions, lightly spread mulch around plants.
  • Cut back stems to soil level when they wither or after frost. To promote self-seeding, cut back in late winter. Cut back in late winter/early spring when you’re tidying up the garden.
  • Optional: Consider leaving late-season flowers on the plants to mature. The seed heads will attract birds and promote self-seeding. Deadheading will prevent self seeding, if this is your preference. To deadhead, cut the dead flower back to a leaf where you can see a bud ready to swell. 
  • Divide or transplant coneflowers in spring or fall.

Coneflowers

Growing Coneflowers in Pots

We tend to grow coneflowers in the ground as perennial plants, but you can certainly grow them in pots if the containers are deep enough for the plant’s taproot. Use 2- or 3-gallon (or larger) pots, with drainage holes. Spread crushed gravel in the bottom of the pots for drainage. Fill the pot halfway with potting mix. Tamp down. Plant the root ball an inch below the rim of the container, spreading out the roots. Add soil slowly until it is even with the top of the root ball, tamping down lightly. Water deeply.

  • Keep pots in partial shade for 2 to 3 days, then place in full morning sun and partial afternoon shade.
  • Always water deeply at soil level with the soil is dry to the touch. Water on leaves can cause fungal disease.
  • Fertilizer every couple of seeks with a water-soluble 10-10-10 product.
  • Deadhead just below the base of the flower for continued bloom.
  • To overwinter, prune plants to soil level when plant growth slows in fall.
  • Move to a cool (40º to 50ºF) area, with low to moderate indirect light.
  • Check the soil every couple of weeks and water lightly when the top 3 inches are dry. 
  • When new.growth appears in spring, move to a brighter, warmer (60º to 70ºF) area. Moving the plant helps to prepare it for living outdoors in the spring and summer. 
  • Do not water leaves from above, as this can encourage fungal disease on leaves. Instead, water at soil level. Use an insecticidal soap or neem oil solution spray if you see any aphids or pests.
  • Every 3 to 4 years, in spring after new growth has started, divide and repot echinacea plants.
Harvesting

Cut flowers for arrangements when petals are expanding. Vase life is 5 to 7 days.

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