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

Coneflowers

Photo Credit
Molly Shannon/Shutterstock
Botanical Name
Echinacea spp.
Plant Type
Sun Exposure
Soil pH
Bloom Time
Hardiness Zone
No content available.
Subhead

How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Coneflowers

Print Friendly and PDF

Coneflowers, aka echinacea, are tough perennials in the daisy family (Asteraceae) native to the United States that bloom in midsummer. Deer-resistant, coneflowers are beloved by butterflies, bees, and songbirds. Learn how to plant coneflowers properly, deadhead coneflowers, and get more growing tips.

About Perennial Coneflowers

Coneflowers are one of the great American wildflowers, native to the eastern and central United States, extending from Colorado south to Texas and north to the Great Lakes! They bloom from midsummer all the way through fall frost.

The name “coneflower” comes from the flower’s raised cone-like center which attract butterflies and bees. Leave the seed heads after bloom and you’ll also attract songbirds such as goldfinches!  


“Goldfinches will spend a very long time on flower seed heads. Great way to start the day” –Diana

Of course, this plant is good for us humans, too, with many medicinal properties; today, it’s especially popular as an herbal tea to strengthen the immune system. 

Do Coneflowers Spread?

This is not an aggressive plant, but it will naturally self-seed and spread, which you can encourage if you wait to cut back until late winter (or prohibit self-seeding if you deadhead the flowers right after they fade). Hybrids will not self sow; most are sterile (they do not produce viable seed). Hybrids aren’t of much interest to birds, either.

The Purple Coneflower

The purple coneflower (E. purpurea) is most common and readily available. As indicated by its name, this purple coneflower has long light purple rays that droop down its center cone. But also up to nine naturally occuring echinacea can be found in purple shades or yellow (E. paradoxa).

Coneflowers are striking when planted in masses, especially as a mix of various colors. They are trouble-free once established in a traditional garden or wildflower meadow. 

Planting

Coneflowers prefer full sun and well-draining soil; they are drought-tolerant. Loosen soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches and mix in compost or aged manure. (These plants will tolerate poor soil, but results may vary.)

When to Plant Coneflowers

  • If buying plants from a nursery (most common), 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 or 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.)

How to Plant Coneflowers

  • 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. 
  • Space plants 1 to 3 feet apart, depending on size at maturity.
  • Water thoroughly.
  • 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 growing coneflowers:

Growing
  • Coneflowers are drought tolerant, but new plants need water occasionally, and more often if the spring season is especially dry. 
  • Native in ground seldom need fertilizer.
  • To delay blooming for fall enjoyment (and compact growth), cut back stems 1 foot when plants come into bloom. For staggered bloom heights and times, cut only a few stems.
  • 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, lightly spread mulch in colder regions.
  • Cut the stems back to soil level when they wither or after frost.
  • Divide or transplant coneflowers in spring or fall.

Deadheading Coneflowers

Should you deadhead coneflowers? There are pros and cons. Deadheading right after a flower fades prolongs blooming—and prevents reseeding. However, if you can wait until late winter, your birds will enjoy those seedheads—especially goldfinch. Plus, coneflowers self-seed prolifically so where you had only one, you’ll will have multiple places in the garden with lovely blooms that attract butterflies and bees.

How to deadhead? After flowers fade, cut back stems to leaf near a new flower bud or a set of leaves. Use sharp, sterilized shears as coneflowers are too thick to simply snap back the spent flower head with your fingers.

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.
  • Leave some of the spent blooms so that birds can eat the seed through the fall and winter.
  • Harvest some flowers to dry for herbal teas.
Wit and Wisdom
  • Coneflowers’ genus name echinacea comes from the Latin name for hedgehog, echinus, referring to the often prickly lower stem of the plant, a feature which deters deer.
  • Plains Native Americans used purple coneflower (E. purpurea) as their primary medicine; they steeped roots as a remedy for colds, coughs, and infections.
Pests/Diseases

Coneflower is deer-resistant.
Diseases: aster yellows; Botrytis blight; leaf spot; powdery mildew; white smut; gray mold
Pests: aphids, black vine weevils; Japanese beetle; leaf miners; foliar nematodes

Gardening Calendar