Our own native Echinacea purpurea or Purple Cone flower is one of the best perennial flowers for late summer and early fall.
It is a member of the compositae family; which is just a botanist’s way of saying it belongs to the daisy family and anybody who ever looked at one could have told them that anyway.
Echinacea purpurea or Purple Coneflower is one of the best flowers for late summer and early fall. A member of the compositae family; which is a fancy way of saying it is daisy. Long-lasting in my garden, they bloom right through July and August, particularly if you deadhead them and don’t allow them to set seed.
See the note under research category for the pdf download of Echinacea trials (members only)
The name Echinacea comes from the Greek, echinos or hedgehog. I’m sure this was an allusion to the prickly nature of the seedhead. The specific epithet (second name) of purpurea refers to the reddish-purple tone of the flower. So, if you’ve been following all that – we have a flower that resembles a reddish-purple hedgehog.
- Hardiness: USDA zone 3
- Height: 24-36 inches depending on variety
- Color: from magenta/purples to yellow and tones between
- Propagation: seed for species. division and cuttings, root cuttings
- Spacing: 24-inches apart
- Soils: Demands excellent drainage
You might recognize the name Echinacea for its herbal use. Its roots are used as an immune booster – if taken for a few days before a cold really sets in it is purported to ward off the worst effects of the virus. A word of caution here to the wise – recent studies have shown that it should only be taken for a few days or one week at the most. Prolonged use reduces its effect.
We’re really looking at it as an ornamental though and you should know it loves the open sunny garden. It thrives in drier gardens than most other plants so it is a good plant for that hot, dry spot. You do have to water it to establish new plantings but once established, it can thrive on its own.
The really nice thing about this plant is that it will also tolerate some light shade and good soil.
Drought Tolerant But…
It is important to understand that while a plant may be drought tolerant when established – while its roots are still young and small, it is not drought tolerant at all and will quickly die off if left to fend for itself in a dry soil. You have to water any plant to get it established – to get its own roots out into your soil. To get the roots out of the potted soil it has been growing in. This can take an entire season to accomplish in many cases.
Most Important Thing
The new breeding of Echinacea have led to different root structures than the hardy species. While the roots are good, they require special handling to ensure the plants are hardy in their first year. The deal is simple. When the plant grows up to 12-18 inches tall, cut it back to 9-inches tall. This will force the plant to bush up and develop a good root system. And cut off any blooms the plant tries to produce.
This simple trick will allow the plant to develop a full root system and develop full hardiness. If you do not do this, you’re likely going to have greater winter losses in the first winter (the plant should outgrow this problem itself in the second year). Allowing blooms in the first year simply increases the chances of winterkill in the first year.
Comments on Propagation
- This is an excellent plant for massed plantings. I’ve seen large gardens just crammed with them and it is an awesome garden sight.
- It’s an excellent plant for naturalizing. Use the species that will self-sow and come true (remember hybrids don’t come true from seed).
- It is an excellent display plant. If you have just one of the newer hybrids, you can use it as a “specimen” plant to stand out in your garden. You won’t be disappointed in its blooming.
- Echinacea plants make great cut flowers. I can never stand to cut them but they do last a long time in the vase
- Echinacea plants have great seed pods beloved of chickadees and other seed-eating birds. It will be rare to see any of these seeds survive a serious bird feast.
- I put a few notes together about designing perennial gardens in this ebook
Many of you will no doubt be familiar with the cone flower for its herbal use. Its roots are used as an immune booster – if taken for a few days before a cold really sets in it is purported to ward off the worst effects of the virus. A word of caution here to the wise – recent studies have shown that it should only be taken for a few days or one week at the most. Prolonged use reduces its effect.
Personally, I’m not sure which of the resins, fatty acids, glycosides or other more esoteric compounds of the cone flower is supposed to accomplish this task, I am sure however of a 1915 study that found Echinacea had no antibacterial or aphrodisiac powers. So, it is safe to take for a cold with no secondary side effects.
The entire family of cone flower or Echinacea loves the open sunny garden. It thrives in drier gardens than most other plants so it is a good plant for that hot, dry spot.
Do water it to establish new plantings but once established, it can thrive on its own. The really nice thing about this plant is that it will also tolerate some light shade and good soil.
The only thing that will shorten the cone flower lifespan is heavy clay soils or constantly damp soils; it does not like to have its roots constantly wet. It likes good drainage.
I have found the plant does really well in moderately fertile soils and if there is enough water in mid summer when it is setting seed, there is no problem with obtaining more plants.
It’s the same plant – not a seedling, then the plant has reverted. Reversion is one of those vexing problems for both the nursery and gardeners and is something that isn’t understood. It happens in almost all hybrids to one degree or other – some rarely, some on division, some for no darn good reason at all on a whim. But it’a fact of gardening life – and the nurseries look for stable hybrids but the fact is (and nurseries don’t want folks to understand this) with the speed that modern hybrids are introduced today (without a lot of testing to “beat” the competition) this kind of thing is more common than you might like to believe.
It is what it is. If you want the new stuff – you have to take the risk.
Try asking your nursery if they guarantee the plant is true to name – if not – find a nursery that does. If they do, take it back and tell them it’s not blooming with the advertised color. I know it’s a long proving time but good nurseries will get refunds from their suppliers for this kind of problem as well.
The cone flower self-sows prolifically in my garden. You can propagate them from seed collected from a friend’s garden, or whacking off a division from an established plant will easily transfer plants between friends. For the botanically interested, you can also propagate this one by root cuttings. So, if you have one of the nicer forms that doesn’t come true from seed, division or root cuttings will easily increase the numbers.
Hybrid plants will not produce seedlings that come true – in other words if you have a modern fancy hybrid plant, seed from this plant will not be guaranteed to produce a plant resembling the mother plant.
You can now grow your own fancy colored coneflowers by starting these seeds.
Important – do not allow this plant to set flowers in the first year from the nursery. Cut them off! I know it hurts to do this but if you don’t, the plant energy will go into blooming and not developing a large root system. You want the large root system to keep it alive over the winter!
Allowing the plant to set flowers is the number one reason the new hybrids die out in their first year and have an undeserved reputation for being tender. I never let my first year plants flower and they live quite nicely and flower heavily for years after.
When they get to 18-inches tall, I cut them back to 9-inches. That way they tend to develop good bushy plants instead of something very straggly. You can do this is subsequent years as well to bush up the plant.
Having said that, expect 4-5 years from this plant. Dig and divide every 2-3 years to keep young plants coming along (and yes, don’t let them bloom the first year either)
Echinacea does get black-spots (botrytis) and white powdery spots (powdery mildew on the leaves
No petals on bloom – probably aster yellows. This is a phytoplasma disease (no known cure) that is spread by leafhoppers so the only control is to control the leafhoppers. Advanced cases have yellowing leaves and flowers without petals.
Established and Older Varieties
Echinacea purpurea is the most common species found in garden centres and breeders are starting to develop some interesting cultivars.
‘White Star’ is a pale white form. I’ve had this in the garden and let me caution you not to let this plant self sow. It does not breed true so all offspring will revert darker and darker back to the species purple-pink. If you want more than one of this plant, you’ll have to sow extra seed and grow them yourself. This plant is an easily started perennial daisy, and if you start your own perennials, it will present no problems.
‘Magnus’ is another seed started cultivar making the rounds and it has a slightly darker flower than the species. I like this one but it too doesn’t breed true – at least it never did in my garden.
There are a whole range of new hybrids on the market including the double ‘Razzmatazz’ , fragrant white ‘Fragrant Angel’ including yellows and oranges galore.
These are all wonderful plants and I recommend them highly. It is almost impossible to keep up with them all.
Other Interesting Species
Two related plants that you might consider growing in your wild garden area are Echinacea pallida and E. angustifolia.
Echinacea pallida is a paler form of cone flower; the flower is a light purplish-pink, as its name “pallida” would suggest. I’ve had this plant several times and it has died out for me. I think I treated it too well, growing it in the good soil of the perennial border where it got too soft to survive the winter, and collected too many of the seeds to allow it to self-sow.
Echinacea angustifolia is quite hardy with a light purplish bloom (more purple than pink) but is not an exceptional garden plant compared to E. purpurea. I’ve grown it as well and would consign it to the cutting wild garden out in the dry wild meadow.
So, grow these hardy cone flowers in your sunny perennial border if you are looking for a good mid to late summer blooming perennial. And, if you get too many, you can always dig the roots to safely stop those early winter colds.
Echinacea or coneflower is one of the most beloved of garden perennials in the early parts of our century and breeders around the world have been working their magic with this plant
Reviewing ‘Echinacea Cheyenne Spirit’
Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ is a seed-generated plant that homeowners can start themselves to achieve this kind of flower show.
- Height: 24 – 36 inches.
- Sun: Full hot sun
- Plant apart: 24-inches is recommended
- Hardiness: USDA 4
- Flowering: First year from seed if sown in early January. Second year if sown later. From mid-summer onwards when it does flower
How To Germinate This Echinacea Seed
- Sow seed on top of damp soilless mix. You can either leave them exposed to light or “very” lightly cover them. They do not require dark conditions to germinate.
- They do want a 65-70F soil temperature for good germination so this means they’ll start better if you use a seedling heat mat.
- They should germinate in 10-15 days at these soil temperatures. Transplanting to a larger pot for growing-on is 20-28 days after germination if you’re growing them properly in a 68F room.
- Plant outdoors after all danger of frost.
- If you want more detailed perennial seed collection and germination instructions, click here
My Notes and Review of Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’
Seed sown April 4 – too late for flowering in 2013 so will treat for blooms in 2014 by not allowing them to set buds.
November 13. re note above. Yeah right! They bloomed. 🙂 Heavily. Amazingly well. I love this plant – it was the standout performer in our full sun garden. Visitors asked about it, took pictures. Lusted after our collection.
I shared a few seedlings with neighbors – they liked theirs but wanted all the colors in mine (I only gave everybody one seedling) 🙂
Grow it. 🙂
Spring 2015: About 20% of the plants survived the first winter. I suspect we’ll have to follow typical Echinacea blooming rules (not allow them to bloom in year one) to increase hardiness
Sept 2015: A half-dozen plants germinated from seed left in the garden over the winter. All were a red shade. Whether the others didn’t germinate, or ? is unknown.
For now, I’m considering it a half-hardy perennial if you decide to allow it to bloom in year one.
Reviewing Echinacea ‘Fatal Attraction’
Echinacea ‘Fatal Attraction’ was planted in fall of 2006 in a sunny part of the perennial garden and has been a winner for me.
Sun: Full sun all day – from approx 7am through to 7pm
Soil: A mixed bag of first year garden soils – well drained.
Flowering: Heavy in first year from a 1 gallon sized root. The flower is outstanding with a gold circle in the seed head and delightful maroon-purple petals. Outstanding flower color in my opinion. Note that the pictures do not do it justice; I had great difficulty getting the right color in the picture. The real color is closer to the small upright petals on the unopened bud.
Important: Coneflowers should be pruned back and not allowed to flower in their first year in the garden. This plant was likely a second yer plant that had been pruned to develop roots.
Hardiness: No problem in this USDA 4 garden.
Recommendation: This is an outstanding variety of coneflower for general garden use. The gold circle in the seed head is a great addition to the appearance.
A big 5 gold stars for this one. If you’d like other plant reviews, check out my garden blog here
And if you’d like a colored Echinacea you can easily grow yourself from seed, let me suggest you read this article.