Coneflowers are at their best during summer and fall. These wonderful perennial wildflowers come in different varieties and create carpets of color across North America. But how do coneflowers fare during the winter? In this article, we’ll examine whether coneflowers can survive frost.
The Life Cycle of Coneflowers
Coneflowers are perennial wildflowers that bloom for several years. While annuals only live for one year, perennials live for at least three years. Some perennials, including coneflowers, don’t flower during their first year because they concentrate on establishing roots and foliage.
Coneflowers (Echinacea spp.) usually start blooming in their second year. Coneflowers are in bloom from mid-July to October. The flowering period usually lasts for six to eight weeks but can be extended by deadheading spent flowers.
Once flowering finishes for the year, coneflowers self-seed to create new plants. The seeds lay dormant in the soil over winter before germinating and sprouting in the spring.
Perennials like coneflowers have shorter blooming periods than annuals. This is necessary because perennials need to conserve energy during winter before growing again in spring. Coneflowers die back to their roots during the winter to save energy.
Can Coneflowers Survive Frost?
Established coneflowers can survive frost once they’ve died back to their roots. After flowering, this process is triggered once the first frost arrives in the fall. Coneflowers use energy stored in their roots to survive during the winter.
Once spring returns, coneflowers begin growing again. However, young flowers, especially seedlings, are vulnerable to fall or spring frosts. That’s why their seeds stay dormant in the soil until the last spring frost passes.
If you sow coneflower seedlings in the spring, start them indoors before the final frost passes. This gives your coneflowers a head start until the soil is warm enough. Once average soil temperatures reach 65ºF (18ºC), you can transplant seedlings outside or sow more seeds directly into the ground.
Caring for Coneflowers During Winter
Established coneflowers shouldn’t need any special care during the winter. They will naturally die back and survive using energy stored in their roots.
After self-seeding at the end of the flowering season, you can cut back coneflower seed heads. Alternatively, collect the seeds manually before they’re released into the soil if you want to sow them yourself.
However, leaving coneflower seed heads standing during the winter provides numerous benefits to wildlife. During the winter, birds, like finches, feed on seed heads while several insect species hibernate in hollow flower stems. If you want to help wildlife, avoid cutting down coneflower seed heads until early spring.
If you’re growing coneflowers in pots and the weather turns extremely cold, it’s worth protecting your plants. Use fleece to keep the pots warm, or move them inside wherever possible.
Established coneflower plants can survive frost because they die back to their roots. The energy stored in the roots sustains the coneflower until spring returns. Young coneflowers and seedlings are vulnerable to spring frosts if planted too early. Wait until the soil is warm enough before sowing coneflowers outdoors.
Edd is a budding content writer and gardener living in the United Kingdom. He has a bachelor's degree in Creative and Professional Writing and has written for several gardening publications online. He is passionate about nature and sustainability with a focus on gardening and wildlife.