Easy-going coneflowers are the perfect plant for beginners to get their hands on, as they are very forgiving and require little maintenance once established. They are drought-hardy and will survive cold winters to spring into life again and again. This guide will cover everything you need to know about how to grow coneflowers in your garden at home, including planting, soil, watering, light, fertilizing, and over-winter care.
Suitable USDA Growing Zones And Native Range
Most echinacea can grow in USDA hardiness zones from 3 – 8, but some varieties will grow up to Zone 10.
Growing From Seed Vs. Nursery Plants
Coneflowers can be grown from seed or planted as nursery plants. Both are available. If sowing seed, they can be started indoors 8 – 10 weeks before spring starts, so they are ready to get into the ground early.
- Fill seed trays with seed germinating mix and dampen.
- Sow seed in the trays and cover with an ¼ inch of soil.
- Keep the soil moist and warm (65F – 70F) while the seeds sprout.
- Within 10 – 20 days, the seeds should have sprouted. Thin out if necessary.
- Give them plenty of light, and use grow lights if you have them.
- When the seedlings have at least two true leaves, they can be transplanted into growing pods made with biodegradable materials so they can be transplanted straight into the garden outdoors when they have developed enough root power and are strong.
Sow directly into the garden in mid- to late-summer:
- Prepare the soil with plenty of organic matter and rake smooth to remove any rocks or plant material.
- Sow seeds evenly and cover with ¼ inch of soil. Firm down and water in well. Keep moist until the seedlings emerge in 10 – 20 days. After that, follow the planting guidelines.
All good nurseries will have echinacea seeds, seedlings, or even bigger plants that can be purchased. There are also companies online that you can purchase seed from.
Coneflowers have long tap roots, so they are often not considered for containers. However, they can certainly be grown in large containers with enough depth for their roots to grow. Make sure the container also has plenty of drainage.
When To Plant
Coneflowers need to settle in well and form healthy, sturdy roots before winter sets in. Plant any time from spring until early autumn and plant with enough space between them to allow for good air circulation.
Plant coneflowers in a position that gets full sun for at least 6-8 hours a day. They will handle a bit of shade, but the flowers will not be as prolific.
When planting, add plenty of compost to the soil. They will thrive in many different soil types but do not like too much moisture and lack air circulation. The added compost will make the soil friable and provide extra drainage. They prefer a neutral pH.
Staking And Supporting Requirements
Coneflowers are sturdy if kept in optimal health and will not need to be supported by any staking or trellis. They may need protection from wind and harsh sunlight when first planted until they get used to their position.
Suitable Companion Plants
As part of a perennial garden, coneflowers will stand out and be good companions to many other plants. Plant with other flowering plants like coreopsis, salvias, and phlox. Also, think about ornamental grasses and leafy plants like heuchera and coleus.
Because they are drought-resistant, they will also do well with succulent and semi-succulent plants like sedums and herbs like Russian sage and Bee Balm. They are excellent pollinators and will attract their fair share of bees and butterflies.
Caring for Coneflowers
When planting, make sure to keep the watering up so that they settle in well to their environment. Water thoroughly and deeply at least once a week to get the plants to set their tap roots into the soil. Surface watering will not get the roots to move downwards, so deep watering is essential. Water in the early morning to allow the leaves to dry out by the heat of the day. They are drought-resistant once established.
Further reading: When and how to water coneflowers.
Avoid overfertilizing these plants. Instead, use limited slow-release fertilizer when new growth appears. Compost every spring, and they will continue to perform. Overfertilizing may make the plants become leggy.
Further reading: When and how to fertilize coneflowers.
Pruning And Deadheading
The seed pods of coneflowers are bird feeders and can be left on the plants. When spring comes along, the plants will do well with pruning to make them bushier and produce more blooms.
Keep the plants tidy by deadheading some of the blooms and keeping the last on the plants to dry out for the birds. By deadheading, you can force the plant to make new flowers. If you don’t want the plants to seed themselves, make sure to cut off all the blooms when they are spent.
Further reading: Pruning and deadheading coneflowers.
Pests And Diseases
Coneflowers are tough and not overly susceptible to pests and diseases. However, there are times when even tough plants cannot handle certain pests. Look out for these:
- Aphids – attack new growth and suck the sap out of stems and shoots. New flowers will be compromised and deformed. Control with a good spray with soapy water or insecticidal soap.
- Whiteflies – a pest that sucks the sap out of the leaves and flowers and usually hide on the underside of leaves. They stunt the growth of the plants, and the leaves may turn yellow. Dust the leaves with sulfur powder and sprinkle around the base of the plants to deter whiteflies.
- Fusarium Wilt – caused by a fungus Fusarium oxysporum that lives in the soil. The fungus gets into the roots and moves up the stems of the plants clogging the cells and causing the leaves to yellow, usually only on one side of the plant. There are a few bio fungicides that can be used to try and treat the plant, or it may be necessary to remove and destroy the plants so that they do infect any other plants in the area.
- Japanese Beetles – easily identified by their metallic green coloring, they eat the foliage leaving big holes behind. Try removing them by hand and drowning them in soapy water, or use a product specially formulated to control these beetles.
- Eriophyid Mites – distorted or damaged flowers may be a sign of these mites that live in flower buds and feed on the sap. You can cut off infected flowerheads or treat them with insecticidal soap.
Further reading: Common coneflower pests and diseases.
Coneflowers are known for their ability to self-seed. However, they can be divided if you prefer a different approach.
Divide coneflowers in late spring or in autumn. For the best results, divide only every 3-5 years as the clumps get overgrown.
- Water the plants the day before dividing day.
- Work around the plant with a spade and dig out with as much of the root ball as possible.
- Shake off any loose dirt and dunk the plant in a bucket of water so that you can see the roots clearly and have an idea of how many plants to divide into.
- Divide the plant into reasonably-sized plants and prepare the holes for replanting, adding extra compost to the holes.
- Trim any long growth before replanting.
- Water in well.
End Of Season Care
Coneflowers will go dormant in the cold of winter and resprout again in the spring. To ensure they have the care to do this, cut back coneflowers in late autumn 3 – 6 inches from the ground. If you would like to keep the seedheads for birds to feed on in the winter, only cut back in spring, but this will reduce the blooming time in the summer.
Keep the soil around the plants mulched through the winter to protect the roots from the harshest cold and water occasionally up to once every two weeks in normal temperatures, but more if it’s dry and warm.
These tough plants will survive cold winters and spring to life in time to produce another spectacular set of blooms.
Coneflowers are also relatively easy to transplant and divide if you’re looking to expand your collection or relocate to a more suitable location.
Growing Coneflowers As Cut Flowers
Coneflowers make excellent cut flowers lasting up to 2 weeks in a vase. The ornamental value of the seed pods is also a great addition to dried arrangements and winter bouquets.
Remove all the foliage that will be underwater. Use a suitable container half filled with warm water and cut the stems underwater using a sharp, clean pair of secateurs or a sharp knife. Add a dose of floral food and allow the stems to hydrate for a couple of hours before arranging them in a vase.
Keep away from fruit and vegetables that will give off ethylene gases, reducing the length of time fresh flowers last.
Once the flower petals have wilted in an arrangement, simply pull them off and use the seed heads in your arrangement. They will dry out and can be used for a long time like this.
What Are Coneflowers?
Coneflowers are known botanically as Echinacea, flowering perennials from the Daisy family (Asteraceae). There are several types of coneflower, all found in eastern and central North America, growing on the prairies and close to forests and woodlands. Many species are also grown commercially for their medicinal value and ornamental value in the garden.
Toxicity And Edibility
The roots and leaves are used to make herbal teas, with the roots having the highest concentration of healthy compounds. The petals of the flowers are often used in salads and in baking for a touch of color.
For more, see our in-depth guide to the uses and benefits of coneflowers.
In some people, Coneflowers can irritate the stomach, dizziness, and nausea. It may also cause an allergic reaction and exacerbate asthma, making breathing difficult. It’s imperative that before taking any natural plant material, you consult your doctor.
The plant is not considered toxic to pets. However, in large doses, it could have adverse effects on animals.
The Flowering Season
Depending on the variety, the coneflower flowering season can last anything from the beginning of spring until autumn. Once they have finished flowering, the seedheads are quite beautiful, and they will self-seed for the following year. Birds also enjoy the seedheads.
How Big Do Coneflowers Grow?
These fast-growing plants will grow to anything between 2 – 4 feet in height and 2 – 3 feet wide. There are a few dwarf varieties that will grow smaller.
The Final Word
Coneflowers are one of the prettiest flowering perennials for a garden. The range of colors they come in is stunning, and they form perfect blooms that are beautiful to look at and attract pollinators like bees and butterflies to the garden. They are hardy and tough and very low maintenance with a few rules. They are definitely worth the effort of growing in a garden and will be perfect for a perennial meadow planted with other flowering plants and grasses.