Coneflowers are low-maintenance perennials that bring the prairie landscape to your backyard. These drought-tolerant plants are some of North America’s toughest wildflowers and an important food source for wildlife. Although you can take a hands-off approach to coneflowers, cutting them back once a year is beneficial. In this article, we’ll explain when and how you should cut back coneflowers.
- When Do You Cut Back Coneflowers – The Essentials
- About Coneflowers
- Is Cutting Back and Deadheading Coneflowers Necessary?
- When to Cut Back Coneflowers
- Key Considerations When Cutting Back Coneflowers
- Essential Tools for Cutting Back Coneflowers
- How to Cut Back Coneflowers
- Winter Care For Coneflowers
- The Final Word
When Do You Cut Back Coneflowers – The Essentials
Coneflowers benefit from being cut back once a year in spring or fall. Although these perennials will return each year, cutting them back can stimulate stronger growth. Once coneflowers have finished flowering, cut them down to approximately 3 to 6 inches above the soil, depending on the variety.
Coneflowers belong to the Echinacea genus within the daisy or sunflower family (Asteraceae). There are ten recognized species, with the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) being the most widespread. Coneflowers are endemic to the central and eastern prairies of the United States and Canada. They’re prized for their ornamental value and also look beautiful as a cut flower for a vase or bouquet arrangement.
Coneflowers come in an array of beautiful types and cultivars that have been bred by horticulturalists. These cultivars are available in several colors, from purple and pink to orange, red, yellow, white, and green. Echinacea plants can grow between 2 and 5 feet tall and approximately 1 to 2 feet wide.
Echinacea flowers have spiky central cones of small nectar-rich flowers surrounded by larger petals that bloom from mid-summer to fall. The name Echinacea has its roots in the Greek word ‘ekhinos‘, which translates as ‘sea urchin’. The petals usually droop slightly, giving coneflowers a shuttlecock-like appearance.
Echinacea plants have been used extensively in traditional Native American medicine to treat colds, burns, and toothaches. This connection means that coneflowers are associated with health, healing, and wishing someone well. For gardeners, coneflowers have several benefits, such as attracting pollinators like bees and butterflies.
Essential Coneflower Plant Care
Coneflowers need hot, sunny conditions to truly thrive and should get six to eight hours of direct sun every day. Plant coneflowers in loose, well-draining chalky, loamy, or sandy soils that are neutral to acidic. Coneflowers are drought-tolerant plants, and mature specimens will rarely need watering. Give coneflowers a small dose of fertilizer or a fresh layer of compost once or twice a year. Coneflowers are also relatively easy to transplant or divide if you ever need to relocate or are looking to expand your collection.
Is Cutting Back and Deadheading Coneflowers Necessary?
Although pruning and deadheading coneflowers aren’t technically necessary, they can yield plenty of benefits for the plant. As perennials, coneflowers will grow back every year regardless of whether we prune them or not. But cutting them back once a year can help encourage more vigorous growth and a more extended flowering period.
When to Cut Back Coneflowers
Coneflowers should be cut back in either spring or fall to reinvigorate them for the next blooming season. If you want to cut back your coneflowers in the fall, wait until the plants have entirely finished flowering. You can then cut them back close to the ground to protect them during the winter.
Cutting back coneflowers at this time yields a more extended flowering period next year. Coneflowers will also readily self-seed once the flowering season is over, which is fine if you want them to spread. But if you want to keep them in check, it’s best to cut them back in the fall.
You can also hold off on cutting back your coneflowers until the spring after flowering has finished. This allows you to enjoy the seed heads throughout the winter and brings benefits to wildlife. When spring arrives, cut your coneflowers back to approximately 3 and 6 inches above the ground. Remember that cutting back coneflowers in the spring will slightly shorten the flowering season.
You can also deadhead coneflowers throughout the blooming season to encourage the plant to produce new blooms. Check out our essential guide to deadheading coneflowers for more information.
Key Considerations When Cutting Back Coneflowers
Before cutting back your coneflower, you need to decide how much of the plant you’re going to remove. This is determined by the size of the plant, which can vary depending on the exact species. Smaller coneflower varieties can usually be cut back harder than larger varieties.
Small varieties such as Echinacea angustifolia usually grow to about 1 or 2 feet tall. These coneflowers can be cut back to about 3 inches above the soil. Because they are smaller plants, they will grow back faster than larger coneflowers.
If you have a large coneflower variety like Echinacea purpurea or Echinacea laevigata, don’t cut it back as hard. These large species can grow between 2 and 5 feet tall and 1.5 to 2 feet wide. Cut them back down to between 4 and 6 inches above the ground so that they can recover next season.
As well as bringing beauty to our gardens, coneflowers also have tremendous benefits for wildlife. During the fall, coneflower seed heads can provide a welcome food source for birds and other creatures. If you avoid cutting back your coneflowers until spring, your local wildlife can enjoy the seeds during fall and winter.
Although coneflowers should be cut back either in spring or fall, you can cut them back at other times of year for specific reasons. You can cut back coneflowers to stagger the emergence of flowers during the flowering season. This allows you to enjoy these beautiful flowers for a lot longer.
If you have a lot of coneflowers, it’s worth cutting them back at different times to boost the duration of the flowering season. Cut back your coneflowers in spring, as usual, to enjoy the flowers as soon as the blooming season starts. Then, cut some back mid-summer to encourage flowering later during the fall when your other coneflowers have finished.
Essential Tools for Cutting Back Coneflowers
Whenever you decide to cut back your coneflowers, it’s essential to use clean, sterile cutting tools. This prevents your coneflowers from being infected by diseases that other plants may carry. Sterilize your pruning shears with a 5% bleach solution before pruning your coneflowers.
It’s also worth ensuring that your tools are sharp before you start pruning coneflowers. Whenever you prune a plant, making a sharp, clean cut is much better than struggling with a blunt tool. Clean cuts minimize the opportunity for diseases or pests to invade the plant, so sharpen your tools beforehand.
How to Cut Back Coneflowers
When deadheading or cutting back coneflowers, there are some best practices to minimize plant damage. You can also prune any diseased or damaged foliage throughout the season to keep your coneflower looking good.
Always use clean, sharp pruning shears to deadhead your coneflowers. Once a flower head begins to wilt, remove it to divert energy into fresh blooms. Cut back to an emerging bud so that the coneflower can keep flowering.
You can keep your coneflowers neat and tidy by removing any damaged or diseased foliage during the flowering season. Browning, drooping, or yellowing leaves can be removed individually with sharp pruning shears. It’s crucial to remove affected foliage immediately if you spot symptoms of diseases or pests.
Cut back your coneflowers in spring or fall to help revitalize the plant. If you want to get the best flowering season next year, cut coneflowers back in the fall. If you’re going to leave the seed heads during fall and winter, wait until spring to cut the plant back.
Here’s a quick step-by-step guide for cutting back coneflowers:
- Make sure your pruning shears are clean, sharp, and sterile before making any cuts.
- Choose how much you want to cut back your coneflowers depending on the plant’s size. Cut it back closer to the ground if it’s a smaller variety. Leave up to 6 inches of stem above the ground if it’s a larger variety.
- Make a sharp, clean cut at your chosen point on the stem, leaving 3 to 6 inches above the soil. This helps reduce the risk of your coneflower getting infected by diseases or infested with pests.
Winter Care For Coneflowers
As perennials, coneflowers will go dormant and die back over winter before reemerging the following spring. Your coneflowers will survive the winter without being cut back and being left to die back naturally. However, cutting them back can encourage more robust and vigorous growth next spring.
Coneflowers can survive winter perfectly well, even if they get covered in snow when cut back close to the ground. Depending on the size of your plant, cut it back to around 3 to 6 inches above the soil. Smaller varieties can be cut back harder than larger ones.
If you live in USDA Zones 3 to 9, you shouldn’t need to provide any extra winter protection for your coneflowers. However, if you live in colder climates with harsh winters, you may need to protect them from the cold. It’s also a good idea to mulch your coneflowers to preserve the roots and help them retain moisture.
The Final Word
Coneflowers are excellent low-maintenance plants for any garden and are a great choice for novice gardeners. Although cutting them back isn’t totally necessary, it helps promote more vigorous growth and a more extended flowering period. Coneflowers should be cut back in spring or fall to about 3 to 6 inches above the ground.
For more, see our comprehensive guide to growing coneflowers in your garden.
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.