From Seeds to Spectacular: Your Complete Guide to Growing Coneflowers

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growing coneflowers

Imagine a garden filled with butterflies and bees, fluttering from flower to flower. The flowers are large and colorful, with raised, cone-shaped centers. These are coneflowers, and they are a magnet for pollinators. If you’re interested in growing coneflowers and propagating them for years to come, this article is for you!

What are coneflowers?

growing coneflowers purple echinacea or coneflower
The ever-popular, beloved Purple coneflower, or echinacea purpurea. Image by Alvaro Reguly, flickr.

Coneflowers, also known as Echinacea, are a genus of flowering plants in the daisy family. They are native to North America, where they can be found growing in prairies, meadows, and open woodlands. Coneflowers are known for their beautiful, long-lasting flowers and their ability to attract beneficial insects, such as butterflies and bees.

Coneflowers typically have daisy-like flowers with a raised, cone-shaped center. The flowers can be in a variety of colors, including purple, pink, white, yellow, and orange. Some coneflower varieties even have double flowers.

mixed variety of coneflowers
An impressive mixture of various kinds of coneflowers. Image by DutchBulbs.com

Coneflowers typically bloom in the summer and fall, and they can provide a valuable source of food for pollinators during this time of year.

Where do coneflowers grow best?

Where they can receive full sun exposure, ideally!

Do coneflowers come back every year?

They are perennials, so they will come back year after year.

Do coneflowers spread?

They do not spread, in my garden in my experience. They will remain tidy and won’t become garden hogs!

Do I cut back coneflowers in the fall?

Yes, you should cut coneflowers down to the base in the fall. Remove all trimmings from the garden to be composted.

Did you know?

Rudbeckias are in the same family as coneflowers and they look very much alike. One fool-proof way to tell the difference is to notice the center cones. They are spiky! Rudbeckia center “cones” are quite soft, but coneflowers will poke your fingers! The name Echinacea means “hedgehog” in the Greek language (echinos.)

Types of coneflowers

There are many different types of coneflowers available, but some of the most popular varieties include:

  • Echinacea purpurea: This is the most common type of coneflower. It has purple flowers with a raised, cone-shaped center.
  • Echinacea pallida: This type of coneflower has pale pink flowers with a raised, cone-shaped center.
  • Echinacea paradoxa: This type of coneflower has yellow flowers with a raised, cone-shaped center.
  • Echinacea tennesseensis: (or “Tennessee Coneflower”) This type of coneflower has orange flowers with a raised, cone-shaped center.
  • Echinacea echinacea: This type of coneflower has white flowers with a raised, cone-shaped center.
Echinacea “Salsa Red” feature vivid red petals. Image by Dutch Bulbs.com
Echinacea "Prarie Stars " "Tomato Soup vivid red coneflower
Echinacea “Prarie Stars ” “Tomato Soup” a trademarked cultivar. Image by Emerald Coast Growers.

Why grow coneflowers?

There are many reasons why you might want to grow coneflowers in your garden. For me, growing coneflowers benefit my garden in these ways:

  • Coneflowers are easy to grow. They are relatively low-maintenance plants that can tolerate a variety of growing conditions. Coneflowers are also drought-tolerant, making them a good choice for gardeners in dry climates.
  • Coneflowers are beautiful. Their large, colorful flowers can add a touch of elegance to any garden. Coneflowers are also available in a variety of colors and heights, so you can find the perfect variety to match your garden design.
  • Coneflowers attract pollinators. Coneflowers are a valuable source of food for butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects. By growing coneflowers in your garden, you can help to support these important pollinators.
  • Coneflowers are versatile. Coneflowers can be used in a variety of ways in the garden. They can be planted in borders, beds, or even in containers. Coneflowers can also be used as cut flowers, and they can be dried for use in floral arrangements.

Coneflowers are a beautiful and versatile plant that is easy to grow and care for. If you are looking for a plant to add to your garden that will attract pollinators and provide long-lasting blooms, coneflowers are a great option.

They are drought-tolerant and can tolerate a variety of growing conditions. This makes them a great choice for gardeners in all climates. They typically thrive in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 9.

These stunning coneflowers are “Pretty Parsols” cultivar. Image by DutchBlooms.com

Planting Coneflowers

By this, we mean how to plant and grow coneflowers from seed. I have an exhaustive article about how to plant seeds like a veteran green thumb. Note that coneflowers definitely require a period of cold stratification for them to grow properly their first year. The first time I attempted to grow coneflower seedlings, I got bupkus, because I didn’t cold-stratify them first!

I also recommend starting your coneflowers inside or with the use of a mini greenhouse (or regular greenhouse, or even large plastic storage bins.) I’ve realized great results using mini greenhouses in the past.

When to plant coneflowers

Because best results will be achieved by cold-stratifying coneflower seeds, you should plant the seeds:

  • In the fall, sow the seeds directly in the garden. Do this before it gets too cold, when the soil is still easy to work with. The rule of thumb is to plant the seeds to a depth of 3x the seed’s width. For fall (overwintering) sowing, go a little deeper.
  • In the early spring or late winter, sow seeds indoors in seedling cups, keep warm and moist.

Where to plant coneflowers

Coneflowers really thrive in a location in your garden where they will receive 6 or more hours of full sun. They can tolerate a few less hours, of course, but they probably won’t grow to their full potential in a partly shady location.

How to plant coneflowers

Coneflower seeds are not geared to be directly planted in the in the spring. Only annuals can thrive in that manner.

Caring for Coneflowers

Coneflowers are low-maintenance plants that require minimal care. Here are some tips on how to grow and care for coneflowers.

Vivid red coneflowers. Image by DC Gardens, flickr

Watering and fertilizing coneflowers

Coneflowers are drought-tolerant plants, but they will still need regular watering, especially during the first year after planting. Water your coneflowers deeply once a week, or more often if the weather is hot and dry.

Coneflowers do not need a lot of fertilizer, but you can give them a light application of balanced fertilizer in the spring. Be careful not to over-fertilize, as this can encourage too much foliage growth and reduce flowering.

Green Twister coneflower
“Green Twister” coneflower. Image by DutchBulbs.com

Deadheading coneflowers

Deadheading is the process of removing spent flowers. This encourages the plant to produce more flowers. To deadhead a coneflower, simply cut off the spent flower head at the base of the stem. You can use sharp shears or pruners for this job.

Deadheading is especially important if you want to prolong the blooming season of your coneflowers. Some coneflower varieties will continue to bloom all summer and fall if you deadhead them regularly.

Dividing coneflowers

Coneflowers can be divided every 3-4 years to keep them healthy and vigorous. To divide a coneflower, simply dig up the plant and carefully divide the root ball into two or more pieces. Replant the divisions in well-drained soil.

Dividing coneflowers is a great way to propagate new plants and to fill in empty spaces in your garden. It is also a good way to rejuvenate older coneflower plants.

coneflower visited by monarch butterfly
A Monarch butterfly visiting a coneflower for delicious nectar. Image by USFWS MidwestRegion, flickr

Winterizing coneflowers

Coneflowers are cold-hardy plants, but it is still a good idea to winterize them in colder climates. To winterize your coneflowers, simply cut back the stems to about 6 inches tall. You can also mulch around the plants with a layer of compost or leaves to help insulate the roots.

Winterizing your coneflowers will help to protect them from the cold and ensure that they come back strong the following spring.

Additional tips for caring for coneflowers

  • Mulch around your coneflowers to help retain moisture and suppress weeds.
  • Inspect your coneflowers regularly for pests and diseases.
  • If you live in a colder climate, such as USDA Zones 1-4, you may want to cover your coneflowers with burlap or other frost protection during the winter.

Common Coneflower Pests & Diseases

The best way to prevent pests and diseases on coneflowers is to keep the plants healthy and vigorous. This means

  • watering them regularly,
  • fertilizing them properly, and
  • mulching around them.

You should also inspect your plants regularly for signs of pests and diseases.

If you do find pests or diseases on your coneflowers, it is important to treat them promptly to prevent the problem from spreading.

Coneflowers are generally resistant to pests and diseases, but there are a few common problems that can occur.

Coneflower aphids

Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects that suck sap from plants. They can be found on the undersides of leaves and stems. Aphids can cause leaves to curl and yellow, and they can also reduce flowering.

To control aphids, you can spray them with insecticidal soap or neem oil. You can also encourage natural predators, such as ladybugs and lacewings, to your garden.

Coneflower spider mites

Spider mites are tiny, spider-like insects that also suck sap from plants. They can be found on the undersides of leaves. Spider mites can cause leaves to become pale and speckled, and they can eventually cause the leaves to drop off.

To control spider mites, you can spray them with insecticidal soap or neem oil. You can also increase humidity around your plants, as spider mites do not tolerate high humidity.

Coneflower powdery mildew

Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that causes a white, powdery coating to appear on leaves and stems. Powdery mildew can stunt plant growth and reduce flowering. Powdery mildew can strike a lot of different plants; recently, my Lupines have fallen prey to this as well.

To control powdery mildew, you can spray plants with a fungicide. Another, admittedly odd treatment: spray the affected plants and area with a 1:7 water:milk solution. When the milk turns, its bacteria will feast on powdery mildew fungus.

You can also improve air circulation around your plants, as powdery mildew thrives in humid conditions with poor air circulation.

Coneflower rust

Rust is a fungal disease that causes orange or brown pustules to appear on leaves and stems. Rust can stunt plant growth and reduce flowering.

To control rust, you can remove infected leaves and stems. You can also spray plants with a fungicide.

My hollyhocks seem to get affected with rust. What makes dealing with rust difficult is that you need to spray the underside of the leaves to get rid of rust. Also, It is crucial that you remove the cut infected leaves and stems and remove them fully from the garden area, direct to the trash.

green coneflowers
Have you seen a more ethereal-looking flower than these green coneflowers? Image by Garry Knight, flickr

Growing Coneflowers in the Landscape

Coneflowers are a versatile plant that can be used in a variety of ways in the landscape. They can be planted in borders, beds, or even in containers.

Coneflowers can also be used as cut flowers, and they can be dried for use in floral arrangements.

Companion plants for coneflowers

Coneflowers look great planted with other perennials, such as black-eyed Susans, gaillardia, and sedum. They also look great planted with ornamental grasses and grasses.

Coneflowers nestled alongside Daylillies. Image by Barbara LN
Coneflowers nestled alongside Daylillies. Image by Barbara LN, flickr

Here are some specific companion plants for coneflowers:

Growing coneflowers for cut flower arrangements

Coneflowers are a popular cut flower because they have long stems and long-lasting blooms. To cut coneflowers, simply cut the stem at a 45-degree angle about 6 inches below the flower head.

coneflowers in a flower arrangement boquet State Library of Massachussets
Purple coneflowers share the stage with liatris, black-eyed Susan, hydrangea, Russian sage, variegated Solomon’s seal and alliumin this amazing floral arrangement. Image by State Library of Massachussets, flickr.

Coneflowers can be used in a variety of cut flower arrangements. They look great in mixed bouquets with other perennials and grasses. Coneflowers can also be used to create simple, yet elegant, arrangements on their own.

Attracting pollinators with coneflowers

Coneflowers are a valuable source of food for butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects. To attract pollinators to your garden, plant coneflowers in groups.

Did you know?

You should also plant other flowering plants that bloom at different times of the year to provide a continuous source of food for pollinators.

Here are some tips for attracting pollinators to your garden:

  • Plant a variety of flowering plants that bloom at different times of the year.
  • Plant coneflowers in groups.
  • Provide a source of water for pollinators, such as a shallow birdbath (a “beebath”) or pond.
  • Avoid using pesticides in your garden.

Overlooked Topics

How to grow coneflowers for cut flowers

Coneflowers are a popular choice for cut flowers because they have long stems and long-lasting blooms. To grow coneflowers for cut flowers, follow these tips:

  • Choose the right coneflower varieties. Some coneflower varieties are better suited for cut flowers than others. Look for varieties with strong stems and large flowers. Some good choices for cut flowers include ‘Magnus’, ‘Prairie Splendor’, and ‘Cheyenne Spirit’.
  • Plant coneflowers in full sun. Coneflowers need at least 6 hours of sunlight per day to produce strong stems and large flowers.
  • Water coneflowers regularly. Coneflowers need about 1 inch of water per week. Water deeply at the base of the plant, avoiding the leaves.
  • Fertilize coneflowers monthly. Use a balanced fertilizer (NPK the numbers should be the same or close to, and in the single digits, like 5-5-5) to promote growth and flowering.
  • Deadhead coneflowers regularly. This encourages the plant to produce more flowers.
  • Cut coneflowers when they are in full bloom. Cut the stems at a 45-degree angle about 6 inches below the flower head.
  • Place coneflowers in a vase of water immediately after cutting. To prolong the vase life of coneflowers, add a floral preservative to the water.

How to use coneflowers to create a natural dye

To use coneflowers to create a natural dye, you will need the following materials:

  • Coneflowers (fresh or dried)
  • Water
  • Vinegar
  • A large pot
  • A strainer
  • Fabric or yarn to dye

Instructions:

  1. Fill the large pot with water and add the coneflowers.
  2. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce the heat to low.
  3. Simmer the coneflowers for 30-60 minutes, or until the water has turned a deep color.
  4. Remove the pot from the heat and strain the dye liquid into a clean container.
  5. Add vinegar to the dye liquid, using about 1 cup of vinegar per 1 gallon of dye.
  6. Add the fabric or yarn to the dye liquid and stir to coat.
  7. Let the fabric or yarn dye for at least 30 minutes, or longer for a deeper color.
  8. Remove the fabric or yarn from the dye liquid and rinse it well with water.
  9. Hang the fabric or yarn to dry.

Once the fabric or yarn is dry, you can use it to create a variety of projects, such as clothing, accessories, and home décor.

Here are some tips for using coneflowers to create a natural dye:

  • Use fresh coneflowers for the brightest colors.
  • For a more intense color, use a larger amount of coneflowers.
  • For a lighter color, use a smaller amount of coneflowers or dye for a shorter amount of time.
  • Different types of fabric and yarn will absorb dye differently. Test a small sample of the fabric or yarn before dyeing the entire piece.
  • Natural dyes are not always permanent. To help the dye last longer, wash the fabric or yarn in cold water and avoid using harsh detergents.

What’s Next?

Coneflowers are a beautiful and versatile plant that is easy to grow and care for. They are a valuable addition to any garden, providing long-lasting blooms that attract pollinators. With proper care, coneflowers will thrive for many years, bringing beauty and joy to your garden.

Photo of author

Author

After years of denying it, Donald finally admits one passion in life is gardening. More specifically: growing seeds, plants, flowers and edibles and helping them to be the best possible. Neighbors call him a Green Thumb. He lives in Western Washington with his wife of 24+ years and three cats.

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