How to Grow Echinacea

Written by David S.

Echinacea purpurea — the purple coneflower is beautiful, medicinal, and a member of the sunflower family. It is just one option when it comes to growing Echinacea. There are a few options for plant choice, and as you continue to read, we will go through a few of those, their growing requirements, and some products that help you become successful at growing Echinacea. 

The Varieties of Echinacea and Coneflowers 

The Purple Coneflower is one of the most popular — Echinacea purpurea, but Echinacea angustifolia, or the narrow leaf purple coneflower. In terms of medicinal uses, these two are pretty much equal. A difference is in the roots, where E. angustifolia has more of a fleshy root, and E. purpurea has a very fibrous root. Both offer beautiful purple blooms with a yellow-orange-green seed center. You cannot go wrong with either, and planting a mixture of the two is eye candy.

Pale Purple Coneflower — Echinacea pallida — is an excellent plant that features thin leaves and pale purple blooms, often hinting of green to them. Like most Echinacea, these grow to 2-3 feet in height and about 1 foot wide. They like full sun and soil that is well-draining. When pale purple coneflower is established, it will handle drought conditions and the sunny summer in Southern California. 

Yellow coneflower — Ratibida pinnata — A wonderful bright yellow coneflower that grows in dry prairies and across arid savannas. These, too, have a medicinal aspect, but it is those beautiful showy flowers that attract attention in today’s world. These are also known as the prairie coneflower, gray-head coneflower, and pinnate prairie coneflower. 

Yellow coneflowers are not the same as Black Eyed Susans or Rudbeckia. Yellow coneflowers are an Echinacea, whereas Black Eyed Susans and Rudbeckia are both in the genus Rudbeckia – all are members of the Asteraceae or sunflower family. 

All make beautiful additions to a flower garden, but our focus here is on Echinacea. 

Soil Conditions for Echinacea

Echinacea grows in many climates and conditions. It is not overly fussy about soil and will even produce blooms when planted in very poor soil. What it does not tolerate is soil that is soggy and wet. That is not to say the soil cannot be consistently moist but also needs to be well-draining. These are not bog plants. 

Now an important point about soil — while we talk about poor soil and the fact that Echinacea will grow there, to get these plants to thrive, focus on good, organic ladened soil that holds water but is not wet. Three options for creating nutrient-rich soil are:

  1. Black Gold Natural & Organic Flower and Vegetable Soil — is fantastic for annuals and perennials. It is nutrient-rich with a mixture of bark, sphagnum peat moss, and compost. It offers drainage and water retention, and you can find it in several size bags.
  2. FoxFarms Happy Frog Soil Conditioner — is an excellent choice for flower and vegetable beds. The soil is a mixture of aged forest products, earthworm castings, guano and loaded with soil microbes. 
  3. FoxFarms Strawberry Fields Potting Soil — offers a soil blend designed for fruiting and flowering plants. Available in 1.5 cubic foot bags are larger totes in the 27 and 55 cubic feet range. 

Plants Vs. Seeds 

Echinacea is easy to grow from seeds, and mature plants will self-seed freely. However, many people opt to buy smaller plants and transplant them into flower beds or contains. As a perennial, Echinacea will produce several years worth of flowers; as a seedling, these beautiful plants may take 2-3 years to produce their first flowers. For that reason, nursery plants may be a faster path to beautiful blooms. 

When to Plant

Ideally, the best time to plant seeds or transplants is during the spring or early summer. In the warmer Southern California plant zones, Spring planting is ideal. Aim for a time when the soil temperature is around 65°F. 

If starting seeds indoors, do so four weeks before the average last frost date for your hardiness zone. 

Planting Guide for Echinacea

Spacing — 1-3 feet apart 

Depth — bury to the top of the root ball but not over it. 

Mulch — yes to retain soil moisture 

Fertilizer — not generally needed if you start with good compost. A periodic dose of liquid fertilizer or compost tea can encourage blooming. 

Water — 1-2 times per week when established. These are drought-tolerant plants, but they produce better blooms when the soil is consistently moist. Water them deeply and slowly so that the ground beneath the roots holds water. Water them when the top layer of soil is dry. Water at the base and try to keep the leaves dry. Coneflowers can become a victim of fungal diseases. 

Pest Control — Aphids love coneflowers. Neems oil or insecticidal soap are both options. Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew is an organic option with a short activation span but kills sap sucking insects, such as aphids. Best used before blooms attract bees. 

Light — Partial shade when planting in a container, full sun otherwise. Be sure to water plants regularly when freshly planted. Coneflowers do very well in full sun, though some afternoon shade is good too. 

Garden Friendly Benefits 

Echinacea is a very beneficial garden plant. They attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, so be wary of using insecticides if possible. These beautiful flowers will bloom from summer until the first frosts. Leave the spent flowers, and you will attract songbirds, and the plants will re-seed themselves. 

Other Color Variations Include:

  • Echinacea tennesseensis — the Tennessee coneflower — darker mauve flowers with greenish pink seed cones.
  • Echinacea purpurea — Final White cultivar — beautiful creamy white blooms with green seed cones. 
  • Echinacea hybrid — Cleopatra — soft yellow blooms with gold/green seed cones. 

Coneflowers are a fantastic addition to any garden and landscape. Their rich colors and larger size make them perfect for filling in large areas. Their ability to re-seed is welcomed, and you will have beautiful blooms year after year. 

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