Coneflowers, also known as Echinacea are herbaceous perennial flowers native to a large portion of North America. They are a member of the aster family, and there are 10 species recognized. Additionally, numerous hybrids available from seed companies. There are a large variety of size, and colors available at nurseries and garden centers. It is one of the most common and popular perennial plants for flower beds due to its long bloom duration, beauty, toughness, and versatility.
Coneflowers produce multiple daisy-like flowers on tall stems that reach 4’ in height. The plant itself at full size will reach 2’-3’ in diameter / spacing. The leaves are lance-shaped, serrated, and large being 6” long by several inches wide in most varieties. Most Coneflower species have taproots and do not transplant easily. However, common Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea has fibrous roots and can be divided easily.
Common uses of Coneflowers are in manicured flower beds, border gardens, and backyard meadows and micro-prairies. These plants are generally well behaved, and if placed in the correct location look absolutely beautiful. Coneflowers are loved by pollinators and are heavily visited by bees, butterflys and birds (eating seeds), making them an important part of the ecosystem.
How do Coneflowers Spread?
Coneflowers spread by self-seeding. Each flower has a central cone and petals. The cone produces numerous seeds, while each petal has a seed attached to the base, where it connects to the cone (this is called a ray flower). Each bloom produces many seeds, some of which inevitably fall to the ground. Goldfinches in particular will land on dried seed heads and pick out seeds. During this process, seeds fall to the ground, and if not eaten by another bird or mouse, may germinate in the following Spring.
Coneflowers will multiply under good conditions, namely disturbed soil and plentiful seed that falls from the spent flower.
This is only applicable for common Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea and its hybrids, as they have a fibrous root system. The central root mass of a coneflower will grow in size each year, eventually growing up to 2’ diameter. Once the coneflower root mass approaches this size it should be divided to keep the plant attractive and vigorous. The problem is the central part of the root mass will die, and you will have a void in the center of the plant the following growing season.
See our guide on dividing Perennials for detailed process on dividing perennials HERE
Other notes on Coneflowers spreading
I’ve not seen Coneflowers produce more then 20-30 unwanted seedlings per plant. And this also only occurs in disturbed/open soil, or mulch. The seedlings only take about 5 minutes to remove, as the roots are only 1” long or so (25 mm). So, I don’t see the spreading as a concern. Additionally, the young tender seedlings can easily be potted up to grow further, and eventually be located somewhere more desirable. But if you don’t want any volunteer Coneflower Seedlings, then skip to the next section. There is a very simple trick to stop coneflowers from spreading via self-seeding.
In my experience, Coneflowers only spread when soil or mulch has been disturbed over the winter, as this effectively makes it easy for the seed to be ‘planted’, or it just has enough contact with the soil. I’ve found that one of my coneflowers in my front flower bed self-seeded heavily, while the other two coneflowers had almost no germination. My conclusion why this happened is that my children play ‘digger trucks’ under the coneflower that self-seeded a lot, but they don’t play under the others. So, voila – they inadvertently planted the seeds!
Deadhead Coneflowers to prevent spreading
There is a very easy way to stop Coneflowers from spreading. Just deadhead the coneflowers once the blooms are fading. Take a scissors, or pruning shears, and starting at the spent bloom, follow the stem to where it meets two leaves. Cut the stem just above these two leaves. Doing this will prevent seeds from forming, and therefore prevent new plants germinating next Spring.