Echinacea Purpurea – How To Grow Purple Coneflower
September 16, 2018
Purple Coneflower/Echinacea Purpurea – How To – Grow and Care
Echinacea purpurea – General Description
Purple Coneflower, (Echinacea Purpurea) one of the most popular flower for landscapes and prairies, for good reason. This native perennial has a long bloom time and is very showy, also being very tall (3-5’, 1-1.5 m). I’ve have around 10-15 of various varieties in my garden at any one time. The roots of echinacea typically go to around 5’ deep (1.5 m), making it very drought tolerant. This plant can thrive in any type of soil, even clay. But, it probably won’t survive if it is semi-wetland, or just a general moist area that doesn’t drain.
Echinacea Purpurea will bloom later than its cousin, Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea Pallida). Having both plants in the garden can help give a longer Echinacea bloom period. And that means, more color, more butterflies, and more bees!
It can do quite well with other companion plants, such as Heliopsis (False Sunflower), Bee Balm, Rudbeckia, Liatris, and many others. You just need to ensure that the plants are spaced accordingly. Mixing different species of native plants can really help your overall garden ecosystem, have a longer period of color, and give you more pollinators/birds to view as well.
Growing Echinacea Purpurea from seed
This plant is readily available from most garden centers, but the most economical way to grow it is from seed. It is available as seed packets, from most garden centers or from these websites Purple Coneflower seeds . Also, scroll down to see a ‘how-to’ video on planting seeds.
You can sow this seed at any time. Stratification is not required to germinate, although it will increase the germination rate. I generally use 3-5 seeds per pot/cell, and often find myself having to thin the cells whether they are stratified or not. You just want to make sure the plant will have time to get established before winter – so maybe don’t start in August (depending on zone).
Transplant small seedlings to larger pots once they begin to fill out their pots. I generally recommend something that is 4” square or diameter at a minimum. Let the seedling grow for another month or so before transplanting out to the garden. When choosing a location in the garden, make sure you give this plant enough space. A small seedling one year can easily turn into a large 3’ diameter plant the second. Also, beware of deer/rabbits, as they like to eat the leaves of young seedlings. We use and recommend Liquid Fence Concentrate .
This plant will generally not bloom the first year. But if transplanted early enough, I have seen a 1-2 blooms. The second year you can expect to have a strong, vigorous plant that can product 15-40 blooms. So, it will establish quite quickly.
General Echinacea Growing Requirements
There isn’t much to this section, as the plant is pretty tough. In general growing Echinacea purpurea is pretty easy. Most coneflowers and Echinacea varieties are pretty hardy once established. It is native to the prairie, where it would receive sun all day, occasional droughts, high wind, etc. The biggest risks are rabbits when the plants are young, or emerging from winter. And putting it in a space that collects too much water, or if it doesn’t receive enough sun.
As is typical with all sun-loving plants, more sunlight will mean larger plants. This plant is best if it can get six hours of sunlight per day from June-August. Also, during extreme heat/drought, it may like to get a bit of water.
Once this plant is done blooming and begins to go dormant, don’t cut it back. Leaving your dead plants up can provide many ecological benefits. The first benefit you will notice with this flower is that the birds, particularly goldfinches, love to land on the seed heads and pick out the seeds to eat. I’ve seen four goldfinches at a time eating seed from plants I have grown. So, it is like a natural bird feeder for your garden! Also, many beneficial insects will hibernate, or have larvae in the hollow stems. Keeping those up will allow them a safe place to over-winter and reemerge in the spring.
Harvesting Echinacea Seed
Saving seeds from Echinacea purpurea is incredibly easy. It is nearly the easiest flower to save seed from. All you need to do is cut the seeds heads off when they turn black, and store them for about a week in a cool, dry place. Then, place them into a sealed plastic container (I use an old coffee can), and shake them up! It will knock the seeds out of the seed head. See this video tutorial for details. But, if you have a friend who currently grows this plant, then taking a few seed heads in Autumn is a way to get free seed, and in turn free plants!
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