Echinacea is one of the easiest perennials to grow from seed. A common choice for flower beds, it is a herbaceous perennial flower that is native to North America. For growing conditions, Echinacea loves full sun and well drained soil – but it will tolerate partial shade. Often you can find specimens along roadsides in the Midwest, open meadows, and if you are lucky enough to live near a prairie or wildlife preserve you can usually see it there. Also known as Coneflower, you can often find this plant in suburban flower beds as it is a common landscaping plant.
This article will primarily consider Echinacea Purpurea, as it does not require any cold moist stratification to achieve a high germination rate, and is also the most common variety of Coneflower.
When should you plant Echinacea Seeds?
Well……..that depends. If you are growing Echinacea Purpurea (Common Purple Coneflower) you can plant them Spring, early or late. I’m in USDA Zone 6, and will generally plant my seeds in April or May. If you are planting other Echinacea Varieties, those typically require going through a winter. This is a process called cold-moist stratification. You can cold stratify your seeds in a couple of ways
- Winter sow the seeds (my preference). This is where you just plant the seeds as you would normally, but do so during the winter (just like mother nature does!). Have them covered in plastic or something, but poke some holes in the container to allow air movement. See this little video on how I cold stratify / winter-sow seeds.
- Cold-Moist stratify seeds in the refrigerator. To do this, you just lay out a full-sheet paper towel, and fold it in half. Gently mist it with water so that it is damp (not wet). Then, place your seeds on it and fold the towel over again. Place this into a zip-lock bag, label/date it. Then put it into the refrigerator for how long it needs to stratify. Once the time is up, you can plant your seeds normally.
I’ve made the following table to help you determine stratification times for most available (native) Coneflower varieties.
|Species Name||Common Name||Stratification Period||Planting Depth|
|Echinacea Purpurea||Purple Coneflower||0 Days||1/8″-1/4″ (3-6 mm)|
|Echinacea Pallida||Pale Purple Coneflower||90 Days|
|Echinacea Angustifolia||Narrow Leaf Coneflower||90 Days|
|Echinacea Tennesseensis||Tennessee Coneflower||60 Days|
Does common Purple Coneflower (Echinacea Purpurea) need cold stratification?
There are many references online that tell you to cold-stratify Purple Coneflower (Echinacea Purpurea) seeds prior to sowing. I’ve also bought seed from companies who said stratification is, and isn’t necessary. Kind of a mixed message……
So, I will give you some of my experience: I’ve grown dozens of regular Purple Coneflower seeds without stratifying anything. I’ve planted/germinated seed in Spring, Summer, even late-Summer. So, let me tell you – for regular Purple Coneflower (Echinacea Purpurea) Cold Moist Stratification is not necessary! You will achieve a very high seed germination rate without stratifying. High enough to where it isn’t worth your time to cold-moist stratify them.
What University Research Says
Based on my experience, you do not need to stratify the seeds to achieve a high germination rate (80-90%). I wondered if there was any studies that examined germination rates on Echinacea with regard to stratification. Well, lo and behold I found a study that showed Echinacea Purpurea to have a 90% germination rate with zero stratification. Now, the study found cold stratification can raise the germination rate from 89% up to 98%. Additionally the study found that the days to first germination can improve from 7 days (no stratification) to 3 days (4 weeks stratification). Finally, that study found that 4 weeks of stratification could reduce the germination range (last germination day minus 1st germination day) from 23 down to 10 days.
So what does all that mean? It means that you can achieve a very high germination rate without stratifying the seed. So, I guess if you only had one or two seeds at your disposal, this might matter. But – if you bought a pack of seeds or collected some, you probably have plenty. If you bought a packet, you probably have over a hundred. Just plant away and you will get some Echinacea seedlings.
In my experience, if the temperature outside is already starting to get warm, do you really get a benefit for stratifying Echinacea Purpurea? In practical terms, I don’t think there is much of a benefit. Because if you look at the entire timeline of just planting seed versus stratifying + planting, you will see that just planting the seed will be faster to get germination. But if you are doing this in March, heck just plant the seed and put it outside.
How to Grow Echinacea from Seed
- Pots – this can be a common seed starting six-pack, or even just use an old plastic container with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage
- Potting soil or seed starting mix
- Small garden shovel, or trowel
- Spray bottle for watering
- Note – If you would like to see how to save your own Echinacea Purpurea seeds (extremely easy), you can read our guide here.
How to plant Echinacea Purpurea Seeds
- Fill pots with moist potting soil, to about 1/2″ (12 mm) below the top of the pot. Your soil should be moist, and it is easiest to moisten it in a bucket before putting it into the pot. However, you can easily do it if you spray water as you add soil to the pot. You don’t want the soil sopping wet, just moist.
- Place 3-5 seeds in each pot or cell. Press them firmly into the dirt.
- Cover the seeds with 1/8″-1/4″ of soil (3-6 mm) and water
- Place seeds in an area where they will receive morning sun, and keep moist.
- Germination should occur in about 2 weeks
- Then, you need to care for the seedlings until they are several inches high. Finally transplanting them into their final location.
- Note! Rabbits do love to eat young Echinacea Plants. Consider protecting them with Liquid Fence or chicken wire the first year (at least).
Here is a short video I made some years ago on how I plant my seeds – hope you enjoy!
Some notes about watering, and how moist should ‘moist soil’ be
When I am germinating any seed, I generally water them in the mornings before I go to work. When the forecast calls for sunny days or hot weather, I will spray water on them until the soil is black/moist, and the pot feels heavy. That way I know I have water throughout the entire depth of soil inside the pot.
When I return in the afternoon, I will check to see if they need to be watered again. If the pot feels light weight, or the top of the soil is very dry I will add more water via a pump sprayer until the pot feels somewhat ‘heavy’. I will continue this these two processes until germination.
Once the seeds have germinated, and I have seedlings I will avoid watering in the afternoon, and almost never water at night. The reason I avoid this is because of something called damp-off disease. Damp-off disease is a fungus that can weaken the stems and kill the young seedling. So, to avoid this it is best to not have the seedling sit in fully saturated soil overnight.
How and When to Transplant Echinacea
Once your seedlings have grown to be 3-4″ tall, they are more than ready to be placed into their final location.
- Dig a hole to just below the depth of the pot, and twice as wide.
- Put a handful of compost at the bottom of the hole, and gently mix it in.
- Water the hole, and wait for the water to drain.
- Plant your Echinace, filling in around the pot. Pack soil firmly.
- Protect your seedling. Apply liquid fence (it really works) or put chicken wire around the plant and stake it.
You can transplant your seedlings in the summer – just know that it may require supplemental water for several weeks if it is in an area prone to drought. You can plant your seedling as late as nature lets you! So, even if it is in December, if the ground isn’t frozen you can plant the plant. The roots will still grow just fine and establish themselves, even if it is cold temperatures above ground.
How long does it take to grow Echinacea from Seed?
Generally, Echinacea will not flower until it’s second year after seed germination. Echinacea is a large perennial. Typically you won’t have any flowers the first year. It will just look like a large, leafy plant on the ground. In the rare case where you do get a bloom, it will generally be a single stalk/flower and occur much later in the year than normal. But – the second year of life for Echinacea will produce some blooms. And in the 3rd year of life, you will be treated to a massive display if planted in Echinacea’s preferred conditions of full sun and well drained soil.
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So, that’s it! I hope you enjoyed this article. Be sure to check out our other native plant how-to guides.
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