How to Plant, Grow and Care For Coneflowers

Thinking of planting some coneflowers in your garden this season but aren't quite sure where to start? Coneflowers are very resilient flowers, that can do well in warmer climates and full sun conditions. In this article, gardening expert Natalie Leiker takes you through how to plant, grow and care for coneflowers in your garden this season!

Coneflower Growing in garden

Whether you’re looking to fill a part of your yard, or need an eye-catching pop of color in your landscape, coneflowers could be a great option! Coneflowers love the sun, and can withstand periods of drought in warm climates. There are also some varieties that are native to the United States, making them perfect for gardeners interested in growing a native wildflower garden.

Coneflowers are widely popular plants across the world, and with good reason. They are low maintenance, deer resistant, and attract loads of butterflies and other pollinators. Echinacea also make great garden companions, and are visually stunning with their perennial purple flowers. They are also seen blooming in pink and white (less common).

In this article, we’ll talk about how to plant, grow, and maintain your coneflowers so that you have happy, healthy plants for many seasons to come. Let’s dig in and walk through each step!

Coneflower Plant Overview

Coneflower Plant Overview
Plant Type Herbaceous Perennial
Family Asteraceae
Genus Echinacea
Species Purpurea, Angustifolia
Native Area North America
Sunlight Full sun
Water Requirements Low
Maintenance Low to moderate
Height 24-36 inches
Plant Spacing 24-36 inches
Soil Well-draining, loamy
Soil pH Neutral to acidic
Hardiness USDA zones 3-9
Plant With Full sun perennials, ornamental grass
Don’t Plant With Plants with high moisture needs

What Are Coneflowers?

Flowers grow in the garden
Echinacea is a perennial flowering plant that is a member of the Asteraceae family.

Coneflowers are herbaceous perennials that generally grow about 24-36 inches tall and wide, and produce flowers that have a cone shape, looking very similar to a birdie you use to play badminton. They are from the same family as daisies, which is why they share a similar visual appearance.

The flowers last for a very long time and attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. They are a relatively low maintenance plant once established and are very popular around the world as landscape plants, cottage garden borders, and even container plants.

They are native to central and eastern parts of the USA, and thrive in the warmer months. Coneflowers will bloom all season long, and when the flowers begin to dry on the plant, they will keep attracting birds and other beneficial insects!

Attracting butterflies, bees, and other pollinators is not the only benefit coneflowers bring to the table. They are widely used for medicinal purposes, and make great cut flowers for arrangements as well!

Native Area

Purple coneflowers growing wild
These herbaceous perennials grow preferably in warm places, in the central and eastern part of the USA.

Coneflowers are native to central and eastern USA, in states such as: Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, and many more. They grow best in warm, sunny locations, and can withstand poor rocky or semi clay soils.

Since they are so widely spread across the U.S, they are very adaptable to a wide range of climate conditions. They can tolerate drought, handle humidity, and are even deer and rabbit resistant.

Cultivation & History

Echinacea purpurea blooms in a field
Echinacea has been used for medicinal purposes, but also as a beautiful ornamental plant.

The purple coneflower was first found in the 18th century by explorers, and was used medicinally by Native Americans until it became popular in the early 1900s. It was widely used by Native Americans in the 1800s as a remedy for many ailments including sore throats, coughs, snake bites, and as a painkiller.

Over the years Echinacea has been cultivated and modified into the varieties we see today. Finding the true purple coneflower Echinacea purpurea or Echinacea angustifolia can be challenging as most varieties available are modified versions of these species.

There are many different varieties and cultivars available, each one being drought tolerant and heat tolerant. They are considered one of the most hardy perennials due to their ability to withstand such a wide range of climate conditions and soils.

Characteristics

Pink flowers bloom in the garden
Echinacea produces cone-shaped flowers with vibrant shades of pink, purple, white, and yellow.

They are notorious for their vivid blooms that butterflies and other pollinators love! They have a fairly compact growing habit, but can spread over time in the right climate, and can make a great addition to full sun perennial landscape beds.

Most varieties grow about two feet tall, but some can reach three feet or larger depending on climate and other factors. They have dark green, pubescent leaves that can become more prickly as the plant matures.

This pubescence is one of the factors that deter deer from snacking on the leaves. Above these dark green leaves, the plant displays unique looking flowers that are usually cone-shaped. They bloom in bright shades of orange, purple, white, yellow, pink, the list goes on!

When to Plant

White Flowering Plant
Since Echinacea is considered a hardy perennial, it can be planted in spring, summer, and autumn.

Coneflowers can be planted in spring, summer, or fall. Transplants can be found at your local nursery or garden center. They are hardy perennials, so they will handle the harsh conditions of winter months once they are well established.

In order to establish your plants, plant them when they will have enough time to adapt to the new conditions before the weather turns. Spring or summer planting is ideal, but an early fall planting can work too.

Spring

Coneflowers can be found in the spring as bedding plants, but are more readily available in late spring or summer when the weather starts to warm up. Planting in the spring allows your plants plenty of time to mature, just keep in mind they are a bit sensitive to cooler temperatures when first transplanted.

Summer/Fall

Many varieties are available in the summer and fall and can add so much fall color to your landscape or containers. Plant in summer or early fall to ensure the plant has enough time to get established before the winter months arrive.

How to Plant

Seedlings ready for planting
Coneflowers can be purchased in a container and transplanted into your garden or flower pot.

Coneflowers can be found as already started bedding plants at local nurseries and garden centers. These plants can be transplanted into your landscape bed or containers very easily and will give you a head start on establishing your new plant.

How to Grow

When it comes to growth, they are easy to care for and considered relatively low maintenance once they get established. They will also quickly adapt to their new location. They can be planted in landscape borders, as accents, and even in raised beds or patio pots.

Let’s dive into how to grow and maintain your coneflower plants in your backyard. There are a few things to consider when choosing the best spot and environment for planting.

Sunlight

Coneflower bloom in full sunlight
They thrive best in places where full sun is available all day.

Coneflowers are native to open areas, prairies, and valleys where they are the most exposed to sun. Keep this in mind when choosing your planting location. They will do best in an area that gets sun all day long.

They can tolerate some shade (a few hours), but without all that sun they might not bloom as much, or grow as fast as they will in full sun. Coneflowers perform best when planted in full sun conditions and require about 6-8 hours of sunshine daily. This amount of sunlight is the key to keeping your plant happy and healthy and keeping it blooming prolifically.

Location

Flowers blooming in the garden
They need ample space to grow and prefer to get good air flow and plenty of sunlight.

Plant in a fairly open location where they will have plenty of space to grow. Most varieties tend to grow about 2 feet in diameter, but over time they will spread a decent amount. Ensuring each plant has enough space will allow them to receive adequate sunlight, air flow, and space for growth.

Water

Flowers in garden getting watered
They need regular watering but should not be kept too moist.

Coneflowers are notorious for their ability to withstand periods of drought. This does not mean you should actively avoid watering them. They will benefit from a consistent watering schedule, but should not be kept too moist.

Allow the soil to almost dry out before really soaking your plants again. This is especially crucial right after planting as the correct watering practices will help your plant establish itself.

Soil

man holding soil for planting
They can tolerate any type of soil, but grows best in well-drained loamy soil.

Coneflowers prefer well-draining, loamy soils, but can tolerate rocky, sandy soils and even clay soils. The type of soil you plant in should determine how and how often you water. In rocky and loamy soils where water drains quickly, water frequently and consistently. In soils that are clay or tend to drain slower, you will not have to water as often.

Climate & Temperature

Flowers in the garden
This plant withstands both warm and cold climates.

As natives to many regions of the U.S, they can withstand warm climates as well as harsh winters. They can withstand dry conditions and even fluctuations in humidity. Coneflowers grow best in the warmer months where conditions allow them to dry out in between waterings.

If you are growing them in an area where humidity tends to be high, allowing the soil to dry out in between waterings is crucial. High humidity and lack of space or air flow can lead to diseases such as powdery mildew.

Fertilizer

Fertilizer on a blue garden shovel
It is recommended to apply an all-purpose fertilizer or compost annually.

They aren’t heavy feeders, meaning they do not require high amounts of nutrients in order to grow. They will benefit from a low all purpose fertilizer application annually, or an amendment of compost to your garden beds to replenish the soil.

Pruning & Deadheading

pruning dead garden flowers
It is recommended to prune after the first growing season.

Coneflowers are pretty low maintenance once you get them established and adapted to their new soil. Throughout the first season, light pruning may be required as your plant starts to grow and the old leaves die off. Following the first season, the same pruning practice applies and can help maintain the plant’s shape and structure.

Propagation

Purchasing from at a nursery is the quickest and easiest option for most home gardeners, but there are other ways to cultivate them. Coneflowers can be started from seed that is purchased, or seeds can be harvested from your already existing plants. New plants can be started by dividing already matured plants.

Seeds

Dry flowering seed head
Wait for the echinacea flowers to have completely dried out and collect the seeds.

Echinacea begins to bloom in mid to late summer, and will continue to bloom until late fall in certain climates. Towards the end of its blooming cycle, the flower heads will begin to produce seeds.

These seeds can be harvested, dried, and kept for planting the next season. Let’s dive in on how to harvest and store the Echinacea seeds. It is important to keep in mind that some coneflower plants are sterile – this is primarily true for hybridized varieties. Sterile plants will produce seeds that are not viable.

Following blooming, the flowers will begin to produce seeds. It is important to wait until the right time to harvest these seeds otherwise you run the risk of them not being viable. Wait until the flowers have completely dried out and turned brown in color. Then your seeds are ready to harvest.

Cut the flower heads off just a couple inches below the seed head. Pick the seeds out and lay them out on a napkin or paper towel to dry. The seeds will need to dry for about a week or until completely dry before placing them in an airtight container and storing them in a cool place ~ around 50-55 degrees. Keep in mind that the seeds you harvest may not produce an identical plant or bloom color as the mother plant.

Coneflower seeds are also available by themselves or often seen in a wildflower mix. These seeds should be sown directly into the ground after the danger of frost has passed.

Division

New Plant Leaves
Another way to propagate is by digging up new shoots that have formed in clumps of growth to create a new plant.

Division of coneflowers is not the most popular method of propagation, but it is possible. Over time, your plant will begin to form new plant shoots in clumps of growth. These clumps can be dug up and divided from the original plant, creating a new plant.

It is best to let your plant grow for at least two years before considering division. This will allow the plant time to establish itself and mature properly, ensuring division will not damage the plant.

Popular Varieties

There are over ten species of coneflowers, and many varieties to choose from. All are very hardy types of perennial flowers, and each one produces striking colors and features to the landscape. Let’s talk about some popular varieties you might see when shopping at the garden center.

Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea purpurea
Echinacea purpurea produces light purple flowers blooming from summer to late autumn.

Also known as purple coneflowers, echinacea purpurea are the variety you will see growing native in the U.S, usually in prairies or open spaces. Purple coneflowers bloom in light purple shades from summer to late fall.

They will typically grow about two feet tall and wide, although over time can spread or reseed creating dense clumps. This variety can be hard to come by in garden centers as transplants and finding seeds might be a more feasible option.

Echinacea purpurea ‘Pow Wow Wild Berry’

Echinacea purpurea ‘Pow Wow Wild Berry'
This variety is a compact type of Echinacea that has bright dense purple flowers.

Pow Wow Wild Berry has been bred to be an improved version of Echinacea purpurea. This variety is very similar to the purple coneflower, only grows more compact and has brighter darker purple flowers. The mature plant size is around two feet.

Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’

Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’
‘White Swan’ produces graceful white flowers that bloom all summer.

‘White Swan’ is a commonly seen variety that produces white flowers on orangish cones. This variety can grow up to 3 feet tall, and will bloom all summer right until the colder months.

Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’

Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’
‘Cheyenne Spirit’ blooms with bright flowers of orange or cream shades.

Cheyenne spirit is another very popular variety, and produces bright flowers that are usually shades of orange or cream. These bright orange blooms make them a fall favorite in the landscape. This variety will grow to about 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide at mature size.

Echinacea purpurea ‘Green Jewel’

Echinacea purpurea ‘Green Jewel’
‘Green Jewel’ produces unique light green flowers.

‘Green Jewel’ is a very unique variety that displays light green flower petals on a darker green cone. This variety tends to grow a little shorter than some, topping out at about two feet.

Plant Uses

Planting flowers in pot
Echinacea is used in mass plantings, with ornamental grasses and flowering perennials, and also in pots.

Coneflowers make a great addition to a full sun garden as a border, accent, or even in mass plantings as a statement.

They look great planted with ornamental grasses, flowering perennials, and smaller shrubs. Some smaller varieties would do great in containers or patio pots as long as they’re given enough room.

While coneflowers are simply beautiful in the landscape or as cut flowers in arrangements, they also are widely known for their medicinal properties. Echinacea tea is often used as a home remedy for the common cold.

Pests

Even though this flower is fairly pest resistant, there are still a few pests that you’ll need to monitor for on a regular basis. Let’s take a look at the most common insects and other pests you’ll need to keep an eye out for during your maintenance routine.

Aphids

Aphid on flower
Aphids can cause discoloration of a plant by feeding on its leaves.

Green or brown aphids can sometimes appear on the undersides of leaves and can harm your coneflowers and surrounding plants. These insects feed off of your plants’ leaves and can cause discoloration and eventually plant death if left untreated.

Remove these bugs by splashing them with hose water, or spray an insecticidal soap as a more effective method.

Deer

deer in field of yellow Coneflowers
Despite the fact that they are resistant to deer, these animals can feast on the new leaves of young plants.

Coneflowers are often referred to as ‘deer resistant’. While this is generally true, deer are sometimes seen munching on new leaves in early spring, especially on younger plants. Mature plants tend to be safe from hungry deer.

Japanese Beetles

Japanese Beetle on flower
Japanese beetles are capable of destroying their leaves, which will adversely affect the overall health of the plant.

These bothersome beetles can do a number on your plant’s leaves. Coneflower is not the Japanese beetles’ first choice when it comes to feeding, but can cause serious plant damage if they are present.

They create holes in plant leaves and can destroy the plants’ health. Apply an insecticidal spray to the plant, or apply nematodes that will attack the grubs and interrupt the beetles’ life cycle.

Diseases

There are a few diseases worth watching out for, even though this flower is fairly disease resistant. These diseases are fairly common amongst most plants, so the prevention and treatment will apply to most other species in your garden. Let’s take a deeper look at the most common fungal and bacterial diseases you’ll need to regularly monitor.

Powdery Mildew

Powdery mildew on leaf
The appearance of powdery mildew indicates excessive humidity and lack of airflow.

Powdery mildew is often seen on the tops of leaves in humid climates or where not much air flow is allowed to the plants. This grayish powdery substance is quite a nuisance and can spread to surrounding plants if not treated.

To eradicate powdery mildew, you can apply a copper fungicide, or mix two tablespoons of epsom salt and baking soda in one gallon of water and simply splash the leaves with the solution.

Stem & Root Rot

Flowers wilting
Root rot can occur due to overwatering.

As coneflowers are drought tolerant and do not require being watered frequently. They can become damaged where they stay moist for too long. This can result in stem and root rot. Stem and root rot causes the roots or lower stem to turn brown and rot.

This can severely damage the plant, and even cause plant death. Keep soil fresh each season, and allow the soil to dry out in between waterings in order to prevent this disease.

Aster Yellows

Aster Yellows
To prevent the spread of the disease, keep an eye on pests and remove weeds.

Aster yellows is a plant disease that is transmitted through sap-sucking insects such as leafhoppers or mites. Other plants can harbor this disease and will return each year if not eradicated efficiently.

Aster yellows causes leaves to yellow, deformed or curled leaves, distorted flowers, and even seed abortion. In order to prevent this disease, keep your landscape weed free, and keep an eye out for sap sucking pests.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why aren’t my coneflower plants blooming?

Coneflowers require full sun in order to produce flowers. If your plant is not receiving enough light, this can hinder it from producing flowers. If your plant is receiving full sun but still not blooming, try a low application of an all purpose fertilizer to encourage flowers growth.

My coneflower’s leaves are turning brown, is this normal?

As your plant grows, the old leaves will turn brown and slowly die off. Simply remove these leaves to maintain the plant’s appearance. Another reason leaves could be browning is from being overwatered. Allow your soil to almost dry out in between waterings.

Are coneflowers deer resistant?

Yes! Deer will not typically snack on coneflowers. However, if they are the only foliage available to deer, they will munch on them.

Final Thoughts

Coneflowers, native to many regions of the U.S, are adaptable to many weather conditions and soil types. These drought-tolerant, heat-loving plants can be a great option for gardeners who want a low-maintenance plant that will provide much beauty! Plant coneflowers in landscape borders, mass plantings, or containers. They will do best in well-draining soil and bloom in the warmest months.

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