More and more gardeners are seeking out perennial plants.
Echinacea are a very popular perennial that fills a number of landscaping needs. They can be long-term investments that offer good value at an effective cost.
Echinacea has been one of the varieties seeing a significant growth in breeding activity. It remains a “top five” perennial in terms of retail sales. Several advances have produced plants that have set a new standard in compact-growing, well-branched Echinacea. Breeding trials have resulted in bringing free-flowering plants to market that overwinter successfully in cooler zones. Poor winter hardiness is a source of frustration with some gardeners. However, recent breeding has developed seed-grown varieties selected specifically for their bold coloring and trialed for overwintering success to USDA Zone 4.
The coneflower is a native to central and eastern North America and is a member of the Asteraceae family. Other flowers in the Asteraceae family include daisy, sunflower, and aster. The name “Asteraceae” finds its origin from the Greek word for star. The main family feature is its composite flower type: Its capitula (flower head) is surrounded by involucral bracts. Most Echinacea blooms are oversized bright disks atop rings of downward-curving petals. The name “Echinacea” is also derived from the Greek word “echino,” which means spiky or prickly, referring to the plant’s floral center. The florets are hermaphroditic, with both male and female organs on each flower. Pollination occurs most often with the help of butterflies and bees.
Echinacea in the Garden
You’ll find wild-growing Echinacea in sunny, dry open woodlands and prairies. The plant prefers loamy, well-drained soil, but it is little affected by soil pH. Cultivated Echinacea offer reliable performance as a perennial plant under a wide variety of conditions. Echinacea can be propagated from seed or vegetatively using various techniques, such as division, basal cuttings, or root cuttings.
Echinacea is attractive to birds, bees, and butterflies making it a great choice for a pollinator-friendly garden. It is generally deer resistant. Because of their root structure, the plants are drought tolerant and can withstand heat and wind. Used in garden borders or backgrounds, Echinacea adds color and texture for a wildflower or prairie-style garden. For best visual impact, plant in masses. Deadhead florets to encourage further blooms. Echinacea flowers through the summer (June through August). Its seed heads can be left to dry on the plant to feed wild birds through the fall and winter. Echinacea plants will reseed in the fall, with new flowers growing the following season. Hardiness zones vary by variety, with a range from USDA Zone 4-9.
Cheyenne Spirit is a seed-grown hybrid Echinacea with excellent overwintering performance on drought-tolerant plants. As an All-America Selections winner, it is praised for its brilliant, segregated color range: red, orange, purple, scarlet, cream, yellow and white. Hardy to USDA Zone 4. It grows 18-30 inches tall and 10-20 inches wide.
PowWow™ Wild Berry is also a seed-raised Echinacea that has intense rose coloring and produces many flowers in its first season. It is very drought tolerant and doesn’t experience color fade. Remains compact at 16-20 inches tall and spreads 12-16 inches wide in the garden.
Sombrero™ Baja Burgundy grows 18-20 inches tall, spreading in the garden 18-24 inches. Available as vegetatively propagated plants, it blooms from late spring, through summer to first frost and has a bold vibrant color with overlapping petals which leaves no gaps. It grows on sturdy stems and is floriferous for many months of enjoyment each season. Hardy to USDA Zone 4
Starting from Seed
When growing from seed, Echinacea will flower in 11-15 weeks so if started indoors early enough, it is possible to get flowers in the first season. With most varieties, sow seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before outdoor planting date. Plant the seeds 1/8″ deep in soilless growing medium. Cover lightly with 1/4″ fine soil and keep moist at 65-70 F. Seedlings should emerge in approximately 10-20 days. As with most seedlings, you can transplant them to larger containers when seedlings have at least 2 pairs of true leaves. Before transplanting the young plants to the outside garden, harden off by exposing the plants to outdoors for gradually increasing time frames.
How To Grow
Echinacea are generally low maintenance. Plant in full sun, or light shade in hotter climates. Dividing every few years will keep them healthy. No additional fertilizing is necessary as heavy fertilization leads to tall, leggy plants that flop. Also, avoid over-watering as Echinacea prefer drier conditions once established.
While most home garden Echinacea is ornamental, it can be grown as a fresh or dried cut flower. Allow flowers to mature on the plant before harvesting. Dry by hanging upside down in a well-ventilated, dry area. Fresh Echinacea has a short vase life of seven days.
Pests and Diseases
Echinacea may be affected by slugs, Japanese beetles, Bacterial Leaf Spot, Powdery Mildew, or botrytis.
Which AAS Winning Echinacea are you going to add to your garden this year?
“This post is provided as an education/inspirational service of All-America Selections. Please credit and link to All-America Selections when using all or parts of this article.”
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