JuneFlower of the Month
Echinacea, a North American genus in the Daisy family, produces big, bright flowers from late June until frost. Blooms will last well cut or dried and the seeds in the large cone at the heart of the flower head provide nourishment for birds. They’re a great food source for goldfinch.
Echinacea is very versatile, making itself at home everywhere from wildflower meadows to classic cottage gardens to elegant borders and it has plenty of virtues from a care and maintenance standpoint, too. If there were such a thing as a perfect perennial, purple coneflower would be a strong candidate.
It is almost indispensable in butterfly gardens where their bright nectar-rich flowers draw monarchs, swallowtails ,and other winged visitors.
Coneflowers look great in wild settings, but they will have even more impact in your garden. Drifts or irregularly shaped massed plantings make a powerful impact. Perhaps because of it’s prairie origins, purple coneflower combines beautifully with ornamental grasses.
Maintenance is easy for a busy gardener. It doesn’t need much. It’s cold-hardy in USDA zones 3-9 and heat tolerant in AHS zones 8-1. The plants can handle both poor and rich soil and perform consistently in either one. Hot weather doesn’t faze coneflower and it can stand extended dry spells. Echinacea grows 2 to 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Prefers sun, average soil.
Coneflowers can be raised from seed and since they need cold to germinate, sow seeds outdoors in late fall. Plants will also reseed themselves and hybridize easily. To keep the plants you started with, deadhead the flowers or pull the seedlings. Some say they don’t divide well, but since they reseed, in early summer when plants emerge, simply dig up and move to new locations. They should take off quickly if you give them a little moisture to get them going. They might bloom the first year, definitely the following year.
They are remarkably free of pests and disease. May get powdery mildew late in the season, but this isn’t really serious. Thin the clumps from time to time to improve air circulation around plants. One disease that can affect purple coneflower is aster yellows. It’s caused by a phytoplasma, a disease-causing organism. Leafhoppers carry the disease by piercing leaves to feed on plant juices. Infected plants produce underdeveloped and deformed flowers. There is no cure, but if all infected plants are pulled and destroyed, the disease won’t spread. The phytoplasma needs a living host so skip a season after clean up before planting more coneflowers.
The common name “ coneflower” comes from the characteristic center “cone” at the center of the flower head. The generic name Echinacea is rooted in the Greek word echino meaning sea urchin or hedgehog. It references the spikey appearance and feel of the flower heads.