Coneflower 101: Care Tips, New Varieties and More
A coneflower is easy to care for, can be started from seed, and comes in a rainbow of varieties. Plus, pollinators love them!
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Coneflowers are popular perennials, native to the central and eastern United States, are easy to grow and come in a range of varieties. Here’s what you should know before planting a coneflower in your yard.
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What Is a Coneflower?
Coneflowers are known botanically as Echinacea. They’re self-seeders that spread every year to fill a garden with color, providing a reliable show when other flowers fade. They’re also easy to control—simply pull any unwanted tender young seedlings that sprout in spring.
Beloved for their daisy-like look that makes a big impact in the garden, coneflowers’ blooms reach up to 4 inches wide. The classic form makes them the perfect cutting flower when your indoor space could benefit from a cheerful backyard bouquet.
How to Care for Coneflower
- Botanical name: Echinacea
- Zones: 3 to 9
- Soil: Well-draining
- Light needs: Full sun to partial shade
Coneflowers do best in plant zones 3 to 9, making them suitable for growing within most of the United States. While they can handle partial shade, plant them in full sun for maximum flower power.
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Another easy-care trait of coneflowers is that they adapt to a variety of soil conditions. Loose, well-draining soil is ideal, but most coneflowers will acclimate to rocky or clay soils over time. Although coneflowers are tolerant of drought and heat, work compost into the ground around plants in early spring, water regularly through the growing season, and mulch in winter to keep plants strong and protected from common diseases like powdery mildew.
While it’s true that these beauties generally have a low-fuss factor, some simple care keeps them healthy and thriving, especially when it comes to the flashy cultivars available at garden centers.
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How to Plant Coneflower Seeds
If planting from seed, direct sow after the danger of frost has passed. Start seeds indoors eight to 10 weeks before the last frost date to get a jump-start. Most coneflower seed packets come with detailed care instructions. Follow these instructions closely for the best results.
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Pollinators Love Coneflowers
Savvy gardeners with green thumbs aren’t coneflowers’ only fans. Debbie Roos, an agriculture extension agent with the Chatham County Center of North Carolina Cooperative Extension designed and maintains a demonstration pollinator garden that includes more than 225 species of plants, 85% of them native to North Carolina. She’s seen her share of coneflower visitors.
“Coneflowers provide nectar and pollen for many species, including bees, butterflies, flower flies and beetles,” she says. “They are also important to birds. Hummingbirds enjoy the nectar and songbirds feed on the seeds from fall through winter if you leave the plants intact at the tail end of the growing season.”
Debbie has also observed many bee species visiting coneflowers, including bumblebees, leafcutter bees, small carpenter bees, sweat bees, honeybees and others. Coneflowers lure another beneficial flier that natural ecosystems rely on: butterflies. Debbie says these flowers attract swallowtails, monarchs, American ladies, sulphurs and more. “They’re also a host plant for silvery checkerspot butterflies,” she adds.
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Landscape With Native Purple Coneflowers
As a native plant, coneflowers thrive in naturalized areas. Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), the most popular and well-known of the bunch, is best suited for natural environments because it tolerates dry conditions once established. In these settings, grow other prairie plants that complement coneflowers, such as black-eyed Susan, native grasses and yarrow.
Coneflowers’ charm and grace also make them a standout in a cottage-style garden. With blooms perched on upright stems, this old-fashioned favorite mingles well with Shasta daisies, bee balm and garden phlox. Or plant with color in mind. Purple coneflower complements the bright orange hue of butterfly weed and enhances the pastel palette of plants such as silvery lamb’s ear or pink verbena.
Grown en masse, they perform well in both borders and berms, promising endless drifts of color. Over time, they grow to create a lush look that requires only a little upkeep, such as occasional thinning. Grow coneflowers with equally assertive plant partners such as agastache or native grasses to add some diversity.
5 New Coneflower Varieties to Grow
Available in more colors than ever, this garden all-star comes in white, yellow, orange, pink and red.
1. White Swan
The snowy white petals of this garden classic wrap around a coppery cone. White swan has a natural look perfect for a native garden.
2. Big Kahuna
Add a tropical touch to a landscape with mango-hued blooms that boast a scent as lovely as the Hawaiian Islands.
3. Hot Papaya
Spicy red-orange flowers with a pompom center bloom from mid-to-late summer. Hot papaya packs a visual punch when planted in groups.
4. Double Decker
The unusual two-tiered blooms of double decker feature cheerful dark pink petals that make garden visitors take a second look.
5. Mellow Yellows
Bees and butterflies especially love the creamy, dreamy flowers on mellow yellows that bloom from summer into late fall, offering a long-lasting show.