Both people and pollinators love this pretty North American native. With colorful blooms from summer to fall, purple coneflowers shine in a variety of settings. This plant has seen a resurgence in popularity, which has led to more varieties to choose from. There’s a coneflower for every garden, including bright single flowers and double blossoms.
The big blooms of coneflowers are usually made up of a brownish-orange central "cone" and a ring of long, slender petals radiating out from it. The petals have a pinkish purple hue, but an array of new varieties offer more flower shapes such as doubles, and colors from orange and yellow to red and deep pink so there's a coneflower for every garden.
Coneflower Care Must-Knows
If you aren't familiar with coneflower in a garden setting, you may be familiar with it as a natural cold remedy. Purple coneflower has long been sought after for its cold-fighting properties, especially in teas. All parts of the plant are purported to have immune-boosting effects.
Because purple coneflower is native to grass prairies, it prefers well-drained soil and tolerates drought well. They won't tolerate anything less than full sun; if planted in too much shade, purple coneflowers tend to get leggy and flop. Plus, plants are more susceptible to foliar diseases, such as powdery mildew, when planted in the shade.
Once plants have finished blooming, remove spent blooms to help encourage a second round of blooms. As fall sets in, leave a few flower heads on the plant; the seeds provide food for many small birds. Goldfinches especially seem fond of sitting atop spent blossoms and picking away at the tasty seeds. If left on the plant, coneflowers may reseed themselves around your garden. But remember any seedlings will be different from the parent, especially with the fancier varieties.
One problem with coneflower and other plants in the aster family is that it is susceptible to aster yellows, a plant virus carried by thrips. These pesky little bugs feed on pollen, as well as plant juices, by scraping the plant tissue and drinking the sap. As these bugs fly around and feed, they transmit the virus from plant to plant. Symptoms will be visible on new buds and open flowers that will show erratic, contorted growth. If you see this on your plant, there is no cure except to dig up the plant and properly dispose of it before the disease is transmitted to any other plants.
New Types of Coneflowers
There have been many new and exciting innovations in the world of purple coneflower. Breeders in the late '90s and early 2000s began crossing the yellow species, Echinacea paradoxa, with the common purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. This opened up new possibilities and created new colors. Some of the most recent innovations include shorter, more durable plants, especially ones that can easily and uniformly be grown from seed. And the coneflower boom doesn't seem to be slowing down. Scientists have begun developing crosses between coneflowers and black-eyed Susans to create a new cross called Echibeckia.
More Varieties of Coneflower
Echinacea purpurea 'Bravado' is a robust plant that grows to 4 feet tall. It bears loads of 4- to 5-inch-wide blooms that range in color from light pink to magenta rose. Petals stand out for maximum display. Zones 3-9
Can't decide on which color coneflower to choose? Echinacea 'Cheyenne Spirit' is a custom seed mixture that has all the colors on compact plants, they even bloom the first year from seed! Zones 4-9
This selection of Echinacea has traditional, shuttlecock-shaped blooms in a bold new color of glowing red. Dark colored cones add to the intensity on nice, compact plants. Zones 4-10
This Echinacea purpurea variety has 5-inch-wide white daisies with an orange center cone. It grows 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Zones 3-9
Echinacea 'Green Envy' offers mauve-purple petals tipped in lime green. It grows 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Zones 3-9
This cultivar of Echinacea 'Matthew Saul' blooms in bright orangey-yellow with a golden-orange cone. It grows 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Zones 3-9
Echinacea 'Hot Papaya' is a tall plant covered with large, lightly fragrant, bright orange double blooms. Zones 4-9
This selection of Echinacea purpurea blooms in bright rose with a brownish-red cone and petals that stand out rather than droop. It grows 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Zones 3-9
Echinacea 'CBG Cone 3' offers peachy-yellow flowers with a slightly darker orange stem. It grows 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Zones 3-9
Also sold as 'Art's Pride' coneflower, this selection of Echinacea blooms in bright orange with dark cones and grows 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Zones 3-9
Echinacea pallida is perfectly at home in a naturalized meadow and has pale pink straplike petals and a skyrocket central cone. It grows 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Zones 4-8
This Echinacea variety is a remarkable selection with bright orange fragrant flowers in summer and autumn. It grows 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Zones 4-9
Echinacea purpurea offers mauve-purple flowers all summer on a 5-foot-tall, 2-foot-wide plant. Zones 3-9
Echinacea 'CBG Cone 2' has flat, pink, dark-eyed daisies on 18-inch-tall plants. It grows 2 feet tall wide. Zones 3-9
Coneflower Companion Plants
Lamb's-ears is a top pick for a groundcover in a hot, baked spot. Its silver felted foliage quickly forms a dense, delightful mat. It also contrasts nicely with other foliage and most flowers. Depending on the type and your growing conditions, it may self-sow freely to the point of becoming a bother. In hot humid climates, lamb's-ears may "melt down" in summer, becoming brown and limp. A different but related plant, big betony is worth growing for its shade tolerance, dark green crumpled leaves, and bright purple spikes of whorled 1-inch flowers in late spring. Wood betony is similar but not as shade-tolerant.
Globe thistle is one of the most elegantly colored plants around. It has fantastical large blue balls of steel blue flowers in midsummer, which would be enough. But making it even more lovely are its large coarse grayish-green leaves, which set off the flower beautifully. If you can bear to separate them from the foliage, globe thistle makes a great cut flower, lasting for weeks in the vase. It also dries well. It's bothered by few pests or diseases. If it likes its conditions, it will reseed fairly readily. If you want to prevent this, deadhead flowers shortly after they fade.
With its tall wispy wands of lavender or blue flowers and silvery foliage, Russian sage is an important player in summer and fall gardens. It shows off well against most flowers and provides an elegant look to flower borders. The aromatic leaves are oblong and deeply cut along the edges. Foot-long panicles of flowers bloom for many weeks. Excellent drainage and full sun are ideal, although very light shade is tolerated. Plant close to avoid staking because the tall plants tend to flop.
Garden Plans for Coneflower
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