Echinacea will enhance any flower border or garden, and it’s lovely when grown in meadows and naturalized settings. The flowers are aromatic, daisy-like with slightly drooping petals and normally in shades of lavender and purple (although some cultivars are red, white and yellow) with an iridescent orange-red-brown, coned center. The name comes from the Greek word ‘echinos’ which means hedgehog and refers to the spiny cone. The flowers are arranged individually on long, sturdy stems, and the foliage is simple, lance-shaped and slightly rough. There bloom season is long, lasting much of the summer and into the fall. Echinacea is great for cutting with a long vase-life of 5 – 7 days.
How to Grow Echinacea from flower seed: Commercial growers recommend a pretreatment of cold/moist stratification for 30 – 90 days prior to planting Echinacea seeds in the spring after frost season has passed. In a prepared seedbed that is weed free, broadcast Echinacea seeds at a rate of 12 pounds per acre. Lightly rake the seeds into the soil, covering the seed with no more than 1/8 inch of soil. Keep the seeds moist, and with an optimal temperature of 70°-75°F, germination is usually within 2 – 4 weeks. Propagation from root cuttings is also reliable when done in the fall.
Coneflower care includes deadheading the spent flowers to promote additional blooms; however, leaving the flowers to dry will also attract songbirds to eat the dried seeds in the winter. Echinacea plants should be divided every few years to keep them blooming well. Echinacea does not compete well with weeds, so weeds must be kept cut down, and mulching around the base of the plants with organic matter will help suppress weeds. Extra fertilizer is not needed if organic mulches are added each year to the base of the Echinacea clump.
Considered to be a medicinal herb, Purple Coneflower was widely used by the American Indians as a remedy for illnesses and snake bites. Today, Echinacea is reported to improve the body’s immune system, and it’s used in treating respiratory illnesses, as an anti-inflammatory and in treating wounds. In commercial use, Echinacea roots are harvested after 3 – 4 years of growth as a medicinal herb, although the entire plant can be dried and used in teas.
Echinacea is a marvelous perennial to add to your landscape! It’s one of the top suggested flowers to grow for attracting butterflies to the garden. It’s a hardy flower that does not demand tremendous care in order for it to perform its best, it provides months of enjoyment, and it brings wildlife in – what a flower to have!
Purple Coneflower, as it’s commonly called, can be described as a vigorous perennial that is fairly drought tolerant, performs well in full sun to partial shade, and likes well-drained, fertile soil with a neutral pH. Echinacea will grow in USDA Zones 4 – 9, and some species will perform in zones 3 - 10. It is native to the mid-western and southeastern United States. Many species will form a clump up to 3 feet wide and will reach 3 feet in height with a long taproot giving them good drought tolerance once well established.
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