The echinacea plant is an easy to grow, showy, North American native flower that deserves a place in your garden. This perennial grows from zone 3 to zone 10. Living from 10 to 20 years in the garden, it is loved by native pollinators, butterflies and hummingbirds alike. Use this showy flower as a perennial bedding plant, a wildlife attraction, in the cut flower garden or the medicinal herb garden for full benefit.
Benefits of growing the echinacea plant in your garden
- Echinacea is drought tolerant. It thrives in areas with only 15 inches of rain in a year. Once established it doesn’t need pampering.
- Echinacea plants are tough. They can handle cold, drought, and neglect as long as the soil is well drained.
- Echinacea is tolerant of both full sun and partial shade making it a versatile, multi-purpose focal point in the garden.
- Echinacea attracts wild bees, butterflies and other pollinators to the garden
- Hummingbirds, finches, chickadees, and nuthatches feed on the nectar and seeds
- The flowers are long blooming and offer interest all season long, from the showy blooms to the interesting seed cones
- Cold hardy, echinacea plants are hardy down to 40 degrees F. making them a good choice for most areas of North America.
- Echinacea is a large, showy flower and offers a focal point for the perennial bed or vegetable garden.
- The flowers make lovely, long lived cut flowers and display well along side bachelor buttons, sunflowers, or other tall herbs
- 3 species of echinacea are proven immune modulating and antiviral herbs that can be used for herbal remedies
- Echinacea has been used for centuries to successfully remedy snake bites and spider bites, keeping the venom localized and preventing cell destruction.
- The whole plant is active medicinally.
Echinacea plant varieties to choose from
Echinacea is a member of the cone flower family, a subgroup of the asteraceae plant family. Brown eyed Susan and Rudbekia plants are also members of this plant family and share similar growing conditions and uses in the garden.
Echinacea varieties have exploded in popularity in the last 10 or 15 years. The group includes seed grown cultivars selected for flower color and bloom size, as well as selected clonal flowers with stunning colors and attractive traits.
For documented medicinal use you’ll want to stick with varieties of E. purpurea, E. angustifolia, or E. pallida.
This German cultivar boasts abundant large and fragrant deep rose colored flowers, 4-5 inches across. It makes an excellent cutflower, attracting butterflies all summer long! It is easy to grow in average, dry to medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Like other echinacea it is heat and drought tolerant. Height: 2 feet; Spread: 1 foot.
A white flowered echinacea that is fragrant and beautiful. Its majestic white flowers are large, with layered, overlapping, nearly horizontal petals and huge yellow cones. And its branching habit means the blooming season extends right through to fall. This is the perfect herb, cutflower and garden plant all in one! Grows to 30 inches tall with a 2 foot spread. This is a patented echinacea purpurea. (Hardy in zone 4 to 10)
A European selection of echinacea plant that was the Perennial Plant of the Year in 1998. Magnus has rose-purple petals that don’t droop as much as wild echinacea. Developed in the 1980s by Swedish echinacea breeder, Magnus Nilsson, it is a long lasting cut flower. Use it medicinally, too. Grows to 30 inches tall with a spread of 2 feet. Grow it from seed or transplants. (Hardy in zones 3 to 8)
Boldly colored pink echinacea with huge, 7 inch wide, fragrant, non-drooping blossoms that transition from red-purple to pale purple as they mature. Ruby is long blooming throughout the summer months. Medicinal properties are similar to that of the standard variety. Excellent for cut and dried flower arrangements too. Grows to 30 inches tall with a spread of 2 feet. Plant clonal plants. Not patented.
A showy white variety of echinacea purpurea with similar medicinal properties to other E. purpurea varieties. The flowers are luminous when grown in part shade. This is a stunning addition to the echinacea garden. It can be grown from seed or from divisions. (Hardy in zones 3 to 8)
A German selection similar to but larger than wild echinacea. The large pink flowers are deer resistant and attractive to pollinators. Grows to 4 feet with a spread of 2 to 3 feet.
Another pink flowered echinacea plant with narrow, lancet leaves. Buhner believes this variety of echinacea to be more medicinally active than E. purpurea, although it is harder to grow at the edges of its hardiness zone. It prefers full sun and dry to medium well drained soil. Drought tolerant. It is more difficult to germinate, rarely exceeding 50% germination even in ideal conditions.
Like narrowleaf echinacea in both appearance and medicinal action. This is the taller (1m/40”) and the paler of the two. R. Bauer and H. Wagner of the University of Munich, the leading European research group working on echinacea, suggest that E. pallida is the correct name for the plant commonly traded in Europe as E. angustifolia. Like E. angustifolia, germination rates are often less than 40% and may benefit from cold stratification, as suggested for E. angustifolia.
How to grow echinacea plants from seed
The echinacea plant can be difficult to grow from seed because the seed requires cold stratification to germinate. This mimics the conditions found in the wild where the seeds would fall on the ground in the fall and germinate the following spring as the snow recedes and the ground warms up. I’ve found that planting the seed where I want it to grow in early spring, about the time that I would plant peas in my area, is just right to get echinacea started. The early cold soil temperatures offer natural stratification. I sow thickly and transplant some of the seedlings to another location the following spring, once the root system is established.
If you are growing echinacea indoors, to get an early start on spring, place the seeds in a zip lock bag with some just-damp peat. Stick it in the fridge for 30 days or longer. Then plant the seed on the surface of coir pots, with bottom heat, to get them started. Lightly sprinkle some additional soil over the top of the seed just to partially cover, and keep the seed from drying out before they are rooted.
Sow seed shallowly, or sprinkle the seed on the soil surface and press in. The seeds seems to need light to germinate, so don’t cover completely.
Choose a garden location in full sun for best blooms. Plants growing in partial shade will bloom, but you won’t get as many blooms. The flowers are long lasting. I have plantings of echinacea flowers in several areas of my garden, including in full sun and in partial shade. The flowers in both areas bloom, but the plants in part shade stretch and the taller flowers fall over in the wind. If you choose a spot in partial shade, plan to offer flower supports to prevent the blooms from falling over.
Echinacea is often sold in pollinator blends, butterfly blends, and honey bee blends as it is a reliable nectar plant that grows well in meadows and on the edges of fields. It makes a stunning butterfly garden with agastache (anise hyssop),monarda, and bee balm. Consider growing it in the border as a companion planting strip to your vegetable garden. The showy flowers make a great addition to the front garden, too.
How to transplant an echinacea plant in your garden
Echinacea transplants easily in the garden. If you are transplanting nursery stock, as you will with named cultivars, make the planting hole about twice the width of the pot and just as deep. Work in handful of kelp meal and a handful of organic bloom fertilizer to prevent transplant shock and get the plants off to a good start. Keep the ground between the plants well weeded to prevent crowding out the plant roots as they get established.
Plant transplants on 2 foot centers. Plant will spread 1 to 2 feet and grow 25 to 30 inches tall. The blooms are large with some flowers reaching 4 to 5 inches across.
Echinacea makes a dramatic mass planting with its cheery large blooms and abundant nectar. You’ll find that butterflies and other native pollinators crowd the plants and the mass plantings offer an abundant supply of nectar and medicinal pollen for bee colonies and solitary bees, alike.
Dividing and maintaining an echinacea planting
An echinacea plant will spread to 2 feet in a planting. If left alone the roots can overcrowd, and the plants will not be able to draw up enough nutrients from the soil. Divide plants every 3 to 4 years. In colder growing areas divide and transplant plants in early spring before the lush growth begins. In warmer areas plants can be divided in either spring or fall. Divide the plant by slicing into the side of a plant with a sharp shovel. Replant the root division in full sun, on 2 foot centers.
3rd year roots of echinacea are used in herbal medicine. The roots of divided plants can be cleaned and used for medicine instead of replanting. For medicinal use gather the roots in fall or early spring, during the dormant season.
How to use echinacea as a cut flower
Echinacea is a stunning, long lasting cut flower. It needs no special treatment to continue blooming in the vase for up to 2 weeks after cutting. Pair it with sunflowers, bachelor buttons, and baby’s breathe. It looks great with other asteraceae flowers.
How to use echinacea as herbal medicine
The echinacea plant has been used in herbal medicine for hundreds of years. It is a safe and effective remedy to support the immune system during bacterial and viral attacks. Use it to make an infused honey for coughs and sore throats or an echinacea tincture to ward off colds and flu, and a remedy to support the body to fight a virus. It’s even been used as a poultice for snake bites and spider bites to support the body in resisting the venom.
Plant diseases common to echinacea
Several bacterial and fungal diseases can infect echinacea flowers. Give the plants good air circulation and avoid watering in the evening, to prevent fungal infections. Fungal infections show up as brown, black, or gold spots on the leaves. The deep leaf veins can make fungal spots look angular.
Remove affected leaves and toss in the garbage. Do not compost. Plants that have persistent fungal infection should be removed from the bed to contain the spread of the fungus.
- aster yellows
- sclerotinia stem rot
- fusarium crown and root rot
- botrytis blight
- alternaria leaf spot
Insect pests of echinacea and how to manage them
Many beetles and beneficial insects feed from echinacea so is not usually bothered by insect pests.
Japanese beetles can destroy young echinacea plants, though. Look for Japanese beetles in June and July. Handpicking in the morning and afternoon is the most effective way to interrupt their life cycle and stop the spread. Insecticidal soap can help to manage large infestations.
Leaf miners and aphids can also infest Echinacea plantings. Predatory insects will take care of these if you have a healthy population of lady bugs, predatory wasps, and soldier beetles. To encourage more predatory insects plant yarrow, dill, or flowering carrot (Daucus carota) near your garden.
Echinacea in YOUR garden
Echinacea is an easy to grow perennial with many purposes in the landscape. It can attract beneficial insects and native pollinators to your garden with it’s abundant pollen and nectar. It is a showy flower for the perennial bed with multi-season interest and color. Echinacea flowers make long lasting cut flowers for summer and fall bouquets. And it is a proven herbal remedy to support the immune system during viral attacks. Grow this stunning echinacea plant in your garden for a long lasting supply of herbal remedies, flower bouquets, and beauty.
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