What Is Coneflower? (5 Key Facts About Coneflower Care)


Coneflower, or Echinacea, is a beautiful, easygoing wildflower native to the eastern and central regions of the United States. Due to the prickly centers of the flowers, their genus is named after the Greek word for hedgehog (echinos).  

Coneflowers are a self-seeding, easy-going plant that requires little maintenance. With proper care, they can add color to the garden, attract pollinators, and be used as an herbal remedy. Most varieties thrive in zones 3-9 and do best in partial shade. 

Although coneflowers will survive in poor conditions, they need to be set up for success for optimal growth and stunning blooms. This article will discuss how to plant and keep your coneflowers as healthy as possible.


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What Is Coneflower?

Coneflowers are an easily recognizable, popular wildflower in the United States due to their distinct look and tolerance to various conditions. Depending on the species, you can find perennial coneflowers in zones 3-9. Some varieties are better suited for warm weather and won’t survive when fall frost arrives. 

Purple Coneflower
Coneflower is a popular wildflower with a distinctive appearance. They grow in Zones 3 to 9.

Coneflowers generally bloom from midsummer through the first frost in the fall. The blooms have a raised, cone-like center that attracts pollinators like butterflies and bees. If you leave the seed heads after the flowers are done blooming, you may get songbird visitors, like goldfinches. 

Aside from being a great addition to any butterfly garden, Echinacea roots, leaves, and stems have many uses in herbal medicine. While it’s been a treatment for many symptoms in Native American culture for hundreds of years, today, it’s most commonly used as an herbal treatment for colds and the flu. The ease of planting and harvesting coneflowers adds to their popularity.

Planting Coneflower Seeds 

Before you plant any seeds, be sure that the variety you have will work in your zone and fit your needs. If you’re in an area with cold winters and want a species that will come back on its own in the spring, you’ll need to steer clear of hybrid varieties. Hybrid coneflower species won’t self-sow and won’t attract songbirds.

coneflower with butterfly
Coneflowers attract butterflies and other pollinators.

Once you have your seeds, you’ll need to make sure your growing conditions are favorable: 

Location

Coneflowers grow best in well-draining soil that isn’t too compact. However, less-than-ideal soil is not a deal-breaker. While not exactly aggressive, coneflowers are vigorous growers who aren’t picky about soil types. 

Many gardeners grow certain varieties, such as yellow coneflowers, with other plants with sturdier stems. Yellow coneflowers have long, thin stems that tend to droop from the weight of their blooms, and surrounding them with other plants could help to support the stems. 

coneflower with bee
Yellow coneflowers tend to have long, thin, drooping stems.

Sun Requirements 

Coneflowers can thrive in anywhere from partial shade to full sun. 

Optimal pH Level

It’s not necessary to test your soil’s acidity level before you plant coneflowers. Although they prefer neutral soil, they will tolerate some acidity. 

When To Plant

Coneflower seeds have the most success germinating after a period of cold stratification. To do this, plant the seeds in the fall so that they’ll go through a cold period before spring. Alternatively, you can put coneflower seeds in a plastic bag in the fridge for 1-2 months before planting them in the spring. 

Watering Coneflower

The watering needs of your coneflowers depend on their location on your property, the age of the plant, and the climate in your area. If you’ve planted them in full sun, the soil will dry more quickly, which increases their watering needs. Coneflowers are relatively drought tolerant when protected from the harsh afternoon sun. 

coneflowers
Coneflowers can resist drought if you protect them from the harsh afternoon sun.

Coneflowers are also more drought-tolerant once they are well-established. This can take a couple of years. During their first growing season, be sure to keep the soil evenly moist to encourage strong, healthy roots.

Several years down the road, when they’re blooming reliably and growing well, coneflowers are relatively self-sufficient. At that point, you should only have to water them if you experience severe drought. 

(You can learn about some other drought tolerant flowers here).

Fertilizing Coneflower

Coneflowers will grow, bloom, and self-sow reliably even when you’re not vigilant about fertilizer. If you’d like to feed them, an all-purpose, slow-release, 12-6-6 fertilizer is sufficient. Coneflowers should be fertilized in early spring before new leaves start to appear. 

Pruning Coneflower

Some gardeners prefer to let their coneflowers grow naturally in a wildflower garden, performing little maintenance throughout the year. Others prune them to optimize growth and flower production. Either option has the potential for success – it depends on your preferences. 

red coneflower
Coneflower pruning depends on your preferences.

Here are some of the ways you can manipulate your coneflower’s growth to achieve your preferred look:

  • To promote self-sowing: Once flowers are spent, and the plant dies back for the winter, leave them as they are instead of cutting them down to soil level. It may not look pretty, but leaving the seed heads on the ground encourages more flowers to grow in that area. The birds will also appreciate the snack.  
  • For more compact growth: Towards the beginning of summer, cut coneflower stems down to ½ of their height. This will make them grow back in a more compact form. Avoid this method if you don’t want to delay blooming, though. 
  • For longer-lasting blooms: If you want your plant to produce flowers for as long as possible each year, deadhead your coneflowers as soon as each bloom has faded. To do this, cut the stems down to just slightly above the closest flower buds.

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Do Coneflowers Need To Be Pruned Every Year?

Coneflowers do not require pruning every year. The yearly maintenance you provide for the plant is based on your preferences.

coneflowers 2
You do not need to prune coneflowers every year – it really depends on how you want them to look.

Some gardeners cut their coneflowers back to the ground when they die back for the winter. Others leave them until just before the growing season begins in spring, and many don’t bother cutting them back at all. Leaving the previous season’s flowers won’t affect the following year’s growth. 

Coneflower Propagation

There are a couple of different ways to propagate coneflowers:

1. Seeds 

This is the most popular, and arguably the easiest way to start coneflowers. Although coneflowers are self-sowing and should grow on their own, you can gather some seeds to plant elsewhere or give away. 

Collect the seed pod left over when the blooms are spent to harvest the seeds naturally. To get to the seeds in the center of the pod, tap or shake it gently until they fall out.

Start your seeds indoors by placing them in potting soil and only slightly covering them up with dirt. Mist the soil with water to keep it moist, and you should see them sprout within 20 days.

About a month later, if the ground has softened up and the threat of frost has passed, you can transplant the seedlings outside.

lots of coneflower
Using seeds is one way to propagate coneflowers.

2. Division 

Consider dividing your coneflowers every few years, since they can get crowded. To do this, dig up your plant carefully without harming the roots.

Shake the excess soil off the root ball, and try to untangle some of the roots, if possible, to separate around 5 shoots from the rest of the plant. Plant the divided stems and roots either in a pot or in the ground. 

yellow coneflowers
Division is another way to propagate coneflowers.

Coneflower Diseases & Pests (Plus Remedies)

Coneflowers are vulnerable to a few diseases and pests, some of which may require prompt action to resolve. Some of the most prevalent include:

  • Powdery Mildew: This potentially damaging disease comes from a fungus that is attracted to moist environments with poor circulation. This disease presents as small, white, circular spots on your plant’s leaves. Untreated, it can spread to nearby plants. To treat it, if it’s only present on a few leaves, remove them. If many leaves or multiple plants are affected, you can try a fungicide or horticultural oil. 
  • Bacterial Leaf Spot: This disease thrives in warm, wet conditions. Symptoms include lesions on the leaves that darken over time. If you notice symptoms on your coneflowers, removing and destroying all plants that are affected as soon as possible is best. 
  • Aphids: Aphids are small, soft-bodied bugs that can be green, brown, red, or yellow. They are a common garden pest and usually won’t harm coneflowers unless it’s a severe infestation. If necessary, insecticidal soap is the safest, most effective way to treat them. 
  • Japanese Beetles: These shiny, green and brown insects can damage coneflower plants by leaving holes in the leaves they eat. Common treatments include placing them in soapy water or spraying the plant with a horticultural oil such as neem. 
  • Eriophyid Mites: These tiny, nearly microscopic mites borrow into leaf and flower buds to lay eggs. They feed on plant tissue, making leaves appear deformed, but usually won’t kill your coneflowers. You can control the spread by snipping off the affected leaves and using horticultural oil. 
lupine, coneflower, indian paintbrush
Coneflower looks great when it is placed with other flowers (such as Lupine and Indian Paintbrush, also seen here).

Conclusion

Although coneflower plants take 2-3 years to start providing reliable blooms, the flowers are well worth the wait. As long as you give them enough water and sunlight, you’ll have self-sufficient, mature plants in no time. 

I hope you found this article helpful. If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

You might also be interested in peace lily, which produce stunning flowers, even if grown indoors in low light.

You can find more drought tolerant flowers and plants below:


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~Jonathon


About the author:
Kathryn is a plant enthusiast and freelance content writer who specializes in home and garden topics. Based in New York, you can get in touch with Kathryn at https://kathrynflegal.journoportfolio.com/.

Kathryn F.

Jon M

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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