Questions Answered Series: Coneflowers (Echinacea)

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Your Questions on Growing & Caring for Coneflowers, Answered!

Coneflowers (Echinacea) are long-blooming perennials that thrive in full sun and heat, adding vibrant color to the landscape from summer to frost. Coneflowers aren’t only pretty – they’re also problem-solvers in the garden. They adapt easily to any well-draining soil and can handle mild drought once established. Even in gardens plagued with trouble, coneflowers always seem unfazed. Whether you’ve already planted coneflowers or are planning to buy some soon, you can find the answers to all your questions here. See what others are asking and learn how to make coneflowers feel at home in your garden!

Red coneflowers (Echinacea) in a sunny garden

When Should I Plant Coneflowers?

In general, late spring and early fall are the best times to plant perennials. If you choose to plant your coneflowers in the spring, make sure you wait until the last frost has passed and the soil is sufficiently warm. When planting in early fall, plant your coneflowers several weeks before the expected first frost. Thankfully, coneflowers are quite heat tolerant, so you could even plant them in summer if you’d like! No matter what time you plant them, ensure you provide plenty of water for the first few weeks to help them establish.

Can Coneflowers Grow in Containers?

Yes, absolutely! There are a few things to keep in mind when growing coneflowers (Echinacea) in containers:

  1. Proper drainage. Coneflowers require well-draining soils, so select your potting media accordingly. It’s vital that the pot or container has drainage holes to prevent standing water.
  2. Pot size. It’s important you select the right size pot when growing perennials in containers. A pot that is too large will hold on to water for too long, while a pot that is too small will dry out quickly. Choose containers that are equally deep as they are wide.
  3. Lighting. Place your pot in an area that receives full sun (6+ hours direct sunlight each day) for the best growth and blooms.

How Do You Grow Coneflowers?

Coneflowers are easy to love, but they’re even easier to grow! Here are our suggestions when growing coneflowers:

  • Soil: Any well-draining soil will do. They can even handle sandy or gravelly soils that are tough to grow in.
  • Light: Full sun. Plant them in a spot that gets at least 6 hours of full sun a day. If planted in too much shade, plants may flop or strain to reach the sun.
  • Water: Water regularly during the first season to encourage good root growth. Though coneflowers handle heat and dry conditions well once established, they appreciate regular watering and flower more if they are not stressed!
  • Spacing: Depends on the size of the variety you plant, but in general, 16 – 24 inches apart.
  • Fertilizing: Little fertilizer is required when growing coneflowers. Over-fertilizing will cause spindly growth, so once in the spring with a granular garden fertilizer is more than sufficient.
  • Winterizing: Avoid damp spots. Do not heap mulching over crowns in winter, as this can cause rot. Leave the foliage and old flowers standing for winter (birds enjoy the seed heads), then trim back or remove spent foliage in early spring before new growth emerges.
  • Maintenance & Pruning: Once planted, they are best left alone, as they do not transplant well! Deadheading (snipping off the spent blooms) is not necessary but does increase new flower production.

Coneflowers (Echinacea) Plants For Sale:

Red and orange flowers from coneflower plants

Color Coded™ 'Frankly Scarlet' Coneflower

Close up of the sturdy green stems topped with magenta blooms of the Purple Emperor Coneflower

'Purple Emperor' Coneflower

Summersong™ Firefinch™ Coneflower

Kismet® Yellow Coneflower

Kismet® Yellow Coneflower

Fluffy pink center of Double Dipped™ 'Rainbow Sherbet' Coneflower

Double Dipped™ 'Rainbow Sherbet' Coneflower

Close up of Color Coded 'The Price Is White' Coneflower with white blooms

Color Coded™ 'The Price is White' Coneflower

Can Coneflowers Grow in Shade?

No, coneflowers require full sun (6+ hours direct sunlight each day) and do not tolerate shady spots (less than 4 hours direct sunlight). When coneflowers don’t receive enough sun, they produce fewer blooms and tend to flop with weak stems. Make sure you plant them in a sunny spot from the start, as they don’t transplant very well!

Should I Deadhead My Coneflowers?

Really, it’s completely up to you. Deadheading is not necessary to enjoy the blooms, but it does encourage new flower production. However, there is a good reason to avoid deadheading. Birds and other wildlife love the spent seed heads and will commonly visit them throughout fall and winter. To get the most out of your coneflowers, we do suggest deadheading in the summer, then when fall starts, to stop deadheading and leave the remaining flowers standing. You’ll get more blooms in the summer, then invite life to the garden in late fall and winter.

echinacea blossoms with orange-brown seedheads

Why are My Coneflower Leaves Yellow?

There are a few reasons why your coneflowers may have yellow leaves:

  1. Overwatering. Yellow leaves are a classic sign of overwatering coneflowers. Coneflowers do not grow well in wet soils, as their roots need plenty of air circulation. Try watering your coneflowers deeply, but not frequently. When planted in soils that do not drain properly, they are susceptible to root or crown rot (sclerotinia blight), which causes yellow leaves. Plants with crown rot should be removed and disposed of promptly.
  2. Whitefly infestation. Whiteflies feed on the sap from stems and leaves, causing them to turn yellow. If you think your plant is infested with whiteflies, check for eggs on the underside of leaves. You can treat whiteflies fairly easily with insecticides from your local gardening store.
  3. Nutrient deficiency. If grown in poor soils, your coneflowers may be showing symptoms of nutrient deficiency with yellowing leaves. Apply fertilizer in early spring, but be careful to not over-fertilize, as this will cause spindly growth. We suggest testing your soil pH and nutrient levels by reaching out to your local ag extension office.

Why are the Flowers on My Coneflowers Distorted?

If the blooms on your coneflowers look distorted, they may be plagued with aster yellows, a viral-like disease that is transmitted by insects that feed on their sap. Plants with aster yellows are “infected” with a phytoplasma in their phloem that multiplies, causing deformed flowers and odd tufts of growth inside the blooms. This may also cause yellowing of leaves, but is hard to identify by that symptom alone.

distorted coneflowers without their normal pink blooms
Distorted growth on coneflowers (Echinacea) from aster yellows. Images provided by Missouri Botanical Garden.

Why is My Coneflower Wilting?

While coneflowers are easy to care for, they aren’t bullet-proof! There are a few reasons why your coneflowers may be wilting:

  1. Not enough water. Though coneflowers are quite drought-tolerant once established, they still need plenty of water their first few months in your garden. Make sure you provide water, especially in the heat of the summer.
  2. Too much shade. If coneflowers are not receiving enough sunlight, they’ll have weak and droopy stems. Make sure your coneflowers are planted in full sun (6+ hours direct sunlight each day) for the strongest stems and best blooms.
  3. Sclerotinia blight. Also known as crown or root rot, Sclerotinia blight is a fungal pathogen that originates from the soil. It usually enters through the damaged tissue in the roots or base of the stem. It’s prevalent in damp conditions, so avoid overwatering your plants.

What is Eating My Coneflower?

It’s never a good feeling to see holes in the leaves or petals of your coneflowers. Unfortunately, there are many different pests that could be the cause of it. If there are small holes on your plant, it’s likely an insect, like Japanese beetles, aphids, eriophyid mites, or earwigs. If there are large holes in the leaves, or petals and whole flowers go missing, you may be dealing with a bigger pest like rabbits. While deer aren’t particularly fond of coneflowers, rabbits sure are. To stop the problem, you’ll have to Sherlock your way to identifying which pest it is first. Keep a close eye on your plant and note any bugs or wildlife you see nearby!

Are Coneflowers Deer and Rabbit Resistant?

Unfortunately, coneflowers are not deer and rabbit resistant. While they aren’t the first choice of deer, it’s not uncommon for deer to still eat them if not much else is available. On the other hand, rabbits particularly enjoy coneflower petals and foliage. If your garden is home to rabbits, we suggest planting your coneflowers in a fenced area or spraying them with a non-toxic spray to deter them.

Will Coneflowers Reseed Themselves or Spread?

Coneflowers will not spread via roots or rhizomes, but they may self-seed, eventually filling garden beds. Seedlings can be easily removed throughout the season to control the spread. Self-seeding is less common with hybrid coneflowers, which have a lower seed count. If hybrids do self-seed, do not be surprised if the offspring looks much different than the parent! Hybrid coneflowers are clonally propagated since plants derived from seeds tend to be quite different.

Pink coneflowers with green foliage

Which Birds Eat Coneflower Seeds?

Coneflowers provide interest long after the flowers fade with prominent seed heads that attract birds in fall and winter! Here are a few of the birds you might notice feasting on your coneflower seeds:

  • Goldfinches
  • Chickadees
  • Woodpeckers
  • Cardinals
  • Blue Jays
  • Mourning Dove
  • Pine Siskin

Are Coneflowers Fragrant?

Yes! Coneflowers have a light, sweet, honey-like fragrance that attracts bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and gardeners to the flowers. While the scent on some varieties isn’t strong enough to smell from afar, you can certainly smell them when you lean in to admire the blooms.

What's the Difference Between Coneflowers and Daisies?

While many of us immediately envision flowers with white petals and a bright gold center when we hear “daisy”, there are actually hundreds of different types. The common daisy, black-eyed Susanshasta daisy, and coneflower are all relatives in the daisy family, Asteraceae. When you see them all together, it’s not that surprising! They all have broad petals that radiate from a prominent center. The main feature that sets coneflowers (Echinacea) apart is their copper cone-shaped center of fertile florets.

Are Coneflowers Poisonous to Dogs and Cats?

No, coneflowers are not toxic to dogs or cats! Your pets can safely play among the coneflowers, even if they occasionally nibble at them. While not toxic, ingesting a large quantity of coneflower foliage or flowers can lead to indigestion.

Written by: Miranda Niemiec, click here to read bio.

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