DOWNERS GROVE, USA: Every year, National Garden Bureau names one edible, one annual and one perennial as featured crops for a year. 2014 is the Year of the Echinacea. NGB, along with our members, provide these tips about a flower enjoyed by many. Over 70 Echinacea images from the Bureau’s members can be found on their website or in a Year of the Echinacea presentation on Slideshare.
The coneflower is a native to central and eastern North America and is a member of the Asteraceae family. Other flowers in the Asteraceae family include daisy, sunflower and Aster. The name “Asteraceae” finds its origin from the Greek word for star. The main family feature is its composite flower type: Its capitula (flower head) is surrounded by involucral bracts. Most Echinacea blooms are oversized bright disks atop rings of downward-curving petals. The name “Echinacea” is also derived from the Greek word “echino,” which means spiky or prickly, referring to the plant’s floral center. The florets are hermaphroditic, with both male and female organs on each flower. Pollination occurs most often with the help of butterflies and bees.
Since its popularity as an herbal supplement has grown, many consumers may not be aware that Echinacea can be grown easily and enjoyed as a garden flower. Today, more and more gardeners are seeking out perennial plants as long-term investments that offer good value at an effective cost. Perennials are the building blocks of any home garden. Planting foundation beds of perennials is a practice widely used by landscape designers as a way to provide multi-season colour, texture, shape, and to reduce garden maintenance. Gardeners perceive perennials in general as a good value as their hardiness and forgiving nature equates to less risk.
To supply this new demand for perennials, Echinacea has been one of the varieties seeing a significant growth in breeding activity. It remains a “top five” perennial in terms of retail sales. Several advances have produced plants that have set a new standard in compact-growing, well-branched Echinacea. Breeding trials have resulted in bringing free-flowering plants to market that overwinter successfully in cooler zones. Poor winter hardiness is a source of frustration with some gardeners. Historically, Echinacea with bolder colour hues (red, yellow, orange) have been grown from tissue culture liners. This propagation can lack good winter hardiness and may not bulk up in size in subsequent seasons. However, recent breeding has developed seed-grown varieties selected specifically for their bold colouring and trialled for overwintering success to USDA Zone 4.
Echinacea in the garden
You’ll find wild growing Echinacea in sunny, dry open woodlands and prairies. The plant prefers loamy, well-drained soil, but it is little affected by soil pH. Cultivated Echinacea offer reliable performance as a perennial plant under a wide variety of conditions. Echinacea can be propagated from seed or vegetatively using various techniques, such as division, basal cuttings or root cuttings. Echinacea is attractive to birds, bees and butterflies making it a great choice for a pollinator-friendly garden. It is generally deer resistant. Because of their root structure, the plants are drought tolerant and can withstand heat and wind. Used in garden borders or backgrounds, Echinacea adds color and texture for a wildflower or prairie-style garden. For best visual impact, plant in masses. Deadhead florets to encourage further blooms. Echinacea flowers through the summer (June through August). Its seed heads can be left to dry on the plant to feed wild birds through the fall and winter. Echinacea plants will reseed in the fall, with new flowers growing the following season. Hardiness zones vary by variety, with a range from USDA Zone 4-9.
Starting from seed
When growing from seed, Echinacea will flower in 11-15 weeks so if started indoors early enough, it is possible to get flowers in the first season. With most varieties, sow seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before outdoor planting date. Plant the seeds 1/8″ deep in soilless growing medium. Cover lightly with 1/4″ fine soil and keep moist at 65-70 F. Seedlings should emerge in approximately 10-20 days. As with most seedlings, you can transplant them to larger containers when seedlings have at least 2 pairs of true leaves. Before transplanting the young plants to the outside garden, harden off by exposing the plants to outdoors for gradually increasing time frames.
How to grow
Echinacea are generally low maintenance. Plant in full sun, or light shade in hotter climates. Dividing every few years will keep them healthy. No additional fertilizing is necessary as heavy fertilization leads to tall, leggy plants that flop. Also, avoid over-watering as Echinacea prefer drier conditions once established. While most home garden Echinacea is ornamental, it can be grown as a fresh or dried cut flower. Allow flowers to mature on the plant before harvesting. Dry by hanging upside down in a well-ventilated, dry area. Fresh Echinacea has a short vase life of seven days. Echinacea may be affected by slugs, Japanese beetles, Bacterial Leaf Spot, Powdery Mildew, or botrytis.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recognizes nine distinct species of Echinacea:
• Echinacea angustifolia – Narrow-leaf Coneflower
• Echinacea atrorubens – Topeka Purple Coneflower
• Echinacea laevigata – Smooth Coneflower
• Echinacea pallida – Pale Purple Coneflower
• Echinacea paradoxa – Yellow Coneflower
• Echinacea purpurea – Purple Coneflower
• Echinacea sanguinea – Sanguine Purple Coneflower
• Echinacea simulata – Wavyleaf Purple Coneflower
• Echinacea tennesseensis – Tennessee Coneflower
The National Garden Bureau recognizes Ball Horticultural Company as the author of this fact sheet. Ball, through their breeding companies PanAmerican Seed, Kieft Seed, Ball Floraplant and Darwin Perennials, offers many new varieties of Echinacea. This Fact Sheet is provided as a service from the National Garden Bureau. The use of this information is unrestricted and is encouraged. Please credit the National Garden Bureau as the source.
Founded in 1920, the National Garden Bureau is a non-profit organization whose mission is to disseminate basic instructions for backyard gardeners that will inspire them to spend more time gardening. Let’s Go Garden!