How to Grow and Care for Coneflowers


Coneflower is a native North American perennial sporting daisylike flowers with raised centers. The flower, plant, and root of some types are used in herbal remedies.

About coneflowers

Widely renowned as a medicinal plant, coneflowers are a long-flowering perennial for borders, wildflower meadows, and prairie gardens. Blooming midsummer to fall, the plants are relatively drought-tolerant and rarely bothered by pests. The flowers are a magnet for butterflies, and the seeds in the dried flower heads attract songbirds. Flower colors include rose, purple, pink, and white, plus a new orange variety. Plants grow 2 to 4 feet tall, depending on variety.

Special features of coneflowers

  1. Easy care/low maintenance
  2. Multiplies readily
  3. Good for cut flowers
  4. Attracts butterflies
  5. Deer resistant
  6. Tolerates dry soil

Choosing a Site to Grow Coneflowers

Select a site with full sun to light shade and well-drained soil.

Planting Instructions for Coneflowers

Plant in spring, spacing plants 1 to 3 feet apart, depending on the variety. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot the plant is in. Carefully remove the plant from its container and place it in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Carefully fill in around the root ball and firm the soil gently. Water thoroughly.

Plant coneflower in a sunny location that has well-drained, fertile soil. Most can thrive on available rainfall once established, and plenty of sun and heat won't bother them. The long-blooming, colorful flowers are at home in sunny borders, herb gardens, cottage gardens, prairie gardens, or wild gardens.

Propagate by seed, or dig and divide the main rootstalk in spring or fall. Root division is an alternative for all species, but it is most successful with E. purpurea. The best time to divide roots is in early autumn or spring. Cut through the crown of the coneflower clump with a sharp spade. Separate two to three young roots and shoots from the main plant every 4 to 5 years.

Grow coneflower plants from seed following a dormancy-breaking period. Seeds germinate best between 70° and 75°F and, for E. purpurea, after dry prechilling (1 to 3 months at 40°F). Sow seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date in your area; or sow on the surface of a sandy soil mix in an open cold frame in early spring. (See individual species descriptions for exceptions.) Seeds normally germinate within 10 to 20 days. Transplant seedlings outside after all danger of frost has passed. Coneflower self-sows readily but not aggressively.

In short-season regions, coneflowers may need more than one growing season to produce flowers unless seeds are started early indoors.

In northern areas (zones 3, 4, and 5), plants need to develop roots fast. Pinch off flower buds that develop the first year from seed. The plant will divert its energy into root development. In mild-winter areas, coneflower may grow and flower the first year from seeds sown in the garden.

Ongoing Care for Coneflowers

Apply a thin layer of compost each spring, followed by a 2-inch layer of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. Deadhead spent flowers to extend flower period, but leave late-season flowers on the plants to mature; the seedheads will attract birds. Divide plants every 3 to 4 years as new growth begins in the spring, lifting plants and dividing them into clumps.

To extend the flowering period of mature plants, cut off faded flower heads. However, toward season's end, you may want to leave some to dry out on the stems: They make attractive forms in winter, and their seeds attract many birds, especially finches.

Pests and Problems for Coneflowers

Depending upon where you live, you may need to protect young plants from rabbits and groundhogs that find new shoots appetizing. The only other pests are leaf spot fungus and Japanese beetles, but neither is likely to kill the plant, so I recommend no treatment other than picking off the beetles. Caterpillars are known to defoliate coneflower plants. If you prefer the plants to the potential butterflies, use Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) to control caterpillar infestation. Daily caterpillar picking is the butterfly-friendly alternative.

Medicinal Properties and Use for Echinacea (Coneflower)

Native Americans considered coneflower an important medicinal plant. They applied crushed root pieces directly to venomous bites and stings, and they chewed on dried root to treat a variety of ailments. Modern herbalists agree that coneflower root is one of the best herbal remedies available to prevent, and reduce the severity of, colds and flu.

Both roots and aboveground parts of E. angustifolia and E. purpurea are the sources of most of the modern echinacea remedies, but the dried roots are used in homemade preparations. Powdered roots and tinctures are sold in health-food stores and some supermarkets.

Allow seed-started plants to grow for 3 to 4 years before harvesting roots; divided plants need two years. Dig them in the autumn after flowering is finished, and cut washed and dried roots that are thicker than 1/2-inch into sections to speed drying. Allow the roots to dry in a warm but shaded place. Replant the crown with smaller roots to continue your supply.

Prepare roots in either of these ways: Grind dried root pieces into a powder. Mix 4 tablespoons of powdered root per quart of water; cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, then strain. Drink the solution hot or cool, 1 to 2 cups per day. The tea cannot be stored because it becomes unstable, which is why most herbalists prepare it in an alcohol tincture.

Make a tincture by covering washed, chopped, and dried root with 1 to 2 inches of 100-proof vodka in a clean glass jar that has an enamel cap. Allow it to steep at room temperature for two weeks, shaking the container daily. Proper dosage is an individual matter, and you should consult with a naturopathic physician or qualified herbalist before using any herb. Echinacea tincture is effective in very small amounts. Generally, half to one full eyedropper (30 to 60 drops) a day in water, juice, or tea is about right.

Some popular Coneflowers photos:
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