Keep perennial coneflowers coming back every year

Keep perennial coneflowers coming back every year

Perennial coneflowers flaunt dramatic blooms all summer long — here’s what you need to know to make sure they survive the winter.

Courtesy Jennifer Pietrondi
With proper care, purple coneflowers will return year after year to your perennial garden.

The stars of the summer border are multi-colored thanks to the wonderful power of the flowers, Echinacea (known as coneflowers) are loved by gardeners, birds, bees and butterflies. However, their performance has some gardeners wondering about perennial coneflowers. Today’s ‘Purple Coneflowers’ come in a dazzling array of colors beyond purple, and flower shapes range from upward-facing to elegantly coiled – sharing their distinctive central cone of spiky seeds.

While coneflowers are classified as perennials, with hardiness ranging from zones 3 to 9, their occasional disappearing acts during the winter can make people wary of planting them. Fortunately, some new cultivars promise vivid bouquets to delight birds, pollinators and home gardeners for years.

Check out the 11 best coneflower plants to grow.

Are coneflowers perennial or annual?

Echinacea Kismet Red 8Via Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
Echinacea Kismet Red

Although the echinacea variety is considered average in terms of longevity, some are more reliable than others, says Dan Hymes, president of Terra Nova Nurseries. Some species, such as the American prairie flower Echinacea purpurea, They can last for many years, but the showier hybrids can be variable. For perennial coneflowers you can rely on, you need to take into account reproduction as well as the conditions of your plants.

Several factors can play a role in echinacea’s ability to make a comeback in the spring. Hybrids made from certain species, e.g The Echinacea Paradox They’re susceptible to poor shoot growth in their first year, Hymes says, creating a weak crown vulnerable to stresses such as poorly drained soil, disease or extreme weather. Choosing the right varieties, planting them in good soil, and purchasing the largest and healthiest plants will help.

Fortunately, recent advances in breeding seem to have cracked the code of perennial coneflowers. “The newer hybrids are much better at surviving!” says Hymes. Several players in Terra Nova’s KISMET series, particularly KISMET Red and ‘Intense Orange’, have had success in plant trials with unprecedented 100 percent winter survival rates in Minnesota and Colorado.

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When and how long do coneflowers bloom?

Perennial coneflowerCourtesy Jade Rex
Eastern tiger swallowtail sipping nectar from coneflower flowers

Due to loamy soil, consistent irrigation and mild summer weather, coneflowers can bloom from May to September, Hymes says, with up to 150 flowers on three-year-old plants. Drought, high heat and poor soil will affect flowering.

Enjoy these colorful photos of coneflowers in bloom.

ideal Growing perennial coneflower conditions

ConeflowerStanislav Ostranitsa/Getty Images
Plant coneflowers in full sun for best results.

Coneflowers grow best in full sun with at least six hours of direct exposure. Despite their reputation as hardy prairie plants, coneflowers need more water than you might think for optimal health. Although they are drought tolerant once established, they prefer even moisture in well-drained soil – averaging an inch of water per week.

The ideal soil is “well-textured compost,” Hymes says. Sandy soil can dry out too quickly and clay soil can be too wet for it, causing it to fail over the winter, Hymes says. Echinacea are not heavy feeders, and prefer lean to rich soil. As such, they require little fertilizer. Heims recommends applying a balanced, slow-release granular formulation once in the spring. His choice is a 16-16-16 ratio of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.

Leave ample space between neighboring plants to prevent fungal diseases such as aster yellowing.

Do coneflowers spread?

Echinacea PrimagingerTerra Nova Nurseries, Inc
Prima ginger coneflower

Perennial coneflowers are well-behaved players in the border. If anything, you might want to grow them faster just to get more of those Architectural Flowers! Echinacea species may self-sow from seed (with some help from birds!), but most hybrids expand by sending up new shoots, expanding their crown at a moderate rate.

The award-winning Cheyenne Spirit flower shines in the garden.

Should you Deadhead Conflowers?

Bnbbyc18 Kendra PaulCourtesy Kendra Paul
Leave the spent flower heads to feed seed-eating birds such as goldfinches.

Most hybrids will continue to produce flowers until the cold weather arrives in September, so deadheading isn’t really necessary. Other than cutting flowers for arrangements, consider leaving echinacea blooms for pollinators to enjoy. Birds especially like seeds, so be sure to save some at the end of the season.

There is one notable exception, right at the beginning of the season, which can boost your plant’s vigor, Hymes says. “I feel that removing the first bud ensures great flowering and a fuller plant,” Hymes says. This is especially helpful if you start with plants that are less than a gallon, he says.

Prairie coneflower thrives in hot, sunny places.

Dividing/transplanting coneflowers

Perennial coneflowerCourtesy Ellen Layton
Divide hybrid coneflowers every few years

Unless this species comes from seed, your best bet for multiplying your perennial coneflower collection is to divide your plants, usually every three to four years. It can also help increase the strength of older blocks. Hymes recommends dividing in early spring as foliage appears. Using a sharp, clean trowel, divide the crown so that each section contains at least one rosette of leaves.

Here’s what you need to know about growing cut coneflowers.

Should you cut your coneflowers back for the winter?

A relative of the coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, in cold winter weather.  Blurred background.Hannah Richtrova/Getty Images
Resist the urge to cut back coneflowers before winter and you may increase their longevity

There is no need to cut coneflowers before winter; leaving them alone may help them grow. From a design perspective, these dark seed cones add a dramatic touch and vertical accent to the winter picture of your garden when many other perennials have disappeared. Famed Dutch garden designer Piet Udoff, who helped popularize planting with many little-known American perennials, called the use of seed heads and spent stems for winter interest the “fifth season.” The seeds also support overwintering birds such as chickadees, cardinals and goldfinches.

Plant these winter plants to add color and beauty to your garden.

Another benefit of this hands-off approach, besides giving you more time to swing in the garden, is that in areas with mild, wet winters, such as the Pacific Northwest, leaving the stems up helps prevent rotting in very wet soil and may help your coneflowers Winters as perennials.

With these tips in mind, you should be able to enjoy an abundance of coneflowers for many years, without wondering “Are my coneflowers perennial”?

Next, learn how to grow black-eyed Susans.

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