Echinacea provides long-lasting beauty in a variety of colors. Photo by Janet Carson.

Colorful coneflowers are simple to ‘cone-trol’

E. paradoxa, or Yellow Coneflower, grows up to 3-feet tall. Photo by Janet Carson.

Gardeners dream about plants that can bloom 24/7 with no care. While no such plants exist, there are some long-blooming perennials that are fairly carefree, once they are established. Having something that can bloom all summer that we don’t have to replant each season, like summer annuals, is a great thing. The echinacea family is one of the longest-blooming perennials, and long-lived as well.

Echinacea, commonly called coneflowers, is a wonderful family of native perennials that will thrive statewide in full sun to partial shade. Prized for their long-lasting beauty in the garden and as a cut flower, they are also used medicinally. Native echinacea come in shades of purple or yellow, but through plant hybridizing, today there are now red, orange, yellow, white and multi-colored forms. Most begin blooming in mid to late May, and depending on species, will continue to flower up until frost. Deadheading, or removing the spent blooms, will ensure faster repeat flowering. Toward the end of the growing season, let the spent flowers mature and form seeds, which can help in reseeding the plant, and also provide food for the birds.

Echinacea prefer a well-drained soil. The first year or two they should be watered regularly to ensure a strong root system. Once established they are fairly drought-tolerant. Fertilize them in the spring as new growth begins, and then again mid-summer. While some species can grow up to 4 feet or more, they produce strong stems and rarely need staking. The plants are excellent for pollinators, attracting bees and butterflies. They are also deer-resistant.

Many species are readily available at local nurseries or can be grown from seed, which is best planted in the fall. If they get overcrowded, they can be divided.

Purple Coneflower
E. purpurea
Originally available in purple, numerous cultivars exist with flower colors including white, pink, red, orange and yellow. Most common species and longest-blooming.Single ray-like disk of blooms per stem. Some blooms are double. Each flower can be 3 to 5 inches across and 12 inches to 4 feet tall, based on cultivar.
Pale Purple Coneflower E. pallidaGrows 18 inches to 3 feet tall, with thin petalled blooms, which can be pale purple or nearly white. The blooms are almost spider-like.Each bloom is 3-4 inches across, but since they reflex down, they look smaller. Very drought-tolerant. Typically blooms May-July but can have sporadic blooms into fall.
Yellow Cornflower E. paradoxaGrows up to 3 feet tall, with thin, downturned petals. Bright yellow with dark brown centers.Large, fragrant blooms up to 6 inches across. Drought-tolerant and long-lived. Blooms May-June.
Narrow-Leaf Coneflower E. angustifoliaMore compact plant growing 1-2 feet tall. Light pink to pale purple ray-like petals.A more compact version of the pale purple coneflower with droopy petals.