Southern Gardening: Purple coneflowers are ideal for gardens - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Southern Gardening: Purple coneflowers are ideal for gardens

Purple coneflowers are native plants that look great in the prairie as well as in formal designs. Coneflowers such as this Bright Star are perfect plants for the garden. Purple coneflowers are native plants that look great in the prairie as well as in formal designs. Coneflowers such as this Bright Star are perfect plants for the garden.
Coneflowers such as this Bravado may be ideal plants for the busy gardener because they thrive on neglect and require only normal rainfall. They also make great cut flowers. (Photo Source: MSU Extension Service/Gary Bachman) Coneflowers such as this Bravado may be ideal plants for the busy gardener because they thrive on neglect and require only normal rainfall. They also make great cut flowers. (Photo Source: MSU Extension Service/Gary Bachman)

By Gary R. Bachman
MSU Horticulturist
Coastal Research & Extension Center

BILOXI, MS - Purple coneflowers are native plants that look great in the prairie as well as in formal designs. I personally think the purple coneflower is one of the best plants you can use in your garden.

There are nine species of purple coneflower, or Echinacea, native to North America. The main species found in the trade is the Eastern purple coneflower. It grows up to 3 feet tall and wide, producing bright purple flowers with dark centers. The 2- to 4-inch diameter flowers bloom until frost. The foliage and stems have hairy surfaces that might remind you of medium-grit sandpaper.

Typically, coneflowers are large plants, with many being more than 3 feet tall and wide. This makes the coneflowers back-row plants in perennial beds or borders. But their back-row status does not make them second rate.

Plant breeders have been busy with this species. Kim's Knee High is a 15- to 18-inch-tall and 12- to 15-inch-wide variety. Little Annie is a dwarf form that is 6 to 9 inches tall and 18 inches wide. It has 3 1/2-inch flowers that are a clear pink.

Though named for the color purple, breeders are selecting varieties with white, orange, yellow, red and almost every color in between.

Summer Sky is one of the varieties with an outstanding new color. This bi-color coneflower has soft peach petals and a rose halo around the cone. The flowers are 5 inches in diameter and very fragrant. It is a good cut flower choice.

Another new variety with outstanding color is Twilight, which has rose-colored petals surrounding a unique red cone. This is a heavily branched variety that is extra fragrant. Coneflowers may be the ideal plant for busy gardeners because they thrive on neglect. They tolerate a wide variety of soil types, from tight clay to sandy.

Irrigation is only needed when the plants are newly set out. Once established, normal rainfall is sufficient except during extreme droughts. The crown of the plant is susceptible to rot conditions. This is not a problem in the summer but can become one during the cool, moist winter months.

Mississippi gardeners can address this problem by planting coneflowers in raised beds, which helps keep the plant crown drier.

On the coast, the coneflower is a tender perennial because of the cool, moist winters, so use it as an annual.

Divide coneflowers every three to four years, but be patient waiting for regrowth. Several varieties can be grown from seed, and the plants will reseed themselves, becoming a weedy problem some seasons. Deadhead the flowers if this becomes an issue.

Coneflowers are good companions for achillea, bee balm, goldenrod and rudbeckia. And be sure to plant a couple of extra plants to have enough for long-lasting cut flowers.

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.

Powered by Frankly