The Humble, but Reliable Coneflower

Do you have a nice, sunny spot in your garden that is calling for color? Coneflowers look gorgeous in nearly any style of garden. For a relaxed, meadow-inspired look, combine coneflowers with grasses, spike blazing star and goldenrod. Wis108567.002py grasses create a contrasting backdrop for bold coneflowers. They’re also surprisingly adaptable in containers, but they’re usually won’t get as big as they do in the ground. Tucking a few coneflowers into containers is a great way to entice butterflies near a deck or patio.

When it comes to the old-fashioned pink-purple or white coneflower, there isn’t an easier plant to grow. As long as you put the plant in the ground the right side up, it should be fine! Coneflowers like plenty of sun and average, well-drained soil. Like any perennial, you’ll want to water new plants the first summer, to get them safely established. After that, they’ll be virtually carefree!

The yellow, red, and orange ones can be a little tougher to get to survive for several years. Why aren’t they as vigorous? The plant breeding that created those beautiful colors included a species that’s a little pickier about its growing conditions than purple coneflowers — and that means the offspring are a little picker, too. For the most success, try these tips from Dan Heims, president of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc, a company that’s developed some of these bright new flowers:colors

  1. Pick a good site. While the old-fashioned purple coneflowers will grow almost anywhere, the yellow, red, and orange ones need full sun and rich, moist, well-drained soil. Adding some compost to the bed before you plant will make them happier, too.
  2. Buy the biggest plants you can find. This is no time to cut corners! Choose plants with multiple growing points, not just one cluster of leaves.
  3. Don’t let it bloom the first year. Heartbreaking, right? But the plant will establish healthier roots if it’s not putting energy into flowers the first year. Plants in quart- or gallon-size containers won’t need this if their root systems have had a chance to grow to fill the pot. But if you’re working with plants in small 4- or 6-in. wide pots, it’s best to either pinch the blooms off or cut the entire bloom stalk back.
  4. Be sure to mulch. If you garden where the ground repeatedly freezes and thaws during the winter, mulch over the plant with a 6-in. layer of chopped leaves to protect the crown.

At the end of the season, some gardeners like to leave the seedheads standing — they provide subtle winter interest, and birds, especially finches, eat the seeds. If you leave the seedheads standing, volunteer seedlings will come up. Either enjoy these free plants, or pull the seedlings to keep them in bounds. (Interestingly, the seedlings of all varieties eventually revert to pink-purple.)

 

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