My garden is a haven for pollinators like butterflies, native bees and hover flies. It’s also full of singing birds and crawling caterpillars, two creatures that go together like peanut butter and jelly. To attract these garden workers and their prey, years ago, I established a diverse landscape full of plants that work as hard as the pollinators themselves. Echinacea purpurea, purple coneflower, remains a perennial favorite.
I’ll be the first to say I don’t think coneflowers are super easy to grow, even the regular purple ones. In fact, they can be a bit finicky, and some of the newer uniquely colored varieties are even more so.
When the first wave of yellow and orange echinaceas came to market, I was belly up to the bar and buying. Like many other gardeners, I was also supremely disappointed. They bloomed great the first year, but then went into winter and never returned. They weren’t cheap either.
However, if you stick with the following five varieties, I think you have a better chance of getting them established in your garden too. Once you have them growing, it’s pretty easy to plug some in as others die out.
1. Cheyenne Spirit
When ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ came on the market, I was leery. I shouldn’t have worried. ‘Cheyenne Spirit,’ with its wide array of heights and colors, has turned into one of the best coneflowers in my garden.
The reason for such diversity? It’s a mixed seed strain of echinacea and is extremely variable. You can start it from seed in your own home, or you can buy plants. If you want your plants to be of similar color and height, find them at a nursery already blooming. Gurney’s Seed and Nursery and Harris Seeds both sell the seed. ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ was an All-America Selections flower winner in 2013.
2. PowWow® Wild Berry
An All-America Selections flower winner in 2010, this hot pink number grows 20 to 24 inches and flowers almost continuously. You may need to replace it every few years, but you won’t mind because it’s such a great, beautiful bloomer.
Buy plants at the box stores, your local nursery or online. Park Seed has seeds. PowWow® White is the white-blooming variety, but it hasn’t been as strong as Wild Berry in my garden.
3. Sombrero® Flamenco Orange
For OSU grads or anyone who loves orange, this coneflower blooms 20 to 24 inches and is beautiful planted next to PowWow® Wild Berry. I found plants at a Tulsa, Oklahoma, nursery, but they are also available online.
4. Baby Swan White
For the smaller garden, ‘Baby Swan White’ fits the bill. It is a more compact version of ‘White Swan’ growing only to 20 inches. It is also well-branched meaning more flowers and blooms earlier than most coneflowers.
Plants are available at Bustani Plant Farm in Stillwater, Oklahoma, or online.
5. Hot Summer
The blooms on ‘Hot Summer’ open yellow to orange and then darken as they age finally becoming deep red. At 30 to 36 inches, it is a taller variety.
Coneflowers like well-drained soil that isn’t too fertile. Still, I’ve had success growing them in a variety of conditions.
With the newer hybrids, I cut the existing blooms at planting time. This seems to help the plant adjust to its surroundings and put its energy into its root system. They all require supplemental watering until they are established, but don’t overwater. Also, for best bloom, continue watering sporadically throughout the growing season and when temperatures are above 40 degrees in winter. The plants may look dead, but their roots are still growing. We use drip irrigation.