How to grow beautiful Echinacea purpurea in your garden

Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea purpurea, commonly known as purple coneflower, is a stunning perennial that adds vibrant colour and unique structure to any garden. Echinacea is an easy to care for perennial that has medicinal properties as well as good looks.

This beautiful plant features large, daisy-like flowers with spiky, cone-shaped centres surrounded by drooping petals, typically in shades of purple, pink, or white.

It is a hardy plant, resistant to drought and poor soil conditions, making it an excellent choice for all but the most tropical of gardens. Display Echinacea purpurea in mixed borders, naturalistic perennial or wildflower gardens, or as a striking focal point in perennial beds to make the most of its visual appeal.

All about Echinacea

Echinacea purpurea boasts several unique characteristics that make it a standout in the garden. Its ability to attract pollinators like bees and butterflies is complemented by its medicinal uses, particularly in boosting the immune system.

Key Facts

  • Scientific name and synonyms: Echinacea purpurea
  • Meaning of scientific plant name: “Echinacea” is derived from the Greek word “echinos,” meaning hedgehog, referring to the spiky seed head. “Purpurea” means purple.
  • Common names: Purple coneflower
  • Plant family: Asteraceae
  • Where the plant originates from: Native to North America
  • Type of plant: Herbaceous perennial
  • Size: Echinacea plant height is typically 3 to 4 feet (1m to 1.3m) tall. Clumps can get to 1-2 feet (30 to 60cm) wide.
  • Foliage: Dark green, lance-shaped leaves with a rough texture
  • Flower: Large, showy flowers with a central cone and (usually) reflexed petals, blooming from late spring to early autumn
  • Fruit: Produces small, dry seeds within the cone, maturing in late summer to autumn
  • Toxicity: Non-toxic to pets and humans according to authoritative sources like the ASPCA
Echinacea flowers

Echinacea care requirements

Echinacea purpurea is relatively low-maintenance, thriving with minimal intervention.

Light requirements

  • Full sun to partial shade

Water and humidity requirements

  • Drought-tolerant; water sparingly once established

Temperature requirements

  • Ideal range: 60-85°F (15-29°C)
  • Minimum: -40°F (-40°C)
  • US Hardiness Zones: 3-9
  • UK Hardiness Zones: H7

Soil requirements

  • Prefers well-drained, sandy or loamy soil

Feeding requirements

  • Minimal fertilisation needed; apply a balanced, slow-release fertiliser in early spring

Propagation

  • Propagate by seeds, division, or root cuttings

Pruning

Stems and seed-heads can be left over winter to provide some winter visual interest, as well as food for birds and shelter insects.

Best Echinacea cultivars

Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’: Deep rose-pink flowers, 3-4 feet tall, known for its robust growth.

Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus
“Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus'” by nickton is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’: White flowers with a golden centre, 2-3 feet tall, ideal for a serene garden setting.

Echinacea purpurea White Swan
“Echinacea purpurea White Swan” by Derek N Winterburn is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Echinacea purpurea ‘Green Envy’: Unique green petals that mature to a light pink, 3-4 feet tall, adds a unique colour palette.

Echinacea purpurea ‘PowWow Wild Berry’: Vibrant magenta flowers, compact at 2 feet tall, blooms profusely.

Echinacea Purpurea 'Pow Wow'
“Echinacea Purpurea ‘Pow Wow'” by Michele Dorsey Walfred is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Echinacea purpurea ‘Ruby Star’: Rich ruby-red petals, 3 feet tall, with an upright growth habit.

Echinacea purpurea 'Rubinstern' RUBY STAR
Echinacea purpurea ‘Rubinstern’ Ruby Star by F. D. Richards is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Echinacea purpurea ‘Kim’s Knee High’: Pink flowers, compact and dwarf variety at 18-24 inches, perfect for small spaces.

Echinacea purpurea ‘Hot Papaya’: Bright orange-red double blooms, 2-3 feet tall, striking in colour and form.

Echinacea purpurea 'Hot Papaya'
Echinacea purpurea ‘Hot Papaya’ by P Gonzales is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

How to grow the Echinacea

Soil and Feeding

Echinacea purpurea prefers well-drained soil with a neutral to slightly acidic pH. It thrives in sandy or loamy soil but can tolerate clay if well-drained.

Enhance the soil with compost or organic matter to improve fertility. Apply a balanced, slow-release fertiliser in early spring to support growth.

Watering

Water young plants regularly to establish roots. Once mature, Echinacea purpurea is drought-tolerant and requires minimal watering. Overwatering or poorly drained soil can lead to root rot. Ensure the soil dries out between waterings.

Pruning

Pruning is essential to maintain plant health and aesthetics. Deadhead spent blooms to encourage more flowers. Conventional advice is to cut back the plant to ground level to prepare for winter. This can help prevent disease and promote vigorous growth in the spring.

However, as noted above, stems can be left over winter and cut back in very early Spring if you want to help wildlife and have some visual structure over the coldest months.

Propagation

Propagate Echinacea purpurea through seeds, division, or root cuttings. For seeds, sow indoors in late winter or directly in the garden in early spring.

To divide, separate clumps in early spring or autumn, ensuring each section has roots attached.

If taking root cuttings, cut out sections of the root in late autumn and plant them in a suitable growing medium that has good drainage.

Echinacea
“Echinacea” by Oregon State University is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Common Echinacea problems and solutions

  • Powdery mildew: Ensure good air circulation and avoid overhead watering. Use fungicides if necessary.
  • Aphids: Spray with insecticidal soap or water to dislodge them.
  • Japanese beetles: Handpick or use traps to control beetle population.
  • Root rot: Ensure proper drainage and avoid overwatering.
  • Stem rot: Improve soil drainage and remove affected plants to prevent spread.

Growing Echinacea purpurea in your garden not only enhances its visual appeal but also supports local pollinators and provides medicinal benefits.

With its hardy nature and stunning blooms, this plant can be a mainstay in any garden, especially if planted in large groups and paired with grasses, Rudbeckia and other naturalistic planting.

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