The height of summer is here when the black–eyed susans are in bloom. The summer flowers are displaying their beauty in the hot weather. The majority of planting is now done. It is a time to sit back and enjoy it all. Remember that this is also a great time to take notes on areas that need changes, and it is an ideal time to evaluate your garden when it is in full summer bloom.
A favorite perennial in many gardens is Echinacea, more commonly referred to as coneflower. This is a long blooming perennial with flowers beginning about mid summer and continuing into early fall. Deadheading spent blooms will encourage more flowers, but the dried seed heads are also attractive in the garden. Allowing seeding to take place will produce many additional plants for years to come, although these new plants are often different from the parent plant.
For best results a light loamy soil that drains well is preferable in establishing coneflowers, but this plant will adapt to a variety of soil conditions. At planting time incorporate some organic material into the planting hole, such as compost, leaf mold, rotted manure, or peat moss. It is important to provide adequate moisture during the early growth stages. Watering deeply to a depth of 8 inches is ideal. Blooms will be best if the plant is in full sun. This plant likes the heat.
Coneflowers are not heavy feeders. A light application of a 10-10-10 fertilizer in the spring is sufficient or if you prefer, an organic fertilizer can be used such as compost, rotted horse manure, cow manure, or Milorganite. If this plant is overfed the stems can become floppy which will necessitate some type of staking.
Coneflowers look best when planted in groups of 3 to 5 plants. It is important not to overcrowd this plant as it is susceptible to leaf spot if air circulation is poor. Although coneflowers do not require mulch, it is beneficial in controlling weeds and holding moisture in the soil. Weedy soil may also make the plant more prone to a virus called aster yellows. This pathogen, which is carried by leafhoppers, produces distorted flower heads and abnormal stunted plant growth. As there is no cure for aster yellows, it is necessary to destroy the affected plant immediately.
Blooms come in a wide array of colors. Purple or pink is most common with the plant being hybridized to also produce colors in shades of orange, yellow, and red. White is also available. Purple coneflowers were used by the American Plains Indians for a variety of ailments. Echinacea is often used as an herbal supplement to help stimulate the human immune system.
Coneflowers are stunning in any garden setting. An additional bonus to growing this perennial is that you will have many butterflies and yellow finches visit your garden.
Until next time…happy gardening.
Nina Binkley, UW Extension master gardener