How to Grow Echinacea
Learn how to grow echinacea. Echinacea is not only a pretty cottage flower, it is also a great herbal remedy and wonderful pollinator for bees and butterflies and a favorite of birds and wildlife. It truly deserves a place in everyone’s garden!
Echinacea: My Confession and Ramblings
Confession: I’ve been trying to grow my own echinacea from seed for years now. 4 years to be exact. I’ve mentioned with my root vegetable problems post that I get a bit embarassed when I struggle growing something everyone says is “the easiest thing to grow EVER” and my echinacea-growing woes fit this problem as well.
HOWEVER, it is actually a bit challenging to grow Echinacea from seed: cuttings or plant dividing is easier. So, if you struggle growing Echinacea from seed, you can either keep trying like I did, or just try another option. There will be NO judgement from me. 🙂
Personally, I have always found that growing any perennials from seed is far more challenging than growing annuals like vegetables, zinnias, etc.. Part of that is that the whole first year of a perennial’s life is a bit fragile. However, if you can get your perennials to survive into their second year, you can totally celebrate, since they will most likely now be the most healthy and easy going plants in your garden.
Echinacea: The Perfect Cottage Garden Flower…
Echinacea coneflowers should have a place in everyone’s garden because:
- It’s Beautiful: It’s a STAPLE cottage garden flower because it’s so beautiful, it makes a great cutting flower for vases, and the colors and spread/height of the plant helps fill out your cottage garden quite nicely.
- It’s a Great Pollinator: Both bees and butterflies LOVE Echinacea and growing Echinacea can help with their survival. In addition, local tiny pollinator insects of all sorts will happily swarm all over your echinacea flowers.
- It is a Natural Wildlife food: If you leave the flower heads to dry on the plant in late fall and early winter, you will see the birds happily eating the seeds. This is a wonderful natural way to help wildlife survive the winter months.
- It is also Medicinal: Echinacea has a long history as a natural herbal remedy, especially for colds and flus. Click here to read more about how to use Echinacea as a Natural Remedy.
There are many Echinacea varieties, but the two most common ones (especially for medicinal purposes) are: Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea. Echinacea angustifolia is considered the best medicinal plant, so this is the one that I grew. That way, it is both beautiful and helpful for the wildlife and also beneficial for my household needs as well.
Echinacea angustifolia is also a *bit* harder to grow from seed. You can read more about the difference between Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea in this article.
Now let’s take a closer look at all the details on how to grow echinacea:
Where to Plant Echinacea:
- Echinacea is a perennial, so make sure that whereever you plant it, you realize it is there to stay. Fully grown echinacea plants do not like to be moved once they are established (they have deep taproots).
- It grows well in garden zones 3-10. Click here to figure out your garden zone.
- Echinacea prefer well-drained, loose, loamy soil with lots of compost. They don’t care for fertilizers.
- They love full sun, though they can tolerate partial shade (just expect less flowers if your echinacea is in the shade).
- They can be grown in large containers if you use a loam-based potting compost and divide them in the fall.
- If you start your plants from seed, you might not see blooms on your echinacea during it’s first year. This depends on the variety you grow.
Propagation: How to Start Your Echinacea Plants
- Echinacea can be propagated from seed, but it only germinates if stratification occurs. In order to do this, mix your echinacea seeds with moist, sterile sand or vermiculite and place in a sealed plastic bag in a drawer of your refrigerator for at least 4 weeks. Plant this seed in pots, then transplant into ground once roots have filled the pots.
- It can also be propagated by root cuttings.
- You can also divide echinacea plants in fall or spring. Growing echinacea from plantings is the easiest way and you can enjoy full blooms on your plants in the first year.
- When you plant your little echincea plants, prepare your echincea garden spot by digging a hole that is 4-6 inches deeper than the depth of the roots.
- Plant your echinacea plants 3-5 feet apart from each other, because they will grow in size and spread a bit.
How to Grow Echinacea: Maintenance of Your Plants
If you can get them to survive their first year, you will find that echinacea plants are incredibly easy to care for and very hardy.
- In the first year, make sure your echinacea plants get consistent watering, approximately 1-2 inches of water per week. I used timed drip irrigation on them this year, and that made a huge difference in their first-year vitality.
- In the second year and beyond, you don’t have to worry about watering your echinacea plants unless you’ve had no rain for about 7-8 weeks. They are an incredible drought-resistant plant.
- Mulching the base of the echinacea plants will help with consistent and even moisture.
Problems (pests, diseases, and weeds):
- Weed regularly, especially in the first year.
- Echinacea does not have serious problems with diseases.
- There are no common HUGE pest problems for echinacea. If you have problems with slugs and snails, simply follow typical natural tips, like beer traps.
- Birds LOVE the seeds from echinacea. So, I suppose, if you’re trying to save seeds or you want more echinacea plants to pop up, you can deter birds by placing a shiny, moving object nearby. However, I hope you will consider allowing the birds and other wildlife to eat the seeds as part of the natural life cycle…
- You can prolong your flower season by deadheading your spent blooms.
- At the end of flowering season (aka late fall), you can collect seeds or keep flowers for drying. You should also leave some flowers on the plant to go to seed for the birds. Even with the birds eating the seeds, you will probably get some self-sown new plants in the next growing season.
- In mid to late winter, you can cut back the remaining dead branches when you are cleaning up your garden for spring.
If you’re just cutting flowers for decoration, you can do that whenever you want, though you should try to only take a few flowers from each plant, especially in the first year.
If you’re harvesting echinacea for medicinal purposes, here’s some tips for harvesting the flowers, leaves, and roots:
- You can gather flowers and leaves from mature plants whenever you need them.
To harvest and prepare the flowers: Cut your herb Echinacea at the point where the first healthy leaves are growing and then either tie the plants in bundles and hang them upside down or lay the plants on a screen. The plants have finished drying when the leaves crumble when you touch them.
- You can harvest the roots of mature echinacea plants in the fall when the plants are at least 3 years old.
To harvest the roots, use a garden fork to gently lift the roots out of the soil. Gently cut off only a portion of the root of each plant, so that the plant can still grow.
Gently shake off the excess dirt and gently wash them under running water. Gently pat the roots dry and either cut them into 1-inch pieces to dry on a screen OR hang the root pieces up in a dark and well-ventilated area in your house. It can take a few weeks for the rots to dry.
Store your harvest echinacea in glass jars in a cool, dry place.
I hope my information on how to grow echinacea helped you out! Tell me about your echinacea adventures in the comments below.
Click here to read about how to use Echinacea as a Natural Remedy. I included lots of different natural remedy recipes there.
More Gardening Tips:
- The Best Edible Flowers for a Vegetable Garden
- 10 Plants for Attracting Beneficial Insects to Your Garden
- Early Spring Gardening Chores
- How to Grow Passionflower
- How to Make an Herb Wreath