Coneflower is a flowering perennial that belongs to the genus Echinacea and is part of the daisy family. Coneflowers come in myriad colors and have a distinctive shape that earns them their name: The centers of the flowers are slightly pointed and prickly, and the petals droop downward, giving the plant a cone-like shape.
Coneflowers grow best in full sun and will tolerate dry conditions fairly well, making them good candidates for hot, sunny parts of your yard and garden, although they will tolerate some shade. They prefer fertile, well-drained soil and do not grow well in clay soil or soil that is constantly damp. Coneflowers blossom in the late summer and early fall.
Caring for Coneflowers
Coneflowers are wildflowers and require very little care. When plants are young, ensure that they receive an inch of water per week to help them to develop a strong taproot that will increase their drought-tolerance later. Mulching is very beneficial to coneflowers and helps to retain water in the soil, prevents weeds from competing with the flower and constantly replenishes the organic nutrients found in the soil. Removing spent flower heads keeps the coneflower looking invigorated and allows the plant to devote its energy to new flowers. However, deadheading or pruning flowers is not necessary for coneflowers to thrive.
Coneflowers self-sow well, and populations tend to proliferate on their own. Coneflowers are easy to start from seed, so collecting seed from an existing plant that you like is one way to add them to your garden. Some special varieties will not grow true from seed—meaning that the offspring won't look like the parent plant—so these varieties should be started from plant or root cuttings. Plants started from cuttings always look identical to the parent plant.
Planning a Garden with Coneflowers
Coneflowers will grow well in just about any setting that meets their needs and preferences, but several attributes make them good additions to specialized or themed gardens. Coneflowers will grow in both border and container gardens and are excellent additions to butterfly gardens. In the winter, if you leave the dead flower heads in place, they will attract songbirds that feed on the seeds. Dayton Nurseries recommend planting coneflower with black-eyed Susan, aster, ornamental grasses and salvia.
Uses of Echinacea
Some forms of coneflower are used in the popular herbal remedy echinacea. Echinacea was used by Native Americans to treat wounds and infections and has been show to have a positive effect on the immune system. Some studies have found it to decrease the duration and severity of the common cold with minimal risk of side effects. As always, before using herbal remedies, you should talk with your healthcare provider.