Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a perennial native to nearly all of North America. With tall stalks and purple daisy-like blooms on orangish-yellow centers, purple coneflower blooms in midsummer through fall. Purple coneflower is extremely hardy and drought-tolerant, making it an excellent choice for sunny spots in the garden of even the most novice gardener. With the most basic care, purple coneflowers can last a lifetime.
Gardening with Purple Coneflower
The original purple coneflower stands up to 5 feet tall on thick stalks that can hold its weight unless wind-blown or weighted down from rain. With uninteresting foliage, purple coneflower does best when planted against a fence or shrubs as a backdrop and then underplanted with shorter plants at its feet. Black-eyed Susans, shasta daisy, bee balm and zinnias are all popular choices for hiding the tall stalks of coneflowers.
Coneflowers can be planted from seed or by seedling plants. Choose quality seeds packaged for that season's growth for best results. Seeds can be planted any time up to late summer to ensure establishment before frost. Coneflowers should be planted in well-draining soil in part to full sun. The more sunlight coneflowers receive, the more faded the purple petals become, almost to a white.
To help maintain a long life for your purple coneflower, dig up and divide the clumps every three or four years. In spring, dig around the emerging stems, pulling the stem mass loose with your hands. Divide into two or three sections, either pulling apart with your hands or cutting with a clean knife. Replant each division immediately. Dividing plants is an excellent way to get new flowers for other areas of your garden as well as keep your original plant healthy.
Coneflowers will start to bloom in July and often bloom through September, making them one of the most prolific late-summer perennials. A drought-tolerant plant that will grow in just about any condition, coneflowers will thrive in a nutrient-rich environment. The blooms are magnets for butterflies, bees and hummingbirds and are often considered a backbone of a butterfly garden.
Herbal and Home Uses
Echinacea is a popular herbal supplement used to lessen the effects of colds and viruses. All parts of the purple coneflower are still used in Native American medicines for everything from insect bites and toothaches to an antidote to rattlesnake bites. Purple coneflower is also grown as a cut flower for indoor arrangements. Cutting blooms to show off indoors and pinching off spent blooms both prolong the bloom season. All flowers' life cycles are the same--establish roots and stalks, bloom, produce seeds, drop seeds and die. By removing blooms before the plant can produce seed, you force it to keep producing blooms.
Purple coneflower can suffer from a number of diseases, including powdery mildew, aster yellows and stem rot. Proper planting, division practices and keeping debris cleaned up will help prevent those problems. Insects such as aphids and Japanese beetles can also create a problem and should be dealt with early for best results. Aphids are best eradicated with an insecticidal soap, while using bait away from the coneflowers works best for Japanese beetles.
In early autumn, allow the plant to go to seed by not deadheading anymore. As the stalks begin to turn brown and brittle, some gardeners may begin to cut back to keep their landscape clean-looking. Gardeners who are also bird lovers know that dried coneflowers will provide feasts for small birds such as finches throughout the winter. The dried, tall blooms also add interest to a winter garden and are much easier to clean up in spring as the new plant begins to emerge.