A Focus on Echinacea –
More commonly known as Coneflowers, Echinacea are easy to grow, flowering herbaceous perennials and part of the Daisy family. They love the sun and are best planted in the autumn and spring, preferring not to be disturbed they like to be left to form clumps.
There are ten species and they can grow up to 4 feet high, colours include, white, orange, pink, red and yellow. Their stems are erect with single flowers that sit on top and they are popular with bees and butterflies.
They add interest and purpose to a garden with a variety of colours and names to delight visitors to your garden including Echinacea Delicious Nougat Echinacea Sunseekers Rainbow Echinacea Delicious Candy and the Echinacea Sombrero Adobe Orange
Putting them in the spotlight, A Focus on Echinacea, looks at the history, meaning and some frequently asked questions.
They were discovered in forests by European explorers back in the 18th century in North America, growing in moist areas and dry prairies and their showy heads caught the explorers attention, their name means ‘sea urchin’ this is thought to be due to their spiny coned centre.
They are grown from taproots and were initially described as a species of Rudbeckia before being elevated to a species, Echinacea, in their own right. World Flora Online recognises ten species of Echinacea.
The herbal trade has caused a threat to wild specimens of Echinacea due to over-harvesting for human use, being used in the past by physicians to treat a wide range of conditions including syphilis, dysentery and even snakebites. Today it is most commonly known for its use in treating colds and flu. Much has been written and researched about its effectiveness but it is thought that some preparations can have immune-stimulatory effects or anti-inflammatory effects on immunity, depending on the nature of the extract used and may help our body to fight off infection helping to prevent colds and flu. You can read more on the benefits here.
As part of our, A Focus on Echinacea, we have included some frequently asked questions below.
Do Echinacea come back every year?
They do and often in the strangest of places as they are such prolific seeders. They become dormant in the winter, re-emerging in the spring which is when you should cut them back to ensure they flower well in the summer months. They are hardy perennials so can survive a hard winter! It’s worth knowing that the plant often starts flowering at its best in its second year.
How often should Echinacea be watered?
They are so easy to care for and should be watered only once a week and about an inch of water should be enough. They do best in soil that’s level of moisture is dry to medium and they can tolerate a drought but be careful not to over or under water as they may not flower. They don’t like soggy soil so let the soil dry out before watering again.
During their first season they are likely to need watering more often as they become established. Look out for signs of dehydration including leaves that are drooping and cracked soil, if you think it is in need of water do so right away and then keep an eye on it for a week or so. Once established, watering should take place in the morning or evening.
Does Echinacea need to be deadheaded?
They should bloom continuously whether you deadhead or not. We all have busy lives and often don’t have time to deadhead everything, Echinaceas are probably one flower you could leave but if you choose to deadhead to keep the plant looking beautiful, make sure you follow the stem down to the first growth of leaves and then cut.
When they have finished blooming their cone shaped heads are a valuable source of food for birds so consider leaving for them. You could also harvest a few flowers, dry them out and make herbal tea to fight off colds during the colder months.
How do I look after my Echinacea plant over the winter?
Echinacea is a very hardy perennial that survives cold winters. They become dormant in the winter and should be cut back ready for flowering during the following summer. If they are in the ground there is no need to water unless the winter is exceptionally dry. If they are in pots check the soil and if it feels dry it needs a little water, probably every other week.
If you want to help your local bird population you can leave your Echinacea standing through the winter and the birds will feed off the cone. They should then be cut back early spring to about 3 to 6 inches from the ground.
Can I grow Echinacea indoors?
They grow really tall (3-4 feet) so are not suited to growing indoors. However, they grow well in pots so can be grown on a balcony, courtyard or possibly a conservatory. Bear in mind that they need around 4-6 hours of sunshine every day.
What is eating my Echinacea petals?
There can be a number of pests that like to eat the petals, especially when the plant is young. Finding out can take a bit of investigating so dig around in the soil to see what is about or if they have left any obvious signs, it’s also a good idea to check morning and night.
The following have been known to be troublesome: Japanese beetles, Aphids (you could try making your own insecticidal soap to combat), Eriophyid mites, Earwigs and Rabbits (yes they are cute and fluffy but also troublesome, you could try a hot pepper spray to keep them at bay).
To end our A Focus on Echinacea, here are a few quick questions gardeners often ask:
What are the best companion plants for Echinacea?
A popular choice for wildlife gardens Echinacea is the perfect companion for the following:
What animals eat Echinacea?
Deer and grazing animals like young plants but will normally avoid mature plants.
Can you split Echinacea plants?
Yes, every 3 to 5 years and its best to do it in the spring or autumn.
Does Echinacea self seed?
Yes and usually annually. Bear in mind they will usually take 2-3 years to establish themselves.
Do Bees like Echinacea?
Yes, they are particularly attracted to them as they provide nectar throughout the day.
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