How to Grow and Care for Black-Eyed Susan

black-eyed Susans

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault  

Dependable and easy-care black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) have become a garden staple. Daisy-like rays of bright yellow petals and dark center disks rise over broad ovate green leaves with a rough texture. This wildflower is native to the central United States and can be seen growing in natural areas and along roadsides in the Midwest. Its ability to self-seed makes it a great choice for abundant wildflower gardens. You can plant it after the last frost in spring. It will flower in its first summer although it can take two to three years to reach full height.

There is a great deal of variety within the Rudbeckia genus, and most of the 25 species are true workhorses with very few problems. Fast-growing black-eyed Susan is easily the most commonly known Rudbeckia, with its daisy-like flowers with large seed heads. It also has the scratchy, hairy leaves that are characteristic of its genus (this may not be one of its best features, but it does help keep pests away).

closeup of black-eyed Susan
The Spruce / Adrienne Legault 
Black-eyed Susans used in landscaping
The Spruce / Adrienne Legault
black-eyed Susans
The Spruce / Adrienne Legault
Common Name Black-eyed Susan, brown Betty, Marguerite Jaune, hairy coneflower
Botanical Name Rudbeckia hirta
Family Asteraceae
Plant Type Short-lived Perennial
Mature Size 2-3 ft. tall, 1-2 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Moist, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral
Bloom Time Summer, fall
Flower Color Yellow, orange, red
Hardiness Zones 3-9 (USDA)
Native Area North America

Black-Eyed Susan Care

Black-eyed Susans are easy to establish, they naturalize well, and require little maintenance other than deadheading. Regular deadheading of the faded flowers keeps the plants in bloom longer. You can let the last flowers of the season remain on the plants to form seed heads that will feed the birds through the winter. You will also get a good deal of self-seeding, which might not be a bad thing.

Black-eyed Susans make great cut flowers. The seed heads hold up well, too, and look attractive in arrangements.

Light

You will get the best flowering from your black-eyed Susans in full sun, but they can handle partial shade.

Soil

Black-eyed Susans are not particular about soil. They do best in soil that is not too rich and is well-drained, with a pH around 6.8.

Water

Keep the plants well-watered their first season to get them established—an inch per week through rainfall or irrigation is sufficient. Once established, they will be drought-resistant.

Temperature and Humidity

As a tough summer performer, this plant likes warmer temperatures of 60 degrees Fahrenheit and more. It handles both drought and humidity well, but it does need good air circulation to avoid powdery mildew.

Fertilizer

Go easy on the fertilizer. Black-eyed Susans grow even in poor, infertile soil. A side dressing of compost should be all they will need.

Types of Black-Eyed Susan

There are several excellent varieties of black-eyed Susan, including:

  • Rudbeckia hirta 'Becky': a compact dwarf variety
  • Rudbeckia hirta 'Maya': resembles a tall marigold
  • Rudbeckia hirta 'Cherry Brandy' with red to maroon flowers around dark center cones.
  • Rudbeckia hirta 'Cherokee Sunset': has double and semi-double flowers in shades of yellow, orange, red, bronze, and mahogany
  • Rudbeckia hirta 'Indian Summer': displays large yellow flowers, and reaches 3- to 4-feet tall.
  • Rudbeckia hirta 'Toto Rustic': features autumnal hues; there's also golden 'Toto' and pale 'Toto Lemon'; all grow to about 1-foot tall

Propagating

Rudbeckia hirta is a relatively short-lived perennial that might not get old enough to form large, dense clumps. But if it does, it can be divided for propagation in early spring, just as new growth appears, or autumn, when the plant has finished flowering:

  1. Lift the entire plant out of the ground with a shovel. Divide it in half or more sections using pruners or a spade.
  2. Replant each section in a new location and keep it well-watered until you see new growth in a few weeks.

Since black-eyed Susans easily reseed themselves, you might automatically have new plants in your flower beds next year.

How to Grow Black-Eyed Susan From Seed

To get a head start on the growing season, start black-eyed Susans indoors from seed about 10 weeks before the last expected frost. Plant seeds 1/4 inch deep in trays or pots filled with a moistened seed starting mix. Perennial varieties will germinate best if the seed containers are kept in the refrigerator or a similarly cold place for four weeks after seeding. Afterward, soil temperature needs to be warm for germination, so place the seeded tray or pot on a heating mat or a warm space such as the top of the refrigerator or a table above a heat vent. Seeds should germinate within 7 to 21 days. Harden off the seedlings before planting them outside. Make sure all danger of frost has passed before planting outside.

Black-eyed Susans can also be direct seeded in the garden once daytime temperatures remain around 70 degrees. Scatter seeds. cover lightly with soil, and water well. Keep soil moist. Thin seedlings to 6-12 inches apart for dwarf varieties, 18-30 inches apart for larger cultivars. If you do not wish to start your own seed, seedlings and plants can be purchased and transplanted.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Black-eyed Susan is rarely bothered by serious pests and diseases. Septoria or angular leaf spots are two fungal diseases that form black spots on the leaves and stems. Provide good air circulation by leaving ample space between plants, and avoid getting the leaves wet when watering as that can spread the fungi. Removing and throwing infected leaves in the trash instead of composting helps to contain the spread.

How to Get Black-Eyed Susans to Bloom

Failure to bloom can be caused by lack of sun. Black-eyes Susans need full sun to bloom. One way to remedy that is to move your plants to a different location with full sun exposure but if it is a tree or shrub that is casting shade on them, some pruning might be sufficient to let more sunlight through. Some perennial varieties may not bloom until the second year.

The other reason why black-eyed Susans won't bloom is too much nitrogen, which results in lush foliage but no flowers. If using a fertilizer at all (the plants often do very well without fertilization), pick one that is high in bloom-boosting phosphorus.

Common Problems with Black-Eyed Susan

Powdery mildew can affect the leaves in hot, humid conditions. Minimize this by planting in full sun, and thinning the plants to allow for good air circulation.

Rudbeckia fulgida
The Spruce / Adrienne Legault 
Rudbeckia hirta
 
FAQ
  • What perennial goes well with black eyed Susan?

    Black-eyed Susans and other Rudbeckia plants work well as a complement to blue and purple flowers, like Russian sage and Veronica, or mixed in with other jewel tones, such as sedum 'Autumn Joy', purple coneflower, and New England asters.

  • How do you winterize black-eyed Susan?

    Black-eyed Susans are winter-hardy up to USDA zone 3 so they do not have to be winterized but the plants benefit from cutting back the stalks in the fall and covering them with thick layer of mulch.

  • Are black-eyed Susans deer-resistant?

    Tender young growth may get nibbled. Once they mature and their leaves become coarse and hairy, they are deer-resistant.

Article Sources
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  1. Rudbeckia hirta. USDA FEIS.