Purple Coneflower (Echinacea) Plant Profile

Purple Coneflowers (Echinecea)
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Purple coneflowers are quintessential prairie plants. They are hardy, drought-tolerant, and long-blooming, and they are being cultivated in an ever-widening range of colors. It's hard to find a garden without at least one variety. Coneflowers are a type of echinacea, a native North American genus with about 10 species.

Purple coneflower, or Echinacea purpurea, is by far the most popular variety of coneflower. It has a fibrous root system, rather than the long tap root and woody crown found in other native species, and it is more adaptable to garden conditions and more forgiving of dividing and transplanting.

Coneflower's daisy-like flower is actually made up of several small flowers. The petals are sterile and are there to lure insects toward the many fertile flowers in the central disk or cone. These flowers are rich in nectar and very popular with both bees and butterflies.

  • Botanical name: Echinacea purpurea
  • Common name: Purple coneflower
  • Plant type: Flowering perennial
  • Mature size: 29 to 47 inches tall and 18 to 23 inches wide
  • Sun exposure: Full sun or part shade
  • Soil type: Normal, sandy, or clay
  • Soil pH: 6.5 to 7.0
  • Bloom time: Midsummer to mid-fall
  • Flower color: Purple, mauve, rose-pink
  • Hardiness zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
  • Native area: North America
Western honeybee on Purple coneflower
Werner Meidinger / Getty Images

How to Grow Purple Coneflowers 

Purple coneflowers grow well just about anywhere in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 9, but in colder climates, you may want to give them a little winter protection their first year. Once established, they are rugged and hardy.

Coneflowers grow well from seed and can be divided or grown from stem cuttings. There are also plenty of varieties available for purchase as plants, especially through mail order. The plants start blooming in early summer to midsummer and repeat-bloom through frost. They may take a break after their initial bloom period, but they will quickly set more flower buds.

Light

To get the most blooms and the sturdiest plants, plant purple coneflowers in a spot that gets at least five hours of full sun each day. They will tolerate partial shade, but plants may flop or strain to reach the sun.

Soil

Coneflowers grown in gardens prefer a neutral soil pH of about 6.5 to 7.0. They can thrive in a variety of soil types, including sandy, rocky, and clay soils. However, they do not like wet or mucky soil.

Water

Coneflowers are often listed as drought-tolerant, but they will do much better with regular watering. Water them daily just after planting, then transition to twice weekly or even once weekly, depending on the climate. Second-year and older plants may need very little watering.

Temperature and Humidity

As a native prairie plant, echinacea thrives in hot, dry climates but can handle a range of temperature and humidity fluctuations. They do not do as well in very humid climates or in rainy areas where the soil stays wet.

Fertilizer

Although coneflowers thrive best in a soil high in organic matter, too much supplemental fertilizer can cause them to become leggy. Mulching the plants with compost each spring usually gives them the nutrition they need for healthy foliage and blooms.

Pruning (Deadheading)

You can leave the plants standing through winter, to feed the birds. Shearing them back in the spring will result in bushier plants that bloom longer into the season.

Deadheading is the primary maintenance required with coneflowers. They are prolific bloomers, and keeping them deadheaded (removing the dead flowers from living plants) will keep them in bloom all summer. Each flower remains in bloom for several weeks.

Flowers start blooming from the top of the stem. As the initial flower fades, more side shoots and buds will form along the stem. Keep the plants deadheaded and you'll keep getting more flowers.

Growing From Seeds

Purple coneflowers are relatively easy to grow from seed. If you'd like to save the seed, wait until the cone has fully dried. It will be darker in color and stiff to the touch. The seeds are attached to the sharp spines. You don't need to separate them before storing or planting.

The seeds germinate best with some cold stratification. The easiest method is to sow them outdoors in the fall, either in the ground or winter sowing them in pots. If you are going to start seed indoors, simulate the chilling period by soaking the seeds in water and then placing the slightly damp seeds in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 8 to 10 weeks. Then, take them out and plant as you normally would. They should germinate within 10 to 14 days.

Common Pests and Diseases

For the most part, coneflowers have very few problems. As long as the plants are given plenty of room for good air circulation, they should not be bothered by fungal diseases. If you should see mildew or spots on the leaves, simply cut them back and let them fill in on their own.

Keep an eye out for aster yellows, a systemic plant disease that causes growth deformities in the flowers. It can affect hundreds of different flowers, not just those in the aster family. There is no known cure and it is spread by a leafhopper, so affected plants should be removed and destroyed as soon as possible, to protect other nearby plants.