How to Grow Mexican Hat Plants (Ratibida columnifera)

Mexican hat flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Ratibida columnifera (prairie coneflower) is a pretty, ornamental wildflower species that is part of the aster family.

Also known as a Mexican hat, this easy to establish plant has long-lasting, drooping mahogany-red blooms that are tinged with yellow on the edges and long, prominent cylindrical disks in the center. The flowers resemble a sombrero, and this is where the inspiration for their common name comes from. They usually flower prolifically all the way through the summer and into the fall.

A clump-forming perennial that doesn't have dense foliage, the Mexican hat plant is typically grown in groups and is ideal for meadow, cottage and wildflower gardens. With their upright growth habit and height, which can reach up to three feet, Ratibida columnifera are also a great choice for planting at the back of borders in sunny gardens.

Mexican hat plants are commonly selected for xeriscape landscaping because of their impressive drought-tolerance. Their pollen and seeds will attract a wealth of pollinators and feeding birds to your garden, and they self-seed freely.

Another bonus is that the foliage has a distinct odor that acts as a repellant to deers.

Botanical Name Ratibida columnifera
Common Name Mexican Hat, Prairie Coneflower, Thimbleflower
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size Up to 3ft. tall and 18" wide
Sun Exposure Full Sun
Soil Type Loamy, Sandy, Well-drained
Soil pH Neutral, Alkaline
Bloom Time Spring, Summer, Fall
Flower Color Orange, Yellow, Brown
Hardiness Zones 4 - 9, USA
Native Area North America (Mexico)
Toxicity Nox-toxic
Mexican hat flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Mexican hat flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Plant Care

One of the biggest draws of this easy-to-care-for plant is its drought-tolerance. It is also fast-growing, isn't particular about the type of soil it grows in, and will naturalize readily.

In fact, it self-seeds so freely that it can be rather aggressive and you should consider what else you plant it with as it can choke out weaker plants.

Also, be aware that Ratibida columnifera won't flower until its second year.

Light

As you would expect from a plant that is native to Mexico, the Ratibida columnifera thrives in a full sun position. It can tolerate light shade, but the more sun this plant receives, the more abundant and long-lasting the bloom season will be.

Soil

Mexican hat plants can adapt to a wide range of soil types. They can still thrive even if it is dry and nutrient-poor. The one thing they can't cope with, however, is a moisture-rich and heavy clay soil.

If the soil is particularly moist and fertile, this is when the plant could be choked out by other tall and aggressive species.

Water

One of Ratibida columniferas stand out qualities is its drought-tolerance once established, even in the hottest and driest regions.

However, to see the most impressive and long-lasting bloom period through the summer, it is best to offer these plants deep waterings infrequently.

It can also be helpful to use a mulch in particularly arid and hot regions to help conserve moisture.

During the winter and spring, occasional additional irrigation will only be required if the seasons are especially dry.

Temperature and Humidity

These plants thrive in hot and dry regions. Too much moisture, rainfall or cold temperatures are problematic.

Fertilizer

Mexican hat plants can still thrive in nutrient-poor soils, so they generally don't need additional fertilization. Adding a small amount of compost when the Ratibida columnifera is being planted is sometimes suggested, but only if the soil is of particularly poor quality.

Pruning

If you want to extend the bloom time on your Prairie coneflowers, it's a good idea to deadhead through the summer.

If you don't want your plants to reseed in situ, you can mow them down after the bloom period. Most enthusiasts, however, let some seed heads ripen and cut them back in early spring instead. Not only will this keep the naturalizing process on the go, but the ripened seeds are a good food source for wild birds during the winter.

How to Grow Ratibida Columnifera From Seed

This plant propagates from seeds really easily. If you don't plant them straight into the ground in the fall, then stored seeds may benefit from a period of cold stratification before planting in the spring.

Common Pests/Disease

Another of the plus points of the Ratibida columnifera is that it is virtually pest and disease-free.