How to Grow Mexican Hat Plants (Prairie Coneflower)

Mexican hat flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Mexican hat plants or prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera) are a pretty, ornamental wildflower species in the aster family that can be planted in the fall or spring. This plant is easy to establish, fast-growing, and 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 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. They have an upright growth habit and grow up to 3 feet in height. Ratibida columnifera is an excellent choice for planting at the back of borders in sunny gardens.

Mexican hat plants are used for xeriscape landscaping because of their impressive drought tolerance. In addition, 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 deer.

Botanical Name Ratibida columnifera
Common Name Mexican hat, prairie coneflower, thimbleflower
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size Up to 3 ft. tall, 18 in. wide
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Loamy, sandy, well-drained
Soil pH Neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Spring, summer, fall
Flower Color Orange, yellow, brown
Hardiness Zones 4 to 9, USDA
Native Area North America (Mexico)

Mexican Hat Plant Care

One of the biggest draws of this easy-to-care-for plant is its drought tolerance. It isn't particular about the type of soil it grows in and will naturalize readily. Unfortunately, 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. Mexican hat plant won't flower until its second year. Another plus point, Ratibida columnifera is virtually pest and disease-free.

Mexican hat flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Mexican hat flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

As a native Mexican plant, the Ratibida columnifera thrives in full sun. 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 thrive even if it is dry and nutrient-poor. However, it can't cope with moisture-rich or heavy clay soil. If the soil is exceptionally moist and fertile, the plant could be choked out by taller, more aggressive species.

Water

One of the Mexican hat plant's stand-out qualities is its drought-tolerance once established, even in the hottest and driest regions. However, if you want to see the most impressive and long-lasting bloom periods through the summer, offer these plants deep waterings infrequently. It can also be helpful to use mulch, particularly in arid and hot regions, to help conserve moisture. During the winter and spring, occasional additional irrigation will only be required if the seasons are dry.

Temperature and Humidity

These plants thrive in hot and dry regions. However, 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. However, adding a small amount of compost when the Ratibida columnifera is being planted is sometimes suggested, but only if the soil is poor quality.

Mexican Hat Plant Varieties

The only variety of note is the Mexican hat plant 'Red Midget,' a compact, erect perennial with hairy, gray-green leaves and slender, branching stems bearing daisy-like, dark red flowers.

Pruning

You can extend the bloom time on your prairie coneflowers if you deadhead through the summer. If you don't want your plants to reseed themselves, you can mow them down after they bloom. Most enthusiasts let some seed heads ripen and instead cut them back in early spring to help the plants naturalize. The ripened seeds are a good food source for wild birds during the winter.

Propagating Mexican Hat Plant

Mexican hat plants can be propagated by dividing the rootball or sowing seed directly into a container or the ground.

How to Grow Mexican Hat Plant From Seed

This plant propagates from seeds easily. However, 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.

Potting and Repotting Mexican Hat Plant

Mexican hat plants look great as potted plants in any warm, well-lit indoor setting. However, if indoors in containers, the plant will need repotting on occasion. These plants are fast growers and may outgrow their pots in several months. To avoid stressing your plants too much, repot them in early spring before their active growing season. If repotting, transplant them into containers that are one size larger than their current ones.

Overwintering

Plant the seed in the fall for overwintering or in the spring after a cold, dry stratification period.