Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on April 30, 2001. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Purple coneflowers are good perennials
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Purple coneflowers, known botanically as Echinacea, may be named after a hedgehog or a sea urchin, but these wonderful Mississippi natives are one of my favorite perennials.
Now is the best time to plant purple coneflowers. Select a healthy-growing transplant in a 4-inch container and you will most likely find success. These small plants without buds are still producing roots and green leaves and will be happy in your garden. This also goes for rudbeckias, Shasta daisies and coreopsis.
Choose a site in full sun for best flower performance. I assume many of you have soil like mine which takes a small stick of dynamite or a jackhammer to break apart. We can assist the happiness of the plants greatly by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and tilling it in.
While tilling, go ahead and work in two pounds of a slow release 12-6-6 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed space. Space your plants about two feet apart. A teardrop-shaped drift will look awesome once they are blooming. Rudbeckias, coreopsis, Shasta daisies, salvias and angelonias make nice companion plantings. Buddleias and lantanas also combine well.
Try purple coneflowers with purple fountain grass or some of the miscanthus for a real showy display. If your garden club members see this, they will think you went to some specialized training program during your vacation.
Often you find the purple coneflower sold generically, but the Perennial Plant Association named Magnus purple coneflower as its Perennial Plant of the Year in 1998. Magnus was selected for its vibrant, rose-purple flowers and is a real winner in the garden. Its petals remain horizontal rather than drooping toward the ground.
Bravado is another variety that you may want to try. I am much impressed with this selection that has large 4- to 5-inch flowers with a wonderful fragrance, particularly in the morning.
As Echinacea, Purple coneflowers have long been favorites with gardeners in the South and now have found their way to the health food aisle in stores as medicinal plants. American Indians used it to cure a number of ailments, and now herbalists use it in teas and pills. It has been credited with anti-inflammatory properties, tissue regeneration abilities and immune system stimulation.
Another great attribute is that they attract butterflies like the Painted Lady and birds eat their seeds. That make coneflowers among the best plants for landscapes dedicated to wildlife.
Purple coneflowers are also great as cut flowers. If you let one get past its prime, simply pick the petals off and use the brown cone in the vase. Don't throw the arrangement away when you're finished. Let the flowers dry completely and then scatter the seeds around for a denser planting.
I try to preach patience when growing perennials and roses -- they get better with a little age. The same is true with purple coneflowers. More flowers are produced in the second and third years. Purple coneflowers are perennials whose clumps can be divided in the fall when necessary. This may not need to be done for three or more years. It also can be propagated from its own seed.
After you grow Echinacea for a few years, you will wonder how someone could name such as pretty flower after a hedgehog. At least they didn't stick the name weed on the end of it!