Echinacea, commonly called “coneflowers” for their cone-shaped inflorescences capped by a prickly dome of seedheads, grow well in the home garden, when provided with the right conditions. Echinacea are important sources of nectar for butterflies and many birds (particularly goldfinches), who flock to the plants to devour the seed. Echinacea are, in this way, “two for one” plants. You get to enjoy the gorgeous flowers, as well as the colorful wildlife they attract.
When & Where to Plant Echinacea
Light: Echinacea thrives in full to partial sun. Plants need at least four hours of sunlight per day. The plants grow natively along the edges of woodlands, so they will thrive in spots with morning shade and afternoon sun or vice versa.
Soil: Echinacea will tolerate poor rocky soil, but will not grow in wet, mucky soil. Mulch plants with compost at the time of planting.
Spacing: Coneflowers are clumping plants. One plant will tend to get larger, but it will not spread and overtake the garden via roots or rhizomes. The eventual size of the plant clump depends on the cultivar, so check the mature size listed in the plant description to help you decide on spacing. If a plant is estimated to grow to 18 inches wide, leave 18 inches between plants. Because Echinacea establish deep taproots, you need to plant them where you want them. They do not like to be moved once established.
Planting: Plant Echinacea plants in the spring or the fall, in well-drained soil in full to part sun. Echinacea is easy to grow from seed, as well, but requires a cold, moist period—called stratification—in order to germinate. Sow seeds thickly in the fall (after hard-frost in the north and before winter rains elsewhere), covering lightly to discourage birds from eating them. Seeds will germinate in the spring. Most plants will bloom during the second year—one reason it’s advantageous to start with transplants.