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How to Grow Echinops

How to Grow Echinops

Echinops can be an amazing addition to your perennial or cutting garden. The different species give an array of different heights and color, ranging from frosty white to bright blue. Commonly called globe thistle, this plant adds a sharp texture to the garden in its leaves, upright stature, and spiky golf ball-sized flower heads. It attracts butterflies, bees, and birds, allowing your garden to thrive with life.

It also is a great cut flower for immediate use and dried arrangements. This plant thrives in sunny locations with a tolerance to drought conditions. Once it is established it can survive with little to no attention, making it an attractive plant for the homeowner, the environment, and the viewers.

When and Where to Plant Echinops

Echinops plants ship as a bare roots, meaning the roots are exposed (not in any soil). The plant is dormant while this handling occurs, and is shipped at the proper time for your hardiness zone so that it can be planted immediately upon receiving. Echinops should be planted in spring, or early summer.

Light: Plant Echinops in Full sun.

Soil: Echinops can handle many different types of soils so long as they are well drained. Well-drained soils are sandy and loamy soils (most average garden soil). Poor-draining soil is clay. Echinops prefers poor soils to rich ones and will tolerate drought conditions. It can handle strongly acidic soils (5.1 - 6.0 pH) but won’t perform as well in basic soils (above 7.0 pH).

Spacing: Echinops is an erect, clump-forming perennial that can mature to be 3-7’ tall and 1-4’ wide (depending on the species - the kind we carry is a compact hybrid variety). Each cultivar has a particular range, so it is important to read how big yours gets to determine its spacing. As an example, if your cultivar gets to be 2 feet wide, space the plants every 1.5 - 2 feet.

Bee on echinops
Echinops (much like allium) often get compared to wildlife from Dr. Suess books due to their funky shaped blooms, and long stems.

How to Plant: The bare-root should be immediately unpackaged and planted. If a delay must occur, it should be kept moist (wrapped in wet paper towel) and in a cool, shaded location until it is possible to plant. The bare root should then be planted so that the top of the root system is about 1 inch under the soil. It should be well-watered until it becomes established.

How to Grow Echinops Throughout the Season

Growth Habit: Echinops is an upright, clump-forming perennial that has thistle-like texture (thorns included) and a large taproot. It blooms from July to August with a spiky golf ball-sized flower head. The sometimes-branching stalks grow from a basal foliage rosette. If it is in a desired location, it readily self-sows, so your plant could start to naturalize an area. If that’s not the desired intention, Echinops blooms can be deadheaded (snipped off) before the seeds fall to easily prevent this occurrence.

Staking: Species that are 4 feet tall or less typically do not need to be staked. The stalks are very strong and durable. Staking might be necessary for taller species or stems with particularly large flower heads that can weigh it down.

Watering: Echinops is fairly drought-tolerant. Once the plant is established, it should perform great without any supplemental watering. However, during its first season of growth and directly after being planted, it should be watered regularly until it is established.

Fertilizing: No fertilizing is necessary as Echinops performs well in nutrient-poor soils. It will not harm the plant to have a mild slow-release fertilizer applied in spring if desired.

Trimming/ Pruning: Without any deadheading, Echinops will readily self-sow and spread throughout an area. To reduce self-sowing, Echinops can be deadheaded after flowering. To do so, simply cut the seedhead stalk down to the basal foliage. Deadheading early enough will encourage an additional autumn bloom.

Mulching: Mulch is not required for Echinops, as this species does well in soils with low organic matter. However, it is beneficial to have a thin layer of mulch in a garden bed to insulate, allow for water percolation, and suppress weed seeds from germinating. Though it is not essential, Echinops would be happy with this beneficial thin layer of mulch.

Echinops: End of Season Care

Globe Thistle
Veitch's Blue Echinops or Small Globe Thistle is a low-maintenance, unique solution to any gardens that get ravished by deer.

The stalk of Echinops is fairly strong and durable, so if desired it can be left as winter interest and seedheads for birds and wildlife. Otherwise, cut the flowering stalks down to the basal foliage. In the early spring, rake out any remaining foliage creating a clean bed. New growth will emerge when the temperature stays warm enough to break its dormancy.

Dividing / Transplanting: The large taproot makes it difficult to divide or transplant a mature Echinops plant successfully. Sometimes, new seedlings grow in a clump around the base of the parent plant after germination. These can be carefully separated and transplanted where desired; however, if you want to propagate Echinops, try starting from seed as it is easily done and less invasive to the plant health.

Echinops: Extra Info

Pests and Diseases: Echinops is relatively pest and disease free. Occasional aphids or powdery mildew might occur, but neither should cause major damage. If necessary to interfere, using NEEM or horticulture oil would be helpful for both. Use according to the label.

Avoid These Locations: Avoid planting Echinops in very rich soil in your garden. This could cause it to “outgrow” itself, meaning it would grow too tall to hold itself up, and need staking or else flop over. Putting it in a tougher, dry, nutrient-poor location is actually better for the plant structure.

The huge taproot that it makes allows it to live in locations that other plants would suffer in. Average garden soil to poor soil is perfect. Also, avoid planting in locations that have poor drainage. It is adapted to grow in dry conditions.

Caution: When handling Echinops, it is encouraged to wear gloves to not be cut or pricked by the thorns. It can be painful to grab this plant without protection.

If you let Echinops drop its seeds each year, be sure to understand what the seedlings look like in the spring, and either keep or pull them as they emerge based on where you want the plant to grow and fill in. It is easier to handle the plant at this young stage, rather than trying to maneuver it once mature and rooted deeply.

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