If you're planning a native plant garden, try combining classic Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) with some classic prairie plants like Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) and Tussock Grass (Deschampsia cespitosa).
What’s in a name?
There are more than two dozen wild species of Black-eyed Susans, native to different parts of North America, all with distinctive yellow petals radiating out from a central knob.
And while some species of Black-eyed Susans have additional names—such as daisies, sunflowers or coneflowers—they all belong to the Rudbeckia genus. This explains why we often collectively refer to all the members of the Black-eyed Susan family as ‘Rudbeckias’.
There are also a number of cultivated varieties of Rudbeckias—such as Indian Summer, Denver Daisy and Cherry Brandy— that plant breeders have developed specially to provide such desirable features as mammoth flowers, luscious colors, or more compact plants.
Black-Eyed Susan: Annuals or Perennials?
Annuals: Some Rudbeckia varieties, such as the Clasping Sunflower (Rudbeckia amplexicaulis), are annuals. Their seeds germinate in the spring; they then produce flowers and set seeds that same summer. Although the original plants will not survive the winter, next spring those seeds may sprout and continue the cycle. Planting fresh seed each season will guarantee a new crop.
Other varieties, like the familiar roadside Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta), are actually biennial in the wild (meaning they germinate in the spring but only flower in their second year). But, if you plant their seeds indoors about 6 weeks before the last frost date, you’ll be rewarded with flowers in the first year. And while some of those plants may return and flower for a few more seasons -and thus are sometimes described as short-lived perennials - you cannot count on it. Just enjoy it when it happens!
Perennials: Still other Rudbeckias are true long-lasting perennials. While they may not begin flowering quite as early each season, if you choose one of the perennial varieties we carry, either Sweet Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia subtomentosa) (available as seeds) or the cultivar Goldstrum (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldstrum’) (available as plants), they will return year after year to light up your fall garden.
Should I go with seeds or young plants?
Plants are your best choice if you want a special cultivar which will come true to type:
- Indian Summer: which has huge flowers up to 9” across
- Denver Daisy: with flat yellow petals radiating out from its large dark brown central cones
- Cherry Brandy: for an unusual deep pink color
- Goldstrum: a staple for our fall gardens, and much valued for its extreme longevity
However, if you want to cover a big area with a mass of plants, perhaps a large flower bed or even a meadow planting, then seeds would be your best approach.
You can plant your Rudbeckia seeds either in the fall or springtime:
- The roadside Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) is great for naturalizing
- Gloriosa Daisies (Rudbeckia hirta ‘Gloriosa'): this tetraploid selection brings you large flowers, both singles and doubles, in a wide range of colors—and all from a single pack of seeds!!
- The Clasping Sunflower (Rudbeckia amplexicaulis) is a lovely lower-growing Rudbeckia for the front of a large border
- Sweet Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia subtomentosa), with its taller flowers, would be ideal as part of a meadow planting
What about self-seeding?
Almost all Rudbeckias will self-seed, ensuring you flowers in future seasons. However some of our favorite varieties, like Goldstrum, Indian Summer and Cherry Brandy, have been developed by plant breeders for their special colors or larger flowers; if these are allowed to self-seed, next year’s plants may not come true to type.
So, if this concerns you, plan on dead-heading your plants as each stem completes flowering. And, as an added bonus, this regular deadheading routine will trigger the plant to make more blooms that season.
Where should I plant Rudbeckias?
To accommodate a number of needs, the rudbeckias that we carry vary in height, bloom time and number of flowers each plant produces. Follow these guidelines for matching the varieties to particular situations in your own garden:
Containers: Long blooming varieties that do not grow too tall are ideal for container plantings:
- Cherry Brandy
- Denver Daisies
- Gloriosa Daisies
And any one of these would look stunning mixed with a soft Blue Fescue grass for a contrast in both texture and color.
Front of the border: Many Rudbeckia varieties grow between two and three feet tall, making them perfect near the front of the border.
We recommend these varieties for the front of the border:
- Cherry Brandy
- Denver Daisies
- Gloriosa Daisies
- Indian Summer
- The Clasping Sunflower
Combine these with similar sized plants that have contrasting textures, such as Tussock Grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) or Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis).
Back of the border: Some Rudbeckias will reach five feet high or more, and these will look stunning as an accent grouping in front of some tall Miscanthus grasses near the back of the border:
- Sweet Black Eyed Susan - Rudbeckia subtomentosa
In the meadow - Ideally all meadow plants should be informal, robust and enduring:
- The roadside Black-eyed Susans Rudbeckia hirta, which will return through reseeding
- Our two perennial varieties, Sweet Black-eyed Susan, (Rudbeckia subtomentosa), and Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldstrum’.
About the Author: Judith Irven is an accomplished Vermont landscape designer and garden writer, and she delights in helping people everywhere create beautiful gardens. You can visit her online at: OutdoorSpacesVermont.com.
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