Purple coneflower is a dream perennial to grow in your garden. It provides lovely color, needs little maintenance, and attracts lots of pollinators, hummingbirds, and songbirds.
Drought tolerant and deer-resistant, not much bothers coneflower, and it will happily grow in a wide range of soils and conditions. It’s one of the best perennials for beginner gardeners and those who like a more hands off approach to gardening.
If you’re ready to try this easy-to-care-for plant, here’s exactly how to grow and care for purple coneflower.
All About Purple Coneflower
Purple coneflower, also called Echinacea purpurea, is a plant native to the plains and prairies of North America.
Not only is it a beautiful ornamental plant and a source of nectar and food for wildlife, many Native American tribes used to use Echinacea as medicine to treat infections and snake bites. It’s still used in herbal medicine today for viral infections, inflammation, and more.
The plants typically grow 2-4 feet in height and will spread out about 2 feet wide. Purple coneflower is a perennial and hardy in USDA hardiness zones 3-9.
Purple coneflower is named for the shape of its flower head, which is actually made up of many tiny flowers that give it a spiky appearance and feel. It’s an easy perennial to grow and hardy in zones 3-9.
The name “Echinacea” comes from the Latin word for hedgehog, which is a reference to both the prickly stem of the plant and the cone-shaped flower head that is really a mound of tiny, spiky flowers. Purple petals grow out from around the cone giving the flowers a daisy-like appearance.
Blooms are often 6 inches or more across and will grace your garden from midsummer to late fall. Leaves are typically a dark green with a rough surface.
Benefits of Growing Coneflower
There are many benefits to growing purple coneflower. As a native plant, it’s already adapted to many growing conditions in the U.S. and tolerates both dry and low fertility soils.
You’ll find that deer and other critters are reluctant to eat the prickly stems and leaves, although they will on occasion bite off the flowerheads.
The rich nectar of the flowers will draw in pollinators, especially bees and butterflies, as well as hummingbirds. If you leave the seed heads on your plants through the fall and winter, you’ll also see songbirds like goldfinches come to eat them
Bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and songbird all love coneflower and will start showing up in your garden to feed on the nectar or to eat the seeds.
Purple coneflower is also one of the easiest species of Echinacea to grow. It has a fibrous root system (instead of the tap root of other coneflowers) that makes it easier to divide and move.
Planted in masses, purple coneflower looks stunning all on its own, and it complements a wide range of other perennials and annuals. It would be an especially nice addition to a wildflower garden or meadow area but also fits in perfectly with a traditional garden landscape.
Cultivars to Choose From
While the straight species Echinacea purpurea is a popular choice for many gardeners, there are several cultivars to choose from if you’re looking for something different, including ones that are different colors.
- ‘Purple Emperor’– This cultivar is similar to the straight species but with larger and more fragrant blooms. Despite the large blooms, the plant itself is compact (about 18 inches tall and a foot wide) and great if you’re short on space.
- ‘Pink Double Delight’– As the name suggests, this cultivar has pink blooms. The blooms also have a unique and eye-catching pom-pom like center and make a great cut flower.
- ‘White Swan’ or ‘PowWow White’– Both of these cultivars have attractive white petals, and the center cones are greenish-brown. They are about the same size as the purple variety and also attract pollinators and birds. Plant them with the pink- or purple-petaled coneflowers for a beautiful display.
White coneflower is a very elegant-looking cultivar of Echinacea purpurea. It goes well with other colors of coneflower and many other perennials.
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is the most popular type of coneflower grown, but there are nine other native species.
If you’re looking for warm colors to add to your garden, you might want to try one of these varieties:
- Echinacea paradoxa– Also known as yellow coneflower, this variety has delicate yellow petals that bend down away from the dark brown cone. This species easily cross-pollinates and is often used to make colorful hybrid plants.
- Echinacea ‘Cleopatra’– This is a hybrid variety with beautiful and fragrant gold-yellow flowers. The petals are larger than Echinacea paradoxa and give it a much more daisy-like appearance.
- Echinacea ‘Rainbow Marcella’– This is a very unique hybrid with two-toned petals that gradually change color. The petals are an apricot color with a coral-pink center that shifts to a more raspberry-pink color as the season goes on. Plants are compact and can even be grown in containers.
- Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’– If you want a little bit of everything, try this Echinacea mix. Flowers bloom in an array of colors: red, gold, cream, pink, orange, and purple. A great and stunning option for mass plantings or a sunny border.
There are many different varieties and cultivars of Echinacea available, including white-, orange-, pink-, and red-flowering options.
How to Grow Purple Coneflower
Apart from buying your plants from a nursery or garden center, there are two main ways to grow purple coneflower: from seed and by root division.
Growing from Seed Outdoors
Not all perennials are easy to grow from seed, but you can get pretty good results with coneflower. In fact, plants will reseed all by themselves if seed heads are left on (and aren’t all eaten by the birds).
The easiest way to grow from seed is to sow them outdoors in the fall. Coneflower seeds need the cold and wet period of winter to germinate.
You can do this by first preparing an area in your garden. This can be where you want the flowers to grow, or you can sow them in an empty bed and move the seedlings in the spring.
Break up any clumps of soil and get rid of rocks, etc. Coneflowers don’t need fertilizer, but you can mix some homemade compost into the soil. Then, sow your seeds about ⅛ inch deep or whatever depth it says on the packet.
Seeds won’t need any attention from you over the winter. When seedlings start to come up in the spring, thin them out so there’s 10-12 inches between each of them.
Growing from Seed Indoors
The best way to start coneflower from seed indoors is to use a process called cold stratification that mimics winter conditions.
Fill a cell pack or a flat with damp seed starting mix. Press the seeds into the top of the soil and cover them lightly with more of your soil mix. Then, place the whole flat or cell pack in a plastic bag and seal it.
Place the bag with your seeds into the refrigerator and leave it there for 1-3 months. You can check on it occasionally to make sure the soil hasn’t dried out, but otherwise just mark on your calendar when they’ll be ready to come out.
About a month before your last frost date take the flats out and sit them somewhere warm for your seeds to germinate. Germination takes from 10-21 days, so be patient.
Keep the soil moist but not soaking while seeds germinate. After seedlings start sprouting up, keep the trays under fluorescent lighting while they grow.
Once your seedlings germinate, give them light and water, but also make sure plants get good airflow to keep them from getting fungal diseases like damping off. This can be accomplished by running a fan on them for 15 minutes twice a day.
If you don’t have time to put the seeds through cold stratification, you can still start them without doing this, but expect lower germination rates. Make sure plants have lots of light and enough water as they grow, and transplant them outside after the last frost.
Growing by Root Division
Purple coneflower can be divided and transplanted in the spring or fall.
This is a good method to use if you already have an established patch of coneflowers or if you know a neighbor or friend who does. Plants that have been established for at least 2-3 years can be divided as long as they are healthy.
Choose a cool day in spring or fall to dig up plants. You’ll want to dig about 6 inches out from the clump with a sharp garden shovel to get as much of the root system as possible.
Once you’ve dug a circle all the way around the clump of coneflowers, slide your shovel underneath the root ball and gently lift it out of the ground.
You can then use your shovel to cut through the roots and divide the bigger clump into sections that are about 8 inches wide. Replant the original clump and plant the newly divided sections into prepared spots.
Established plantings of purple coneflower can easily be divided to get new plants. If you know someone with a large clump, ask if you can have a small piece for your garden!
Planting Purple Coneflower
Whichever method you use to grow purple coneflower, the planting method will be the same.
Coneflowers like to be in full sun. They will tolerate partial shade but blooms won’t be as full or plentiful. Plants are drought-tolerant but don’t do well in soggy areas, so make sure the soil where you want to plant is well-drained.
Purple coneflower does fine even in poorly fertile soils but will appreciate it if you mix some compost into your soil before planting.
Dig holes for your transplants that are about twice as wide as their current diameter. Space plants out 1-3 feet depending on the variety to give them room to grow.
Gently place each transplant into its hole so that the top of the root ball is just level with the soil. Fill in each hole with some of the soil you dug out and make sure you’ve covered all the roots.
The last step is to water all your newly planted coneflowers thoroughly. If watering washes any soil away from the roots, just cover them back up with extra soil.
Caring for Purple Coneflower
In general, purple coneflower is a very low-maintenance plant, but you’ll want to give plants a little extra attention while they’re just starting out.
Coneflower needs little maintenance, but you can deadhead plants once flowers turn brown. However, you may want to leave some seed heads on as it gets closer to fall to attract birds to your garden.
Water plants every day or two while they get established if it doesn’t rain. Once established, coneflowers are drought tolerant, but right now their root systems are still small.
You can add a light layer of mulch around your plant if desired to help keep down weeds. However, remember that mulch also helps keep moisture in the soil, so make sure it doesn’t make the ground too soggy.
Once plants start to bloom, you can deadhead spent flowers to encourage a longer blooming period. All you have to do is cut off the flower heads back to a leaf node.
As the season progresses, leave some flower heads on to feed the songbirds in your area and to provide winter interest. You can also cut stems of coneflower for flower arrangements. The cut flowers are long-lasting.
For a tidier appearance, you can cut plants back in late winter or early spring. They will re-emerge from the ground later in spring.
Echinacea is typically a pest-free plant, which makes it easy on you as a gardener.
Coneflower is generally a pest-free plant that will grow in a wide range of conditions. Any pest problems that pop up can usually be dealt with easily.
In damp or humid conditions, plants can develop powdery mildew, but it usually won’t be severe enough to harm them. You can control it with a spray made out of baking soda, dish soap, and water.
Aphids and Japanese beetles may also eat the leaves of coneflower but again will usually not cause severe damage unless there’s a serious infestation.
What to Plant With Coneflower
Purple coneflower goes well with a wide variety of plants. Keep in mind the mature height your plants will get to make sure you won’t accidentally shade out smaller plants.
For mass plantings, you can mix different Echinacea varieties to get a colorful rainbow effect. Purple coneflower looks especially brilliant with orange and yellow annuals or perennials like cosmos, butterfly weed, Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susans), and goldenrod.
Coneflowers also work well with ornamental grasses and other native flowers, especially if you’re going for a wildflower or meadow-like effect.
All-in-all, there’s a spot for purple coneflower in almost any garden. This highly versatile perennial is easy to grow and brings joy to humans and wildlife alike. Plant it once and you’ll enjoy it for many years to come!