Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, is a native perennial in most of the eastern United States, thriving in zones 3 through 9. The genus name, Echinacea, originates from the Greek word echinos, meaning hedgehog or sea-urchin. This refers to the spiny flower center found in the genus.


Sunrise Coneflower

Echinacea is believed by some to be an herbal remedy for colds, and a review of more than a dozen studies, published in 2014, found the herbal remedy had a slight benefit in preventing colds.

Coneflowers can easily be grown from seed, and the native species produces seeds abundantly. Mixing the seeds with a little damp sawdust, vermiculite or peat moss in a plastic zipper bag keeps the seeds moist without hindering germination later. Pop them into your refrigerator for three to four weeks prior to planting to increase the germination rate. Plant the seeds about half an inch deep, either directly in the garden or in starter trays.

The seeds will germinate in one to four weeks, depending on the environment. Space them in your garden about 18 inches apart to produce strong, bushy plants.

They grow in full to partial sun and prefer well-drained soil — in fact, they are quite drought-tolerant. Plants started from seed may take two years before flowering. Mature plants are 2 to 4 feet tall and flower abundantly if deadheaded.

Red Coneflower.jpg

Red Coneflower

In addition to the native purple coneflower, a number of varieties of different colors and growth habits have been developed. Just check out a few of the more popular seed catalogs. There also are several varieties available as plants every year at local garden centers and even in the big box stores.

The flowers are large and showy and work well as cut flowers or dried flowers. They attract butterflies and other pollinators, and the mature seed heads are attractive to seed-feeding birds like finches.

Coneflowers tolerate drought and poor soil, and they are deer-resistant, although during unusually wet seasons and in areas with poor drainage, they may return for only a few years. Powdery mildew and spider mites can sometimes be a problem, but just cut the plant to the ground and throw away the pest, and the plant will sprout up new and strong.

If you don’t currently grow coneflower, check out some of the new varieties or go with the original. They are a beautiful, tough native that’s easy to grow. 

When should I put the first fertilizer on my St. Augustine lawn this spring?  

St. Augustine lawns are heavy feeders and need 1 to 3 pounds of total nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year, in two or three applications. The first application should be made in early to mid-April. Though the grass may start to grow earlier, it is best to hold off on the first fertilization until then. For more detailed information, Chris Dunaway, of the LSU Agricultural Center, will be giving a class on “Total Lawn Care for Southern Lawns” on March 9 at the New Orleans Botanical Gardens. Go to neworleanscitypark.com for more details.

Joe Willis and Anna Timmerman are LSU AgCenter agents. Questions? Email agcenter@theadvocate.com. To receive the GNO Gardening Newsletter, email gnogardening@agcenter.com. For more information, visit lsuagcenter.com.