Real World Gardener Echinacea is Plant of the Week

February 7th, 2015

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PLANT OF THE WEEK

with Karen Smith editor Hort Journal magazine. www.hortjournal.com.au

 

Echinacea purpurea has been in cultivation a long time but, over the past 10 years, a whole range of new varieties has appeared, with breeders here, in Holland and in the United States churning out new variants as fast as they can.

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Echinaceas are perennials, but not all perennials last forever. You’re doing well if you can get your Cone flowers to last 5 years, but often it’s a bit less.

 

If you want to add height to your garden border but also want cut flowers and flowers that attract bees and butterflies, you can’t go past this next perennial.

What’s more it’s pretty easy to grow from seed and the flowers last for about a month in your garden bed. So there’s plenty of cost savings to be had.

Let’s find out about this plant.

PLAY:Echinacea_4th February_2015

Did you know that in America before white settlers, Echinacea root was used as a remedy for snake bite, the Cheyenne tribe chewed the root to quench thirst, and another tribe washed their hands in a decoction of echinacea to increase their tolerance of heat.

 

European settlers learned of the North American herb's many uses, and soon lots of  echinacea-based remedies were commercially available from pharmaceutical companies in the United States.

 

New colours and hybrids are because of crossing E. purpurea with other echinacea species. For those for whom the simple pink daisy of E. purpurea, with its slightly reflexed petals, does not offer enough excitement, there are lots of other colours: white, salmon-apricot shades, yellows, greens (yes, really); and different shapes: doubles, reflexed petals, petals with frills, fluffy central cones.

BOTANICAL BITE

Like all daisies, echinaceas are composite flowers – that chunky central cone (which gives rise to the name “coneflower”) is actually a mass of tiny fertile flowers(technically-disc florets), which bees and butterflies home in on to collect nectar.

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Those big showy “petals” are actually sterile flowers (technically “ray florets”) that advertise the flower to passing pollinators. Once fertilised, these outer florets fall off and the cone turns into a seedhead.

Echinaceas are extremely frost hardy so it’s not the  cold that knocks them off, but “they appear to be competition-intolerant; they grow well on their own, but suffer if other plants crowd them.”

So says one expert, another says might be winter damp… a plant which habitually goes into a deep-freeze winter just goes dormant… warm and moist conditions encourage pathogens, so echinaceas might rot easily in our mild, wet winters.”

What’s good about the plant-you can grow them easily from seed, not the hybrids of course, but the straight species. The seed doesn’t even have to be fresh.

I’ve sown an out of date packet 2009, and they all came up.

At around (80-100cm) in height, echinaceas are quite big plants.

If you’re prepared to pay for perennials that are potted up, there are dwarf varieties such as ‘Kim’s Knee High’ but because it’s smaller it has lots of smaller flowers on 60cm-high plant; ‘Kim’s Mop Head’ is similar in size, with white flowers

How to grow _Echinaceas need full sun and fertile, well-drained soil.

Avoid damp spots and heavy mulching over crowns in winter.

Deadhead to encourage flowering into the autumn after the main August-September season.

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Once planted, they are best left alone — they do not transplant well.

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