Echinacea is a daisy-like plant that adds a pop of color to your garden. While many are familiar with the purple flowers, it comes in all varieties of earthy tones, including yellow and red.
This herbaceous perennial is native to eastern and central North America. Its spiny center, which resemblances a sea urchin, provides plenty of pollen for bees in addition to brightening up any plot.
Echinacea is an adaptable plant that will grow in any type of soil, from alkaline to acidic. It does well in rocky conditions, but if the soil is wet and muddy, it won’t grow.
Ideally, this plant is grown outside, in soil that drains well, but it can flourish in two- or three-gallon pots, as long as it has enough room to root. When planting, ensure that the echinacea’s root ball is flush with the soil’s surface.
Spacing between plants depends on the variety you're planing. A mature echinacea plant can grow up to four feet high and between one and three feet wide. However, one variety known as “Little Annie” has a maximum height of only 10 inches, and each flower has a diameter of approximately 2.5 inches.
These hardy plants love sunlight. They do well in three to six hours of partial sun in hotter regions. In cooler climates, they are fine with full sun access and can survive winters by going dormant until spring. Ideally, you want to plant them in a spot where they get enough morning and afternoon indirect sun daily.
For the most part, echinacea doesn’t require much watering, except when they’re young, as they're forming a solid root system. The cadence for young plants is every other day when they are just planted. After a week, reduce to twice a week, then to once a week, to every other week, and then to watering only when the soil is extremely dry, which is usually about every eight weeks.
Common pests to watch out for include aphids, Japanese beetles, and eriophyid mites. Aphid colonies tend to suck away the sap from echinacea plants, leaving them yellow and malformed. Japanese beetles don’t discriminate and are problematic from the grub stage. They eat away at the plant from top to bottom.
Eriophyid mites stunt plant growth by continually feeding on the flower buds. Along with plucking them off the plant, you can get rid of these pests with insecticidal soap sprays.
Some major diseases that affect echinacea plants are aster yellows, botrytis blight, and sclerotinia stem rot.
Echinacea is a drought-tolerant plant that can grow almost anywhere. There aren’t any special fertilizer requirements, but if you want to get the best out of your plant, consider mulching in the spring. When preparing to plant, loosen the soil to about a foot deep and mix in three or four inches of well-rotted compost. This reinforces the soil conditions for the best results.
The best time to propagate your echinacea plant is during dormancy, which begins around late autumn. After preparing the pot you plan to transfer the cuttings to, water the plant you want to propagate so that the soil is soft and the roots are hydrated. Carefully dig the main plant out until you see the roots. Wash off the excess dirt so you can see them better. One way to identify roots is to look for stiff stems that are about two to three inches long. Gently divide the roots with your shovel or shears and replant.
The best time to start harvesting echinacea is during the second year, when it flowers or as the buds are opening. If harvesting the buds, cut above the entire leaf set. If you harvest the flowers, find the lowest set of leaves and cut the stem directly above that location. Get rid of the leaves and pieces of stem on the harvested flower before preparing the herb.
On your drying screen, spread out the harvested echinacea parts and place them in a dry, well-circulated room for a week. Make sure the harvest isn’t exposed to direct light or intense heat. When the flowers reach a paperlike consistency, they can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry location until you’re ready to use them. As long as they are securely stored, they're good for months.