HARDINESS: Zones 3 to 8
PREFERRED SOIL pH. Near neutral
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Average, well-drained
PREFERRED LIGHT: Sun to partial shade
ATTRIBUTES Dusty pink flowers with dark centers; for wildflower meadows, beds
SEASON OF INTEREST: Summer
FAVORITES: 'Magnus' for upright petals, 'White Swan', 'Crimson Star', 'Nana'
QUIRKS: Must have soil with good drainage
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Blanket flower, coreopsis, ornamental grasses, rudbeckia
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Full sun; average, well-drained soil
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Root rot in overly wet soil conditions
RENEWING PLANTS: Lives for years; divide every 4-5 years
CRITTER RESISTANCE: Good except rabbits and groundhogs
SOURCE: Bedding plants, division
DIMENSIONS: 2-4 ft (0.6-1.2 m) tall, up to 2 ft (0.6 m) wide
Purple Coneflower in the Landscape
No native wildflower has won as many gardeners' hearts as purple coneflower has. Large and long-limbed, at 3 ft (1 m) tall, the plants produce a dramatic show of long-lasting flowers in summer. Each daisylike bloom consists of a prominent cone-shaped orange flower center surrounded by rosy, downward-slanted petals. The flowers are at once wild and elegant, making this perennial a must-have for arrangements. Purple coneflower also attracts beneficial wildlife, notably butterflies in summer and goldfinches in fall.
As with many native plants, there is quite a bit of variation in terms of flower size, color, and shape. These subtle differences add to this flower's interest when it's grown in wildflower meadows. But more refined selections are worth pursuing for a perennial border, where purple coneflower should always hold a prominent place on the strength of its lace-summer and fall performance. Unlike some of its wild ancestors, which have petals that sweep back from the cone, the award-winning variety 'Magnus' has big flowers with petals that don't droop, so the flower really asserts its daisy like look. For coneflowers of a different color, try the creamy 'White Swan' or the reddish 'Crimson Star'.The 'Nana' cultivar is a little shorter, making it possible to invite purple coneflower to the front of flower gardens, where it can be enjoyed up close.
Not surprisingly, some of purple coneflower's most successful associates share its wild heritage, among them blanket flower, coreopsis, goldenrod, and rudbeckia.
Patience Pays Off
Don't expect purple coneflower to be an instant hit, as plants need 2-3 years to reach their full glory. Sun helps them grow quickly, although some gardeners prefer the slightly relaxed habit the plants develop when grown in partial shade. To create instant impact, set plants in groupings of 3's, so that sparse blossoms appear to be more numerous. By the time the plants attain maturity, you will have plenty of flowers to admire and enjoy.
Growing Purple Coneflower
Unlike many plants native to central and eastern North America, purple coneflower prefers neutral soil. If your soil is acidic clay, modify its texture and pH by amending each planting site with sand and garden lime added according to package directions. Set out plants in spring around the time of your last frost. Water during dry spells in the summer, but do not fertilize. Heavy-handed feeding leads to green growth at the expense of flowers. Thereafter purple coneflowers do a good job of fending for themselves.They tolerate drought, succumb to root rot only when grown in soggy soil, and are rarely bothered by pests except rabbits and groundhogs.
Established plants seldom require dividing, but division is the best way to propagate and rejuvenate a plant that has lost stamina because of old age. In fall or early spring, while the plants are dormant, dig them up and shake the soil off the roots. Then use your hands and a small knife to untangle roots and cut apart the crowns, or growing points, taking care not to break off the delicate roots. Replant them immediately, at the same depth at which they previously grew, and water well until the divisions are established.