7 Reasons Why You Should Grow Echinacea (Purple Coneflowers)
Everyone should grow echinacea or purple coneflowers in their flower beds or herb gardens. Here are 7 reasons why.
1. It's a native plant
The most important reason Echinacea belongs in every garden is that it is a native plant. Native plants are critical to the health and wellbeing of wildlife which depend on native plants for food and shelter. The foreign, or exotic, plants that we have introduced into our yards are not suited to our wildlife. Insects and birds will desert a yard filled with beautiful exotics because there is nowhere for them to shelter and nothing to eat. Foreign plants often have no “enemies” here and nothing to stop them from spreading and crowding out our native plants. Think kudzu in the South and purple loosestrife here in the Northeast.
2. It's drought tolerant
Echinacea is drought-tolerant. There are two species, Echinacea augustifolia with narrow petals which is native to our dry prairies and Echinacea purpurea the familiar purple flower which has a wide growing area from the Midwest to Florida. Both kinds have either a long taproot which can reach water far underground or rhizomes with roots that spread out looking for moisture. Neither kind likes “wet feet” so plant them in well-drained soil or a raised bed and don’t water them unless they get very dry.
3. It has a long blooming season
Unlike most perennials which only bloom for about two weeks each year, Echinacea has a long blooming season, stretching from early summer (June here in NJ) to late summer (August here in NJ). To get color for that long with other plants, you either have to have annuals which you must buy each year or a mix of perennials that bloom during different times of the summer. Annuals have to be deadheaded to keep them blooming all summer, a tedious chore. A mixed perennial border will only have a few plants in bloom at any one time.
4. It can grow in partial shade
Got shade? No problem. Echinacea can grow in sun or part shade. They prefer sun and grow best in sun, but if you have a shady yard like I do, you can still grow them. Just make sure that your Echinacea gets at least three to six hours of sun each day, preferably in the morning and early afternoon.
5. It's attracts butterflies
If you have a butterfly garden, Echinacea is a must have. It is a nectar plant for butterflies. In fact, it is one of the best nectar plants attracting swallowtails, black swallowtails, clouded sulphurs, banded hairstreaks, great spangled fritillaries, red spotted admirals, painted ladies, American ladies, West indigo duskywings, Horace’s duskywings, sachems, and little glasswings.
6. It's easy to grow from seed
Echinacea is easy to grow from seed. For many years, I was one of those gardeners who conscientiously weeded and deadheaded each day and then did a thorough cleanup in the fall. I always wondered why everyone else seemed to have clumps and clumps of Echinacea and I only had one plant that was given to me by a friend. Then one fall, I was too busy to keep up with my gardens and left the dead flower heads on my plant. The following spring, I found tiny seedlings. Lesson learned! Messy gardens mean more plants.
7. It attracts goldfinches
Do you know who else likes Echinacea seeds? Goldfinches. Once I started leaving the dead cones on my Echinacea plants, goldfinches appeared like magic. They are startlingly yellow, have the prettiest songs and adore Echinacea seeds. They perch, seemingly precariously, on the dead flowerheads and patiently pick out the seeds from the cones. In fact, if you want to save seed for yourself, make sure you get to the cones before the goldfinches do!
It will be fall soon and the perfect time to plant perennials. Consider adding Echinacea to your garden or if you already have it in your garden, try some different varieties. Next summer, you’ll be enjoying months of flowers and lots of garden visitors.
© 2012 Caren White
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