Once established, echinaceas are long-lived, valuable garden plants. They are stiff-stemmed and self-supporting and require little care, in fact they dislike disturbance so are best left alone.
When to plant
If possible buy large well-grown plants and get them into the ground by early September to allow time for plants to develop a root system.
They are easily raised from seed too and usually flower in their first year if planted by March.
Where to plant
Echinaceas prefer fertile soil although you can improve your soil by adding garden compost when planting.
When they flower
Echinaces peak in August and carry on until late autumn eventually forming an enduring seedhead for winter.
When to divide
Echinaceas should be left alone once planted because they resent disturbance.
If you do have to move them or divide them spring is the best time but you will have to keep all divisions well watered in dry conditions.
Caring for echinaceas
You can mulch after damp weather in early summer to retain moisture if your garden tends to be dry.
Like many North American prairie plants (including heleniums) their ideal is a cold winter followed by a warm spring. They happily tolerate hot summers, however echinaceas do not enjoy mild, wet winters so it’s best to plant in spring, or at least by early September, so that any newly-planted ones can develop a root system.
Some newer varieties (like 'Art’s Pride') often fail to overwinter in wet gardens.
Bees and butterflies adore echinacea.
Echinaceas are strong and robust and they look their best among frothy planting and tousled grasses. Deschampsias, panicums and pennisetums offer a contrast. The orange-yellows flatter blue geraniums. The clear-pink forms mingle well with dusky sedums especially 'Purple Emperor'.
The bronzed cone in the middle allows them to be mixed with many colours, including yellow and orange.
There are nine species all found in central and eastern North America. Although they all have the distinctive cone surrounded by ray petals, they vary in stature and stance. Echinacea pallida has drooping, ribbon-like pink petals and it looks quite fragile and delicate in a border. E. paradoxa has narrow yellow petals and E. purpurea (the most commonly and easily grown of the three) is bolder with flat, level flowers mostly in pink, but also in white.
In recent years many hybrid varieties have appeared in sunset shades, green and pink. However 'White Swan', 'Magnus' (a large pink) and the aptly named 'Double Decker' are available from Thompson & Morgan.
For many years echinaceas only came in white or strong pink, but in recent years plant breeders have produced a series of hybrid varieties in soft shades of orange and lime-green. This new range of colours has broadened their appeal and some of the yellows and greens are scented. Breeders have also developed doubles although these are less pleasing in the garden setting than the singles. These have all proved hardy and the twenty or so I grow all came through the arctic conditions of last winter. Hybrids tend to be more vigorous than species, but some of the tap-rooted ones (taking after E. paradoxa) succumb in wet winters.
Excellent new echinaceas
The Big Sky Series
These are hybrids of E. paradoxa and E. purpurea (bred by Saul Nurseries of Atlanta in Georgia).
'Harvest Moon' (syn 'Matthew Saul')
This soft orange-yellow echinacea is a magnificent addition to any garden and it’s a good performer. Possibly the best of the series and definitely enduring.
'Sundown' (syn. 'Evan Saul')
A smaller flowered copper-orange echinacea with a bronzed middle. This almost smoulders in the garden.
A salmon-pink echinacea in sandstone-red shades - the middle is also the same shade.
This pale echinacea has clear citron-yellow shading on the petals - flowers age to cream-white.
This rich carmine-red has a pink middle so it’s a very vibrant as the sun fades into dusk.
A magenta-pink echinacea.
'Summer Sky' (syn 'Katie Saul')
This peach-rose echinacea looks like shot-silk.
Vibrant orange and red echinaceas look great but can be difficult to place.
A pumpkin-orange echinacea with an orange-tinted middle
A new deep orange-red variety.
Strong pink echinaceas stand out well on their own and good to use with grasses.
Selected by Piet Oudolf,, this sturdy echinacea has short blunt petals set round an enormous flat middle - sometimes this rots.
A purple-pink dazzler with fascinating buds and sepals -so this would be among my top three. Easy and long-lived.
'Kim’s Knee High'
A short (55 cm) clear-pink echinacea bearing lots of scented flowers.
A seed-raised strain so variable. Most plants are strong and robust with large deep-pink flowers.
The first fully double pink echinacea. The cone has been replaced by fluffy petals.
A seed strain and the seedlings take a couple of years to develop their tuft of petals. If you see a good form buy it.
White echinaceas are good with darker colours.
A shorter white-flowered echinacea -again with scented flowers.
A variable seed-raised white echinacea with golden middles.
A two tone red and green - easily lost in the garden although much admired by visitors.
Another rounded double which has florets where the crown should be-but much neater than 'Razzmatazz'.
This a cool-white echinacea with a green middle and green tips to the petals. I can’t wait to grow one.