Echinacea, or purple coneflower, are great for perennial borders and bloom in early to late summer with large, showy flowers. This plant is a native of N. America growing from Virginia to Ohio, Michigan, south to Georgia and Louisiana. It is found growing in open fields, dry open woods and prairies. The daisy like flowers are pink or pink-purple or white with one species that is yellow in color. The prominent cone-shaped center of each daisy-like flower gave the plant its common name. Echinacea blooms all summer long and into the beginning of fall as well. There are 2 popular species in the US:
E. purpurea: Easy to grow. Can sow them directly or starts in pots indoors. When the seedlings form, these can be moved and planted 18inch apart so that they have space to grow.
E. angustifolia: More difficult to grow. Start these indoors so as not to waste seed. It is the more rare and expensive variety.
Echinacea is easy to grow from seed! Simply sow the seeds when the soil reaches 55-70 degrees Fahrenheit in the spring. Sow on the surface of the soil and after the seeds begin to germinate lightly cover the seeds with about 1/8 of an inch of soil. Thin the plants out so that they are 18 to 24 inches apart. Germination should occur within 10-20 days. After germination the plants will grow very quickly.
Echinacea prefers light, loamy, well-drained soil and a sunny position, but it will tolerate dappled shade. It does well in average or poor soil and Echinacea has a thick tap-root that grows deep to allow for water conservation once established. It is important to mix a good quantity of compost with the soil from the hole before planting and to keep the plant well watered until established. After that, an annual spring mulch is all they need.
The long lasting flowers with their slightly backward pointing flower petals when fully open, bloom from July through to end of September are good subjects for the flower border. Echinacea is very hardy and versatile growing well in zones 3-8. Some varieties specified below do well even in the humid summers of zones 9 and 10.
Most plants in the Echinacea family grow about 2-4′ tall and about 2′ wide. Echinacea is one of the top selling herbs in the US for its immune enhancing properties. Research has shown that taking Echinacea at the first sign of a cold or flu can decrease the duration and intensity of the symptoms.
Autumn is the best time to harvest Echinacea roots, – harvest after the first frost. Expect roots to range from 8 in. (20cm) to a possible 24 in. (30cm). The moisture content is normally lower than it is in spring. Plants are required to grow for three to four years before they are ready to be harvested. Once roots have been harvested they should be cleaned and dried. Two possible methods for drying the roots are, under low forced heat, or dried in open air in the sun.