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Hints for a Happy Coneflower

It’s that time of the summer when newly potted perennials are ready for sale. Particularly attractive are the coneflowers, or Echinacea, which can be tricky to establish going into the first winter, especially when planted in August or later, as there is limited time for them to make a substantial root system and crown. Here are some suggestions to improve your overwintering success.

Good drainage. They originate in areas of well-drained soils, often the superb prairie soils of the American Midwest. Plant them on a slight slope or in a raised bed, don’t bury the crown in mulch. If you mulch for winter, do it after the ground freezes to reduce the effect of freeze and thaw.

Remove the flowers the first season. We know it hurts, but the plant should be putting its energy into root and crown growth instead of strutting its stuff. They don’t do both things well at the same time. Enjoy the flowers when you plant, but after a few days, cut off the flowering stems and use them in a flower arrangement, leaving just the lower foliage.

by Larry Hurley, Behnke horticulturist

Larry Hurley, perennials specialist for Behnke Nurseries (now retired), started with Behnke’s in1984. Larry enjoys travel, food and photography. He and his wife Carolyn have visited Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea and much of Europe. Their home is on a shady lot where a lot of perennials have met their Maker over the years.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I want to plant 4 German and other reblooming Iris. I have a gray clay that seems to have some sand in it. How would you amend the “sol” and what depth and width for the drainage and spacing for root growth? What woud you recommend to amend the grayish clay? I have available Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix and Leaf Grow.

    1. I’ll give you a general answer but I suggest you take a jar of your soil in to your local garden center and get an additional opinion. I am guessing that your gray clay is in an area that doesn’t drain very well. German Iris don’t like wet soil, so if this is a low area where water collects after the rain, they aren’t going to be happy there and I recommend you try something else.

      On the other hand, if it’s poor soil because it was excavated when they were putting in your basement or something, and the ground is level or on a slope, and the water doesn’t collect there, then go ahead and create a bed. The general consensus is that it’s better to prepare a larger area than to dig and amend individual holes.

      I would allocate an area of about 1.5 feet X 1.5 feet per plant. One of my colleagues who is a professional gardener recommends amending with fine pine bark mulch adding a layer about two to three inches deep and working it into the soil. Iris prefer soil that is close to neutral, so add some lime per the bag instructions as our soil pH is naturally acidic.

      Make sure to plant the Iris with the top of the rhizome (the fat stem) above the surface of the soil, don’t bury it.

      Hope that helps.

      Larry Hurley

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