Coneflowers not reliable

Nancy Tomazin
June 29, 2017

Through the years I have spent more money than I care to admit on the new colorful coneflowers that garden centers love to sell. I have bought Green Envy, Milkshake , Red, Yellow, Orange coneflowers none of them came back more than 1 year. I have tons of the pink and white coneflowers , they do very well. I just bought 3 new ones and would like to know if anyone has any tips on how to get these to return.


Comments (59)

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    I find them wonderfully attractive - the above photo as ample evidence - but a complete waste of money. Even in my very mild winter climate and in perfectly draining soil they seldom return after winter. And any that do rarely survive for more than a couple of seasons. I grew 'White Swan' for years in my old garden (no pink allowed!) and that as well as the other forms of E. purpurea are very reliable performers but the colored hybrids........not at all.

    The owner of my nursery purchases plugs from Terra Nova and grows them on for sale each year so we have dozens on offer. They ARE sold as perennials but rather inexpensively considering and when in bloom, they move out fast!! I do caution my clients that they are short-lived and that seems to discourage all but the most determined, who treat them as annuals.....or temperennials :-))

  • sunnyborders

    Very interesting Nevermore44.

    It's certainly my experience that some perennial last much longer in mixed perennial beds than others; that even when attention is paid to locations, etc.. I also believe that it's much easier to maintain some perennials in segregated perennial beds. Tall iris immediately comes to mind.

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  • Campanula UK Z8

    Going the same way as blue verbascum...

  • Nancy Tomazin

    What would be some reliable ones to plant.

  • mad_gallica

    It depends on where you are. IMHO, this is the really big issue with these plants. Given the number of people here who seem to think that zone numbers are the beginning and end of all climate descriptions, the idea of plants that aren't affected by temperatures nearly as much as they are by moisture levels often just zooms by.

  • Campanula UK Z8

    I suspect that it depends more on how you are...or how your soil is...because even the basic e.purpurea requires the holy grail of many prairie plants - a deep, rich, moist but well drained soil...with a short spring and a long hot summer. Both richer and moister than I can offer echies...while the inherent demands of e.paradoxa makes these hybrid echinaceas even more place specific. I also harbour some suspicions that microbial and myccorhizal function plays some part in some plants are just...uncomfortable when not in association with others - a plant community so to speak. I think we are still learning about soil associations...and the intertwined relationships within the biosphere...and as a long-term seed-sower, I have noticed a distinct difference in germination rates when sowing seeds in sterile potting mix, directly in a nursery bed and in prepared containers innoculated with garden soil from various places.

    Also, there is intense commercial pressure to rush these plants to market without any sustained testing programme (apart from those performed by paying members of the public).

  • Andy Haus

    I'm surprised to hear that PowWow Wildberry does well for others. It never took off for me after planting and didn't come back the next year. I tend to stay away from the tall varieties, the Big Sky varieties, the pom poms, etc. I have had good luck with the Sombrero series. I've had Salsa & Sombrero Yellow for 3 or 4 years and the colors are fantastic. Hopefully they keep coming back! I tend to only grab an Echinacea if it's on sale and pretty cheap though. I don't see much use with splurging on something that might not come back. If you're on the lookout though, you can usually score some good deals.

  • LaLennoxa

    With Andy (and others) on this. As a newer gardener, who has a mainly shade back garden, I never really noticed echinacea until last year. What changed was I started digging up my front lawn, and now I had a different environment (sun!) to play in. And the buying of echinacea was only after and reading on these forums (and later talking to some gardening friends) where I learned there were serious issues. Thankfully, I was never into those ones which look all poodle-ish. But I did buy so many at end of season discount sales and just threw them in the playground because the price was right. I can say at this point they all look like they've come back (I plant very densely so it's quite the jungle) but blooms are only starting to open so will only know what's what as the show begins. My front is only postage-sized (9x13)!

  • mxk3

    The Powwows performed beautifully for me. What's great here is that this series can be seed-grown, so reduces the chance of bringing home the dreaded virus. White Swan was ok for a few years but petered out, and the old tried-n-true Magnus was a great performer (hard color to work with though, IMO). I have a few "Virgin" which managed to hang on - I hope they continue to survive, I love the green cones on this one. But, yea, agree with above - wouldn't waste money on the fancy-dancy cultivars. Actually, I feel this way about a lot of plants, not just coneflowers - it seems the old standbys that have been around for generations are the way to go.

  • rusty_blackhaw

    "Cheyenne Spirit" seed-grown Echinaceas have returned here for several years, as do the "common" seed-grown varieties (including an unknown pink 4-footer). I bought several of the newer named hybrids on discount during the summer in past years, but have given up on them due to the non-overwintering issue. Like with some other highly touted perennials, this is an issue of breeders rushing plants to market without adequate testing, and garden centers who jump on the bandwagon passing on the problem to us.

    GW can be an early warning system. Now I let others be the first to trial new hybrids and pay attention to their gripes when that $15 plant vanishes after the first season.

  • Marie Tulin

    Pow wows have good reviews for returning.

  • flowergirl70ks

    Returning for me , Pink Double Delight, Pow Wow"s ,Magnus, White Swan.

  • littlebug zone 5 Missouri

    Temperennials? LOL! Did you make that up, gardengal? It's very clever.

    And I'm with you - no pink allowed here either. :)

  • hairmetal4ever

    So reading up...tell me if I am more or less right, in order of best to worst for returning each year and being reasonably long lived:

    straight species purpurea

    cultivars of straight purpurea


    Cheyenne Spirit

    Other seedgrown strains


    all the others...

  • rusty_blackhaw

    "Cheyenne Spirit" currently flowering, along with the Mystery Veronica and in the background, Vitex "Shoal Creek":

  • felisar (z5)

    This what I read about Echinacea in general and the yellow, orange & red hybrids in particular. Firstly, echies are not long lived perennials but new seedlings come up every year so we don't tend to notice if we plant the standard pink & white varieties. Secondly, the newer colorful hybrids are crosses between E. purpurea and E. paradoxa. E. paradoxa has a more fibrous, shallower root system than E. purpurea so needs a full season to get established and does not usually flower until the second year. These new hybrids are forced into flower their first year so don't grow enough of a root system to survive cold winters. The article recommended that for best chances of surviving more than one season buy the plants as early in the season as you can, cut off any existing flower stalks and do not allow the plant to flower until season 2. Otherwise, enjoy them as very expensive annuals!

  • hairmetal4ever

    I am cool with any strain that can reseed even if not "true" - some of the hybrids are sterile.

    Anecdotally it appears that any strain that is sold as seed (PowWow series, Cheyenne Spirit, old purpurea varieties) are both longer lived in situ, and more likely to reseed themselves.

    As a side note, are the PowWows straight purpurea? I've seen them referred to as "hybrid" but other literature calls them varieties of E. purpurea, as opposed to hybrids.

  • hairmetal4ever

    So these...

    All seedsown...would these be a somewhat better gamble?

  • mxk3

    Update: I went to plant my "Virgin" coneflower and ended up tossing them -- piddly root system and top growth, figured they wouldn't survive so why bother. Very disappointing. Sigh...

  • felisar (z5)

    I bought via mail order 'Virgin' coneflower. So far it is doing well and is starting to flower. This weekend I plan to cut off all the bloom stalks so it will concentrate on the root system. I also think I will cover it with a pot for the winter for extra protection. It will be interesting to see if it survives its first Chicago winter.

  • echolane

    I have to chime in on Echinaceas, however belatedly, because I've had such great success with all of them. I fell madly in love when I saw my first new hybrid, I think it was Hot Summer. Every time I went into the nursery I'd succumb to several more, I've now bought too many varieties to list. I think mine are in their fourth year and they've all come back for me. This spring, for the first time, my perennial bed was loaded with Echinacea seedlings, no doubt aided by the unusual amount of rain we had last year. I am waiting for them to bloom, hoping I get some pretty colors.

    My perennial bed is now dominated by Coneflowers. I also generously mix in Agastache and Penstemon 'Sour Grapes' and all three of them bloom virtually all summer and some into late fall.

    For a little more variety, because I love variety, I have the tall Wild Form Dahlia, Gaillardia 'Mesa Yellow" (another long bloomer), and any self sown Rudbeckia triloba.

  • garcanad

    Would be really great if you can share one or two pictures of your Echinacea bed compositions and, perhaps, comment on the cultivars that you find particularly vigorous.

  • echolane

    Oh gosh, you're going to make me work. I'll give it a try:

    Echinacea Salsa Red - might be my favorite as it is a striking red color and very floriferous. It's also shorter, a good foreground plant.

    Echinacea Hot Summer

    Echinacea Cleopatra

    Echinacea Secret Affair

    Echinacea Hot Papaya

    Echinacea Cheyenne Spirit - this seed strain comes in a variety of colors and plants are sturdy, bushy and reliable

    Echinacea Pow Wow Wild Berry - I don't like this one that much, it looks too much like the species and I am not crazy about this color..

    Echinacea Fragrant Angel

    Echinacea Tomato Soup

    Echinacea Firebird

    Echinacea Aloha

    Exhinacea Baby Swan White

    Exhinacea Swan

    That's all I remember off the top of my head; I'm sure I have several more varieties.

    Photos of my "compositions" will be embarrassing because I just stuffed in my new acquisitions anywhere I could find room for them. There was not much planning involved. But having said that, it's not that big a problem as the colors seem to work well together. I will make an attempt to rearrange a bit for next year, but that'll happen next spring. My goal will be faiely modest though, my main thought is to place my favorite foreground Echinacea Red Salsa at regular intervals in the foreground and spread out the white ones a bit more. I've been putting markers/labels near each plant so I can sort out colors better.

    I had lots of seedlings this spring. Lots! This is a first and I hardly know what to do with them all. I'm hoping for some interesting colors, but so far the only one that's bloomed is a mediocre pink, much like the species.

  • Marie Tulin

    I'm outing you, Echolane. Your ech bed is on view on another thread you started about ' A big mistake' (a grass you had to shovel prune"

    It is gorgeous and there are hundreds of happy echs. You are wrong about it not being presentable. What, you think the rest us of have professional groomers come before we shoot pictures of our Japanese beetles, mildew, rabbit damage and messy ill organized flower plots? please lower your expectations of us and share more photos. It looks like a happy garden and I honestly believe it would inspire and encourage some of us cone-fails to try again with different varieties of micro climate.

  • kcandmilo

    Echolane,I would love to see your pics too! I have had good luck with my echinacias returning too! Infact a few that I had planted and thought were goners came back this year! They are in my dry, hot, full sun beds and I do think like Echolane that this year's heavy rains helped even the long dead and forgotten plugs regrow!


  • deanna Maine 5b6a

    This article has great information on why echinaceas can have problems in areas where they should thrive. I've planted dozens, if not a couple of hundred, from seed this year, but the four I did buy from a nursery I made sure to plant with the crown high. I'll be interested to see if the ones from seed naturally develop a high crown. I've had success with the species, but this is the first year I've tried the fancy types. We'll see!

    Echinaceas--not as difficult as they might seem

  • garcanad

    Thanks Echolane for the info; nice 'work'! Echinacea Aloha has a subtle peachy cream colour; I will hunt for it.

    Although I have more than my share of Echinacea cultivars committed suicide, I have enough success that keep me interested in them. Over the years, the self-sown seedling are mostly pink except for isolated ordinary white or orange that do not have much ornamental appeals. As for the pink 'Pow Wow Wild Berry' ( and other species), their vigorous 'free and wild' spirit make me forgive them for being pink and keep them around.

  • echolane

    Here goes---a few photos of my Echinaceas

    Cheyenne Spirit

    Baby Swan White

    White Swan

    Cheyenne Spirit

    Here's a group shot.

    And another

    Tall white one with fiery red Firebird on the left

    Note the damaged petals. I think this is Cleopatra.

    Salsa Red, probably my favorite. At least my favorite short one.

  • kcandmilo

    Echolane, great pics! Thanks for sharing!

  • echolane

    I removed an overly exuberant Pennisetum Ginger Love here and replaced it with Stipa arundinacea, a finely textured evergreen grass with olive, amber and gold foliage which I don't think is an ideal blend for the purer colors of the Echinaceas, but I like that it stands out better than the Pennisetum. Actually, late last summer I spaced five of them in a sort of "V" shape in this bed dominated by Echinaceas and I have now replaced three of them with this prettily named New Zealand Wind Grass. Next year for more variety I'll make space for my favorite Penstemon "Sour Grapes" which has a dark grape colored flower that seems to blend with every color. I do have quite a few Agastache here and there but their more subtle flowers are dominated by the mass of Echinaceas. The bees and hummingbirds have no trouble finding them though.

    Here's another Stipa and it's companions. In the background I have a couple of tall Panicums, a couple of tall Restios, three absolutely huge and floriferous Dahlia coccinea Wild Form, some tall Rudbeckia triloba, a tall fall Aster, some Semi-tropical Asclepias, a couple of tall Ratibida pinnatas, some Heleniums and a big yellow rose. It's very colorful, if unorganized,

  • garcanad

    Thanks for sharing these great pics; very nice 'work'! Your casual multi-colour plantings allow the individual beauty of each colour variety to be appreciated (as oppose to boring static single colour massing). Your ornamental grass will add nice texture and form variations. Any Miscanthus (such as Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Lights') in your mix? You must share an update pic next year when the grass fills in. I wish more Penstemons are hardy to our area.

  • echolane

    I like "casual" better than "unorganized", thanks for that :-). I had a lot of my favorite Penstemon Sour Grapes in that bed last year and they were just wonderful. I made the mistake of moving them to plant the wrongly chosen Pennisetums and most of them died. I was nearly inconsolable as this cultivar is nearly impossible to find and it is particularly floriferous, never out of flower from mid-May to frost and even beyond and it's quite upright and doesn't try to overwhelm its neighbors like so many. There are at least two other 'Sour Grapes' in commerce and they simply don't compare and it's a complete mystery to me why my favorite has fallen out of favor.. I think I've found some, though I'll have to make a four hour round trip drive to get them as the nursery does not do mail order.

    It's really hard to get a full view photo of my perennial bed because the light is always problematic and in this case the shadow of my house spoils it too, but at least you can see the size. You won't find Miscanthus Morning Light in the background though. I've given up on Miscanthus. I used to grow a lot of them. I found that they just get too big too fast in my long growing season. I suppose if I divided them every year, maybe they would be more manageable. I do find the Panicums more manageable as they can go several years before they get too big and they are not as difficult to divide.

    The bird bath has hundreds of visiting honey bees on hot days and no birds. I learned that the bees take water back to the hives on hot days to provide evaporative cooling for their hive. Who knew.....

  • echolane

    Deannatoby, The article on Echinaceas was interesting but in my experience she got one thing wrong, which is that Echinacea purpurea and it's hybrids are tap rooted. Not so at all as they are very much fibrous rooted and shallow rooted to boot. I find they are quite water needy. FWIW, Ihaven't planted any of mine high and I haven't lost any of them.

    i discovered an article last year, which unfortunately I can't seem to find now, which suggested the most important key to success is to start with larger multistemmed plants as those with only one or two stems are unlikely to overwinter, which means don't plant little ones late in the year.

  • deanna Maine 5b6a

    That linked article says they need to have all their stems cut off in the first year to let roots develop, so it would make sense to go for multi stemmed plants. Now I'm worried. My seedlings are stemless still. It's a long time till winter, but I hope they kick it in high gear soon. I spent a lot of time preparing soil so they should be able to grow well. I suppose the key is to have great root development, so I'm gong to tell myself they're spending time on roots right now.

  • dbarron

    Actually wild E. purpurea from the western side of it's range is very much tap rooted. So much that it's seldom a worry that it'll flower the first year at all, it spends almost all it's energy growing that taproot, not even that much foliage.

    Now, when you the selections grown from the east, they come from regions where there are more moisture and being taprooted isn't necessary for survival, these tend to be more fibrous rooted and grow more above ground, and it's not uncommon for a first year seedling started early to flower before frost of its first season.

    I recently grew a purpurea that took four years to reach flowering size, admittedly I started the seed in July or August the first year. I only got flowers this year, the plant has been grown very lean, almost no additional water, and spent time bulking up. I have to admit this is probably exceptional, but true ;0 Of course I don't know how many years it'll last...but I expect at least 3 or 4 flowering years...and of course I will welcome offspring.

    Would you like to guess which selections were probably used for the genetic basis of most cvs and hybrid strains? I would also tend to say the western strain is perhaps more perennial and clump forming than the eastern also.

  • garcanad

    Echolane, that is an inviting path to visit your Echinacea. Is the 'Sour Grapes' from Joy Creek not the same as yours? (They ship.)

  • echolane

    More about roots:

    i transplanted half a dozen large Echs late last summer and a couple this spring and I also transplanted 20-30 seedlings this spring. No tap roots to be seen.

    Here's what Wikipedia has to say in its article on Echinacea species:

    Echinacea species are herbaceous, drought-tolerant perennial plants growing up to 140 cm or 4 feet,[6] in height. They grow from taproots, except E. purpurea, which grows from a short caudex with fibrous roots.

    This comes from Plants Delights Nursery:

    All of the species except for Echinacea purpurea form a taproot and other thick fleshy roots and can be propagated via root cuttings.

    I also discarded a three or four year old Echinacea Pow Wow Wild Berry because the moles had caused it to wilt. It has a shallow fibrous root system. There is no sign of a tap root. If there is a caudex it might be at the base of the stems as the stems seem firmly attached to each other and do not readily pull apart, but if that's the case, it's very shallow, maybe 1/4" deep or less.

    dbarron, a cursory search did not produce evidence of different strains of E. purpurea. Is it possible the so-called western Echinacea with tap roots you refer to could be E. tennesseensis or even more likely E. angustifolia, the latter widespread and growing much farther west? The flowers look somewhat alike to me and unlike E. purpurea, both have a tap root.

  • dbarron

    It is actually possible that what I'm referring to is actually a hybrid of garden origin (the 4 yr bloom). I've always wondered about it (accquired from a native plants specialist), because of some differing habits from std purpurea.

    And yes, it is possible, because they do look rather alike. Esp in casual whizzing by at 65 mph.

  • echolane

    Garcanad, the Joy Creek photo of Penstemon Sour Grapes looks a lot like "my" Sour Grapes, but when they use Violet to describe the color, it sounds like the other one that is sold as Sour Grapes. Mine has no hint of Violet in the flower. I bought three in 4" pots from my local nursery several years ago and when they bloomed there was a violet blue tinge to the flower. Even more disappointing, they have the sprawling octopus habit that smothers neighbors and they spend time growing foliage, not producing flowers. Very disappointing. Then there's a third Sour Grapes which is pale and looks northing like the other two. I phoned Joy Creek last year and I also wrote them, but they were not very helpful in the first case and didn't even respond in the second case. Still, I probably ought to order one just to find out for sure.

  • marquest

    This reminds me of heucheras. You never know which one will survive all the rage I think is dying down now.

    The only one I have had more than a year or two has been Pow Wow berry and the old fashion red.

  • echolane

    I over bought Heucheras for a year or two or three and I wish I had the money back that I spent on them. Very few seem worthy of longevity. The only one I've kept around is Georgia Peach, which I quite like. I don't think my Echinacea craze will end similarly as I think they are quite special.

  • echolane

    Here's a link to the Penstemon Sour Grapes source I'm willing to drive four hours round trip to get (!)

    Penstemon Sour Grapes at Mostly Natives

    and here's a photo of mine and for a change the photo really does capture its true color.

    It's *really* difficult to capture this color and many might think it less than an ideally attractive color, but amazingly it seems to go with everything, and that includes the autumnal flowering Heleniums. So it fits in very will with my many Echs and everything else. And it also keeps to its space, unlike many Penstemons, and in addition it blooms non stop from mid May to December here. I don't know another Penstemon to equal it.

  • garcanad

    I can understand why you want this Penstemon bad. I shipped a few Penstemons from Joy Creek a couple of years ago paying a fortune (shipping cost way more than the plants, and paid with our tiny Canadian dollars); the curse of plant addiction.

    I do have reasonable luck with my Heucheras (touch wood); not because I am a better gardener than the others. I wish I can figure out what are the underlying reasons for other more experienced gardeners' difficulty.

  • marquest

    garcana, it is the same issue ,many are having with coneflowers weather conditions. The trouble with Heuchera they like either cold stay cold and snow or mild winters little rain. Freeze and thaw winter rain kill them. I think it is the probably what kills my coneflowers.

  • garcanad

    marquest, are most of your losses (Echinacea and Heuchera) winter killed or gradual decline through the season?

  • kcandmilo

    Echolane, if you ever do garden tours, sign me right up!! I would return the favor and ask you to come see mine, but my yard is reeling under the heat we have been having! The only plants really happy are the gaura this year! Even the rudbeckia got a little scorched!


  • marquest

    marquest, are most of your losses (Echinacea and Heuchera) winter killed or gradual decline through the season?

    Winter kill, both do not return the following year. I might try what I have done with the heucheras and grow them in pots and see it that helps. I do have Pow Wow berry in a pot and it has returned the last 2 yrs.

    You cannot successfully grow plants that have shallow roots in wild swing temps and lots of winter moisture. If you go from rain and temps in the 50s to -10 after rain in a 24 hr timeframe you are going to get death. We do not get good snow cover for insulation. This is where zone does not matter. It is about the type of winter.

  • deanna Maine 5b6a

    Then I'm in trouble. The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is a few minutes from me and they have swaths of new echinaceas. They are supposed to be good about help and sharing advice. I'll try to check in with them when I can and if they offer helpful info then I'll post.

  • dbarron

    Caveat marquest. You get better survival if your plant is well established under those conditions. It's not an absolute death sentence, though it is certainly a trial. Personally I lose more when growth starts and then heavy unrelenting rains (vs freeze) for weeks on end.

  • marquest

    dbarron our recent winters are just murder. Imagine what happens when you have unrelenting rain for a week and 50s and the next week you are -10 below freezing for a week or two and go back to 50s and unrelenting rain. The plants just give up living in a block of ice thawing and another block of ice around the corner. Rain and above freezing you have a chance, There is no amount of establishment unless it has a really deep at least a foot tap root. I know heucheras definitely do not go down that far.

    Pots turned on their sides can survive because they are not getting the foot of rain and block of ice.

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