By Bethany Hayes
Every herb gardeners need to try their hand at growing echinacea in their garden. Echinacea has a long history as a potent medicinal herb and a favorite stop for the local pollinators in your garden. Bees, birds, and butterflies all love to stop, so it’s a great addition to your pollinator garden as well.
You might be worried that growing echinacea is hard, and I’m here to tell you that it’s not. Even if it were, it would be worth the trouble due to its potent medicinal properties. Our family uses echinacea for nearly everything!
It’s a go-to herb for any colds or the flu. You can create an echinacea herbal throat spray for sore throats and as an herb in my natural DIY cough syrup. You can even add some echinacea to the very popular elderberry syrup for an extra kick in the immune system.
If you’re ready to learn how to grow echinacea in your garden, let’s look at what you need to know and how to get started.
A Quick Look at the Echinacea Growing Conditions
Depending on your location, echinacea is a perennial, flowering herb that is native to North America. It grows well in most places in the country, but if you live in a region that has freezing weather, it won’t grow back yearly as a perennial. You’ll need to treat it as an annual.
Echinacea grows in USDA hardiness zones 2-9, but it might not be a perennial in zone 3!
Often called coneflowers, echinacea typically has purple flowers, but if purple isn’t your thing, don’t worry. Echinacea grows in a range of colors. Most plants reach between 2-4 feet tall, standing out in your garden. Due to their height, they should be planted on the north side of your garden, so they don’t cast a shadow over low-growing plants.
You should know that echinacea does not always produce blooms in the first year. Be patient, deadhead in the fall, feed the plant in its second year and have gorgeous flowers before long.
How to Grow Echinacea
Growing echinacea starts with preparing the right spot in your garden and starting seeds the correct way. All you need to do is follow these steps, and you’ll be on your way to success.
Select the Right Spot in Your Garden
Before planting echinacea in your garden, watch how much sun each spot receives throughout the day. Echinacea does prefer full sunlight if you live in a colder climate. If your region has hot summers, pick a place that has morning and early afternoon sun with shade in the afternoon to give the plants a break.
Prepare Your Soil
Since echinacea grows wild in many areas, it’s not picky about the soil in which it grows, but for best results, you want rich, fertile soil. Echinacea does best when you grow it in near-neutral pH soil.
Starting Echinacea Seeds Inside
You have two options. You can either start seeds indoors in the late winter or buy started plants at the store. I have yet to find started echinacea plants in any garden center or nursery in my area, so I have to start seeds.
Don’t stress; starting echinacea seeds is just as easy as growing any other plant from seeds. You also can start seeds outside if it’s warm enough outside and if you have a long enough growing season.
Sow echinacea seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before you plan to put them outside. Cover the seeds with ¼ inch of seed starting mix. The soil needs to stay moist and warm; 70℉ is the perfect temperature.
It can take up to 20 days for seeds to germinate and sprout, so don’t stress if they don’t pop up immediately. Once germinated, echinacea seedlings need plenty of light. You can use a sunny windowsill or grow lights.
Planting Echinacea Outside
These plants aren’t small, so they do need appropriate spacings. Each plant should be at least 12-18 inches apart. If you’re planting multiple rows, each row needs to be 12-18 inches apart at minimum. The distance applies to both seeds and seedlings.
The bed should be prepared ahead of time, till up to a depth of 6-12 inches. Be sure to remove any debris and rake. Make sure to add some organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, before planting.
When you plant echinacea outside, you can either direct sow seeds or plant an established seedling. If you opt to direct sow, you will need to do so in the late summer, around 12 weeks before the ground freezes. Sow the seeds and cover with ¼ inches of soil, and make sure to keep the soil evenly moist.
For seedlings, dig a hole to fit the size of the root ball. Place the plant into the hole, gently spreading the root ball and fill the rest of the hole with soil. Press down firmly with your hand to keep the soil in place and water deeply. You should also add a thin layer of mulch on top of the soil; 1-2inches should be sufficient.
How to Care for Echinacea
Echinacea is a relatively tolerant plant that survives a multitude of conditions. Even though it’s a tough plant, you still want to try to take care of it in your garden.
Starting off, you should water your plants thoroughly at least once a week to help the roots grow and establish themselves. One inch of water per week is a sufficient goal; you want the soil to be moist 1-2 inches down.
Once established, echinacea is drought-tolerant. So, if you accidentally forget to water for a few days, your plants will be fine.
Like most perennials, you’ll need to provide this herb with more nutrients throughout the year. While you can use a general, 10-10-10 fertilize throughout the year, spreading compost over the dormant plants in early spring before the ground thaws is typically sufficient.
Mulch Around Your Plants
Weeds and echinacea are not friends; they compete with your plant for water, space, and vital nutrients. The best and easiest way to control the weeds is by spreading mulch around your plants’ base. Since echinacea is a perennial plant, try organic mulch, such as shredded leaves, because it will also improve the soil and add nutrients to the ground as it breaks down over it.
Deadheading Is A Must
Deadheading is the process of removing dead, spent flowers from your plant. Doing so is smart because it will encourage your plant to continue to blossom while stopping seed development.
Common Echinacea Pests & Diseases
Unfortunately, echinacea does have a range of pests and diseases that can bother the plants. You need to pay close attention to stop an infestation or infection from getting worse or spreading to other plants.
Here are some examples.
Alternaria Leaf Spot
If you notice small, round, brown spots with white centers, you might have Alternaria leaf spot. These spots can encircle the stem, causing it to wilt. Typically, this disease is worse in warm, wet, humid weather.
Try to avoid getting too much water on the foliage of your plants. Remove the infected plants and trim back the other plants to encourage more air circulation.
These little greenish, red, or black insects stick to the leaves’ underside, sucking and feeding themselves. They also leave a sticky residue over your plants’ foliage, which can attract other pests, like ants.
One of the best ways to treat aphids naturally is to introduce natural predators, such as lady beetles. These natural predators will attack and kill the bad ones that you don’t want in your garden.
This disease causes stunted growth with deformed leaves. It’s a virus problem that is spread from pest to pes, such as leafhoppers. All you can do for aster yellows is remove the infected plants from your garden and control your pest population.
No one likes dealing with Japanese beetles. These little pests will eat holes in your leaves, but you can handpick them off your plants and drop them into a bucket of hot, soapy water. Neem oil is also a solution that has worked well for me.
Any gardener can and will encounter powdery mildew, a fungal disease that spreads white or greyish substance on the top of the leaves. It happens when the conditions are warm and moist, especially if you don’t have enough air circulation between each plant.
Besides removing plants to provide more air circulation, try applying a fungicide to the infected plants.
Since echinacea is a perennial plant, it won’t die entirely. Instead, the plant will start to dry up and move towards dormancy at the end of summer or the start of the fall. You can dig the entire plant up in the fall to harvest the roots for medicinal purposes and divide it if it’s getting too large.
All parts of the echinacea plant are medicinal, so you can harvest all of them. You can pick off the leaves at any time during the growing season. The flower should be harvested before the buds are fully open.
Try Growing Echinacea
Whether you want this herb for its medicinal properties or its beauty in the garden (or both), you’ll be happy to know that growing echinacea is easy. This herb grows wild in many regions, making it a durable, hardy plant that even beginner gardeners can figure out.