Echinacea, also known as the Purple Coneflower, is a perennial flower that is known for its beauty and medicinal purposes alike. When in full bloom, Echinacea will attract both butterflies and bees and will make you want to spend countless hours in the garden watching all of the action! In the fall, while you wait for the seed heads to dry and blacken, they will attract songbirds to your garden.
Echinacea grows well in Zones 3 – 10 in deep, loose, loamy soil that drains well with plenty of organic matter and/or compost. It prefers full sun, though it can tolerate partial shade. So, when planning where to plant it, choose your plot accordingly.
Seeds can either be sown in the spring when soil temperatures are above 55 degrees Fahrenheit (if the seeds have already been through the stratification process) or, if collected from a friend or neighbors garden, they can be sown in the fall or winter (this way Mother Nature will complete the stratification process for you)!
Spread your seeds sparingly on the surface of the soil and keep moist (if you do not get much rain, gently spray or mist your seeds) until germination takes place. Once germination has occurred (after 10-20 days) gently cover sprouts with 1/8 inch of soil. Then, when sprouts are ~3 inches tall, thin them to 18-24 inches apart in all directions and mulch around them to control weed growth. I know that seems like a lot of space, but Echinacea grows in clumps and will fill in nicely on it’s own.
The first and most important thing to remember about Echinacea is that it may not bloom during the first year or two after sowing, depending on the variety you are growing. Don’t worry, though, as long as you have foliage, your Echinacea is doing well. Just be patient…trust me, your patience will pay off!
Keep in mind that Echinacea is fairly drought tolerant once established, though you will need to water your plants throughout the summer if you receive less than an inch of rain each week. Also, Echinacea does not like competition, so make sure to weed your bed while your plants are establishing themselves. Mulching your bed will help keep the weeds down, too.
Once your Echinacea is blooming, remember that cutting fading or dead flowers will prolong the blooming season! They make a beautiful addition to your summer table 🙂
Fall Care and Seed Harvest
After first frost when all of the Echinacea stems and heads are dry and have blackened (and using garden gloves to protect your hands) cut stems 6-12 inches below the head and place upside down in a paper bag. Then, all you have to do is gently shake seeds from their heads. If you live in a humid climate, allow your seed heads to fully dry before shaking the seeds loose from the heads. I like to shake the stand of spent Echinacea before cutting each stem to allow some seeds to fall and self sow for future years.
If you have any empty spaces in your garden that you are willing to surrender to another plot of Echinacea, the fall is the perfect time to shake some seed heads out in the area. Alternatively, you can simply throw a few heads into corners and wait for nature to take its course!
Next, cut all of the stems back to just above ground level and mulch with leaves, straw or store bought mulch to protect the plant from the elements throughout the winter.
Root Harvest (for drying or making a tincture)
Once your Echinacea is at least three years old, you can begin harvesting some of the roots for medicinal purposes. I do this after cutting back the Echinacea and harvesting the seeds and before I mulch in the fall.
Harvest the roots by using a garden fork to gently lift the roots out of the soil. You can choose to either harvest a few roots and then place the disturbed plant back in the soil or you can simply sacrifice the whole plant and harvest all of its roots at once. I choose the latter and pick a plant or two that are very close to others in an effort to thin them out a bit for the next year.
Once you have your roots, gently shake off any excess soil and gently wash them under cool running water. Gently pat them dry, then either dry them for later use or make a tincture to help keep you and your family well throughout the cold months.
Echinacea is one of my favorite medicinal herbs and it doesn’t hurt that it’s so beautiful, too! I hope that this has helped you feel as though you, too, can grow your own!