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Coneflower Conundrum


Purple coneflowers (Echinacea) have been a staple in my garden for 25 years. I’ve grown them from seed, purchased them in pots and have received free cultivars from friends and growers. The flowers provide nectar for butterflies from June through October and the seed heads provide food for goldfinches in winter.

Purple coneflowers became so popular in the 1990s that many gas stations began planting them alongside feather-reed grass and black-eyed Susans. (When gas stations feature trendy perennials, I’m inclined to plant red salvia, marigolds and dusty miller in my own beds and borders.)

Echinacea purpurea is the common purple coneflower found in most gardens, while Echinacea pallida is the pale or pink coneflower with slender pendulous petals. In the wild, E. purpurea is found growing in open woodlands and prairies while E. pallida is a primarily a prairie plant. Both are lovely and highly beneficial plants for our gardens.

Some of my favorite combinations include coneflowers with calamint, salvia (especially the annual blue Salvia guarantica) liatris, prairie dropseed, daylilies and monarda. The large flat petals of E. Purple coneflowers (Echinacea) have been a staple in my garden for 25 years. I’ve grown them from seed, purchased them in pots and have received free cultivars from friends and growers. The flowers provide nectar for butterflies from June through October and the seed heads provide food for goldfinches in winter.

Purple coneflowers became so popular in the 1990s that many gas stations began planting them alongside feather-reed grass and black-eyed Susans. (When gas stations feature trendy perennials, I’m inclined to plant red salvia, marigolds and dusty miller in my own beds and borders.)

Echinacea purpurea is the common purple coneflower found in most gardens, while Echinacea pallida is the pale or pink coneflower with slender pendulous petals. In the wild, E. purpurea is found growing in open woodlands and prairies while E. pallida is a primarily a prairie plant. Both are lovely and highly beneficial plants for our gardens.

Some of my favorite combinations include coneflowers with calamint, salvia (especially the annual blue Salvia guarantica) liatris, prairie dropseed, daylilies and monarda. The large flat petals of E. ‘Magnus’ offer a great landing platform for swallowtails as well as tiny bees. Purple coneflowers bloom for several weeks and they make great cut flowers.

For several summers now I have watched many of my coneflowers decline. Like humans, plants are subject to a host of viruses, bacteria and fungi. Bacterial leaf spot with dark blotches have disfigured many of my coneflowers. They’ve had “aster yellows,” a disease that turns the flower heads into something resembling a witch’s broom. The petals are sometimes green instead of pink. The leaves are occasionally covered with powdery mildew. And, in the worst case, the entire plant — flowers, stems and leaves — turned brown, dried up and died.

Other culprits that damage or kill coneflowers include several different types of aphids and leafhoppers, which suck plant sap or transmit mycoplasma, a bacteria that causes the aster yellows. So, what’s a gardener to do?

Sanitation — cleaning up and throwing away any garden debris from infected plants — is important. (Note: do not add this debris to your compost.) Many insects and diseases overwinter in dried leaves, stems and soil. Although we often leave coneflowers standing during winter, if they’re diseased, get rid of the debris. You can still do that in winter when we have a few mild days. We can’t control the humidity or rain in summer, but you can try watering the plants at the ground level so the leaves remain dry as much as possible.

Here are some other links that can help you determine what’s bugging your coneflowers and what to do about it.

Penn State College of Agriculture Echinacea Diseases

North Dakota Extension Service Echinacea Q & A

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service Echinacea Report

University of Illinois Extension Service Diseases of Echinacea Species

Tell us—what is YOUR favorite coneflower and have you had problems with them in your garden?

Magnus’ offer a great landing platform for swallowtails as well as tiny bees. Purple coneflowers bloom for several weeks and they make great cut flowers.

For several summers now I have watched many of my coneflowers decline. Like humans, plants are subject to a host of viruses, bacteria and fungi. Bacterial leaf spot with dark blotches have disfigured many of my coneflowers. They’ve had “aster yellows,” a disease that turns the flower heads into something resembling a witch’s broom. The petals are sometimes green instead of pink. The leaves are occasionally covered with powdery mildew. And, in the worst case, the entire plant — flowers, stems and leaves — turned brown, dried up and died.

Other culprits that damage or kill coneflowers include several different types of aphids and leafhoppers, which suck plant sap or transmit mycoplasma, a bacteria that causes the aster yellows. So, what’s a gardener to do?

Sanitation — cleaning up and throwing away any garden debris from infected plants — is important. (Note: do not add this debris to your compost.) Many insects and diseases overwinter in dried leaves, stems and soil. Although we often leave coneflowers standing during winter, if they’re diseased, get rid of the debris. You can still do that in winter when we have a few mild days. We can’t control the humidity or rain in summer, but you can try watering the plants at the ground level so the leaves remain dry as much as possible.

Here are some other links that can help you determine what’s bugging your coneflowers and what to do about it.

Penn State College of Agriculture Echinacea Diseases

North Dakota Extension Service Echinacea Q &

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service Echinacea Report

University of Illinois Extension Service Diseases of Echinacea Species

Tell us—what is YOUR favorite coneflower and have you had problems with them in your garden?

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