CLICK HERE TO SAVE YOUR SEAT FOR THE SPRING GARDEN STARTUP WORKSHOP


Herb Garden
Published May 12, 2022 by Jennifer Holt

How to Grow Organic Echinacea from Seed

Filed Under:
flower
flowering plants
flowers
herbs
herb garden
herbs you can start from seed
how to grow organic echinacea

Echinacea Is an Easy-to-Grow Flower

Echinacea is a low-maintenance, sturdy, and drought-tolerant perennial that adds a pop of color in the garden. Echinacea, also known as coneflower, is an important source of nectar for butterflies, bees, and birds. Its compact growth habit makes it the perfect border plant for your seasonal edibles.

how to grow echinacea from seed

Common Echinacea FAQs

What is echinacea good for?

Echinacea is known as “nature’s antibiotic” because its leaves, roots, and flowers have been used for hundreds of years to fight infection and boost the immune system. Diverse in its uses, this beautiful coneflower is pleasant as a companion plant to the garden, makes a striking cut flower for arrangements, and is edible in teas and tinctures.  

Is echinacea a perennial?  

The best way to ensure this beautiful perennial reseeds itself for the next growing season is to refrain from cutting back echinacea at the end of the fall season. This will not only provide food for wildlife over the winter but will ensure an emergence of blooms in the spring. The following spring, you may then cut back your coneflower before any new foliage appears to stimulate growth.

What are the best echinacea companion plants?

I find that pairing coneflowers with other native pollinator plants in the garden, like butterfly weed, boosts the attraction for butterflies, bees, beneficial insects, and hummingbirds. Echinacea is a supportive companion for almost every plant, but as with most things in the garden, I recommend keeping it away from invasive mint plants in raised garden beds.

Follow Jennifer and learn more about her business

The Seed Sage

The Seed Sage offers high-end garden design and installation services, seasonal growing support, and garden vacation maintenance to Austin, Texas.

Echinacea's Ideal Growing Conditions

How Echinacea Grows Best 

Season:

For the best display of blooms, plant echinacea seedlings in the fall for a spring show or after your last frost for fall display. Purple coneflower will bloom mid-summer to fall (July to September), but expect its second growing season to produce more blooms.

Soil: 

Echinacea prefers soil on the dry side and can be found in rock gardens but does not do well in boggy conditions. For this reason, it makes an effective and beautiful perimeter plant where water may not reach and has been known to survive periods of drought.

Sunlight:  

Plant echinacea in an area with 4-5 hours of full sun with a shade break either in the morning or afternoon. To be a successful companion plant in the garden, make sure to place coneflowers on the sunny side of tall vegetable plants (such as corn), garden trellises, or other tall structures.

Fertilizer: 

Easy to please, echinacea only requires some extra food once in the spring growing season and once in the fall. Compost will be your number one go-to nutrient for echinacea. Be cautious to not over-fertilize with nitrogen because your main goal is to see blooms and not just green leaves.

Water: 

Once echinacea is established, it requires a minimum amount of water throughout the growing season; however, due to echinacea forming a long tap root in the seedling stage, it’s important to water deep and more often until the flower is strong and sturdy. If you want to water less often, a little mulch around the base goes a long way to shade the soil and lock in moisture in drought situations.

how to plant echinacea

Planting Echinacea

When to Plant Echinacea from Seed

Echinacea is very easy to start from seed indoors and can be transplanted outside after the last frost, or it just as easily can be sown directly outside in the summer for a fall bloom. A typical bloom season is from late June to September.

How to Sow Echinacea Seeds

In my experience, echinacea takes a little more time to germinate when growing from seed compared to other companion plants, but with a little patience, you will have a sturdy, blooming perennial supporting your edibles in no time. This is why I personally choose to start my echinacea under grow lights to get a head start on each growing season.

Sowing seeds indoors:

Sow echinacea seeds indoors at least 8-10 weeks prior to your last frost date. To do this, follow the below schedule from seed to garden:

  • Use a sterilized seed starting mix in a seed cell tray or small bio pot.
  • Cover the seed with ¼” loose seed starting mix.
  • Keep soil moist and temperature constant around 65-70° until seedlings emerge (10-20 days).
  • Once echinacea has germinated*, provide bright light for up to 16 hours a day and at least 8 hours of darkness. This is easily managed by using grow lights, but if you don’t have any, make sure to place seedlings in a window with direct light for most of the day and rotate cells so the seedlings don’t get leggy reaching for light.
  • When up to two sets of true leaves have emerged, you are able to pot up the plant to a larger container or start hardening off to move to the garden, depending on your last frost date.
  • Hardening off: This process can take up to a week. Slowly acclimate your seedlings to the outside by introducing them into shaded, protected areas for a few hours each day and then working up to longer hours until, by the end of the hardening-off period, they can be out in the sun and elements all day. (Pro tip: you can simulate a process of hardening off indoors by placing gentle air flow from fans onto your seedlings or running your hands across the leaves while they are growing.)
  • Move to the garden: Plant your plants 1-3’ apart and be conscious that the location receives light throughout the whole growing season.

*A note about seeds not germinating: If after 20 days you find that your seeds are not germinating, you may have to stratify your seeds. Personally, I have always had luck following the above steps, but if you don’t experience germination, place your package of seeds in the fridge for up to 30 days before following the above steps to start indoors.  

Sowing seeds directly in the garden:

If you don’t want to fuss with starting echinacea indoors, coneflower seeds are relatively easy to sow directly into the garden.

  • Sow seeds up to 3 months before your first freeze of the year in late summer. This takes care of the stratification phase discussed in the steps above.
  • Work in organic matter to amend your soil for planting and make sure all weeds and debris are removed from your planting space.
  • Evenly sow seeds and cover the seed with ¼” loose soil and gently press in soil.
  • Keep soil evenly moist until seedlings emerge in 10-20 days.
how to plant echinacea

How to Plant Echinacea

If you started your seeds indoors, plant them 1-3’ apart, as mentioned above, once you've hardened them off. Be conscious of light exposure throughout the whole growing season. 

Since coneflower’s growth habit is compact, you can plug them into locations where you want extra visual interest or pollinator support. The hardy stalks grow upright, have a spread of 12-36”, and can grow up to 4’ tall. There is no need to stake these beautiful flowers.

When planting echinacea from a nursery transplant, the first step is to isolate the plant when arriving home for at least a week. Observe the plant daily for any pests or disease before introducing the flower into your garden space. Once ready, place in an area with healthy, well-draining soil following the planting instructions above.  

purple coneflowers
LEARN TO GROW YOUR OWN CUT FLOWER GARDEN WITH GARDENARY 365

Join Gardenary 365 to take our Cut Flower Gardens course. In this online course, you will learn how to grow, harvest, and arrange cut flowers. You'll also have access to our complete Gardenary course library inside 365.

Caring for Your Echinacea

How to Deadhead Echinacea

In lieu of fertilizing, one way to stimulate larger, more robust blooms off each plant is to "deadhead". If you see evidence of blooms at the first set of leaves below the existing flower, this is the perfect time to deadhead those individual flowers to promote the development of larger blooms. Simply cut just above the first set of leaves on the stem above immature blooms.

Unlike other flowers (such as marigolds, which bounce back quickly after plucking a flower head), echinacea is a seasonal bloom variety. If you wish to extend your growing season, stagger pruning your batches of coneflowers to once mid-summer to see more blooms in the fall season. If you choose to prune all the flowers, keep in mind you won’t see any blooms again until the fall.

Common Echinacea Growing Problems 

If you’ll recall, the coneflower plant is not fussy. Echinacea is willing to live in various soil situations and is somewhat drought tolerant, yet some pests can affect the flower. Mostly whiteflies, aphids, Japanese beetles, and rabbits have sought after my coneflower seedlings in the garden. 

The best solution I’ve discovered to prevent any pest infestations has been to protect echinacea with a physical insect barrier cloth until the flowers are established, and if I continue to see issues I will use natural sprays such as insecticidal soap or hot pepper, garlic spray,etc. for the munching bunnies. Generally speaking, I have only witnessed pests in the seedling phase of growth. Once mature they seem tolerant of any attacks.  

How to Harvest Blooms

Harvesting Echinacea Flowers 

Let the fun begin! We talked about pruning the flower, so why not enjoy what you prune!? 

If I have a large crop of echinacea in a season, I like to harvest in the early morning or late evening for cut flowers to enjoy. Once harvested, immediately place in a vase of cold water. You can usually enjoy echinacea as a cut-vase flower for up to 7 days or dry the flowers to enjoy the beautiful seed head in dried flower arrangements.  

how to harvest echinacea flowers

My Favorite Varieties of Echinacea to Grow 

The most common echinacea variety we see is the purple coneflower, echinacea purpurea. I love seeing all the new hybrid varieties of coneflower on the market. My advice if you want more unique displays is to start your own seeds to enjoy an array of echinacea varieties in your garden. From more unique colors to varied heights and new types of bloom growth habits, some of my favorites are the following: 

  • Echinacea, PowWow - show-stopping varieties for their rich, deep colors 
  • Echinacea, Sombrero - unique varieties with lateral blooms, which are different from the traditional drooping petals you see
  • Echinacea, Green Twister - for a striking, bi-colored show in the garden


wildflowers

Meet the author, Jennifer Nesbit Holt

Jennifer Nesbit Holt of The Seed Sage

Jennifer Nesbit Holt of The Seed Sage

Gardening and creating recipes for her fresh harvests has always been a way for Jennifer to slow down, express her creativity, and create a healthier, more wholesome lifestyle.

Her company, The Seed Sage, helps gardeners in Austin, Texas, return to their roots and grow a sustainable garden through culinary raised bed garden designs and installs that blend seamlessly into their home's aesthetics.

Follow her on Facebook and Instagram or schedule a consultation to make your edible garden dreams a reality.

Follow Jennifer and learn more about her business

The Seed Sage

The Seed Sage offers high-end garden design and installation services, seasonal growing support, and garden vacation maintenance to Austin, Texas.

Read more from our knowledgeable garden coaches

How to Grow Organic Echinacea from Seed