August 17, 2007

Colorful Coneflower (echinacea) Comments

Update July 2008: Best performer is echinacea 'Ruby Star' with great blooms and a long bloom season. Only one 'Harvest Moon' survived the drought and winter. Echinacea 'Sundown' survived and looked fine for a long bloom season. 'Sunset' did not survive.

When I decided to “garden outside the fence” this year, I was challenged to plan a garden that would be colorful while being deer-resistant and drought-tolerant. I was skeptical about using coneflowers (echinacea) as some consider those to be deer food. However, I found an equal number of sources that put these on the deer-resistant list. Since I love research and experimentation, I decided to test the new coneflowers for myself for both color and deer-resistance.

Whatever the color, butterflies, bees and birds all love coneflowers. I found a few nips of early buds by either deer or rabbits, but the damage has been so minimal that I’m glad I planted lots of coneflowers. At this point, if the critters want to come out and help me deadhead in the 90-100 degree weather, I would welcome their assistance! I try to leave the last fall blooms on the stalks to help feed the birds in winter. The coneflowers are planted in the company of known deer-resistant perennials/shrubs/grasses/herbs such as: agastache, verbena, coreopsis, salvia, fennel, miscanthus, vitex, clumping bamboo and crocosmia. It may be that the scent of these other plantings reduced the damage to the coneflowers. This morning, I noticed deer tracks throughout the garden, but they did not touch the coneflowers.

As for care, these coneflowers receive minimal watering from me. I deadhead as needed to promote more blooms. All of the varieties have produced bushy plants with lots of blooms, especially considering that this is the first season in my garden.

Please see the slideshow at the bottom of my blog for photos of the coneflowers.

Orange echinacea (2 patented varieties)

I was really impressed with the color when the orange coneflower varieties first bloomed. The colors will remind you of a gorgeous sunset or sundown. However, the more I left the flowers on the stems, the more faded they looked and the more they resembled purple coneflowers. But, the orange hues lasted long enough that I felt satisfied with the color combinations. These look wonderful with blue agastache or purple verbena. Whereas, I’ve found purple coneflowers to handle extra moisture just fine, these orange varieties got a bit of powdery mildew if they were in the high-moisture areas of my garden.

Yellow echinacea (1 patented variety)

I love the new soft yellow coneflowers for the color, the bloom size and the shape. The color is like a moon at harvest. The blooms are stunning and hold color very well. However, they really don’t like extra water. At one point, we received a lot of rain and all of the yellows planted where the soil drains really well, turned black, so I’ve cut them back to the ground. I think I’ll have to put these in the ‘plant like lavender’ care section of the garden. I had planted them with daylilies (inside the cottage fence)and while the colors were great, the moisture needs are too different. In the outer deer-resistant garden, I planted these with yellow coreopsis and snapdragons in front of blue buddleia.

Ruby echinacea

Echinacea purpurea 'Ruby Star (Rubinstern)' are my favorites! They perform well in moist soil or up on the slope in the drier areas. The color is true throughout the bloom season. The colors are so vibrant and the blooms are huge. These look so great with spirea ‘neon flash’ or agastache ‘red fortune’ of the same color blooms. I also have some coreopsis colors in my garden that would look great at the feet of these tall perennials. Rose thyme would be another magenta color combo. Or combine the rubies with blue-purple perennials like heliotropium amplexicaule or eupatorium coelestinum. The rubies are magenta enough to look fine with yellow. I don’t think I’d put these with orange unless the orange matches the color of the huge cones.

Please comment on your experiences with colorful coneflowers!

Happy Gardening!
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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