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Growing Echinacea From Seeds – Coneflower Grow Guide

Echinacea is a group of popular flowering plants native to North America. Most popular is Echinacea purpurera, also known as purple coneflower.

These beautiful flowers are gorgeous in naturalistic landscaping, and are easy to grow at home. In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about growing Echinacea from seeds.

Purple coneflower echinacea purpurea flowers
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) planted in a garden bed.

Before You Start…

Before you plant your Echinacea seeds, you should know a couple of things about these plants:

  • Most Echinacea will not flower in the first year. These plants require patience! Echinacea, when planted from seed, will not flower its first year. However, years 2, 3 and beyond, the plant will return and flower all summer long. (Note: There are some varieties that flower in the first year)
  • Echinacea is perennial. Choose your plant’s final location wisely, as Echinacea will regrow every year.
  • Echinacea is drought tolerant. Once established, purple coneflower will easily handle drought conditions, but will not tolerate soggy soil. Make sure your site has well-drained soil and gets full sun.

If you are comfortable waiting, purple coneflowers will reward you for many years to come! The plants form a nice clump, and can eventually be divided when the plants are established.

There are countless benefits to growing Echinacea. They make a beautiful cut flower for vase arrangements, the petals can be used in herbal tea for soothing sore throats, and they attract beneficial insects. This makes Echinacea an excellent companion plant for the vegetable or herb garden.

Echinacea can even be grown as a potted plant if you have a large enough container. They will easily survive extremely cold winters, and here in New England they are native plants that give back to our wildlife.

Buying Echinacea seeds

Echinacea purpurea is a very popular plant, so seeds are readily available online and in retail stores. If you want to grow uniquely-colored Echinacea plants, you may have to search, or buy hybrid plants from the nursery instead.

Where to buy Echinacea seeds:

Echinacea seed packet yellow
Yellow coneflower seed packet.


Planting Echinacea Seeds

Planting Echinacea from seed is easy. The seeds tend to germinate quickly when conditions are right. However, there are a few options you have depending on your situation.

When and how to plant seeds

Echinacea can be planted almost any time of year, but it is best to get your seeds started in late-winter or very early spring. This will give the seedlings enough time to develop a strong root system in the first year.

When it comes to planting technique, you have a few options. Since the seeds benefit from cold-stratification, I prefer winter sowing. However, you can also direct sow in the ground, or plant Echinacea seeds indoors.

  • Winter sowing. Winter sowing Echinacea is an excellent germination method. It requires cold winter temperatures (hardiness zone 9 or lower) and allows the seeds to sprout naturally when the temperatures rise. Learn how to winter sow seeds here.
  • Direct sowing. Direct sowing Echinacea is the easiest method, though it can be more difficult to control. You’ll need to kill off any weed seeds that may compete with your coneflower seedlings. You will also need to know how to identify Echinacea seedlings so you don’t accidentally pluck your plants!
  • Planting indoors. You can start your Echinacea seeds indoors with your annual vegetables (like tomatoes and peppers). The early start gives your seedlings time to grow some roots before being transplanted out into the garden. Indoor plants are also safe from rabbits and deer for the first few weeks.
Echinacea coneflower seeds in hand
Echinacea seeds have a unique, somewhat blocky appearance.

All of these seed starting methods work well, so it ultimately comes down to your preference. Once you decide, use these simple steps to plant the seeds:

  1. Fill containers with damp soil
  2. Plant seeds about 1/8″ deep
  3. Lightly mist soil surface
  4. Keep at 70°F under humidity dome until seeds sprout
  5. Provide light immediately upon germination
Planting echinacea seeds
Echinacea seeds on surface of potting soil.

Cold stratification (optional)

To increase germination rates, it is recommended that you cold stratify your seeds before planting. This process involves exposing the seeds to cold temperatures while the seeds are in wet soilUnfortunately it is not as simple as throwing the dry seed packet in the fridge.

Winter sowing in milk jugs with snow
Echinacea purpurea seeds can be winter sown in milk jugs outside.

If you’d like to manually cold-stratify your Echinacea seeds, follow these steps:

  • Sow the seeds in seed cell packs about 1/8″ deep
  • Moisten the seed and soil
  • Cover with plastic wrap or similar to prevent drying out
  • Place in refrigerator for 4-8 weeks

Again, this process is optional! If you have stubborn seeds, or only a few seeds to plant, cold stratification can help break dormancy. However, I have never had poor germination rates with Echinacea, even without cold stratifying.


Seedlings and Transplanting

After successful germination, your plants will have some needs. Namely, the seedlings need lots of light, at least 13 hours of light every day if using grow lights, or full-sun conditions outside.

What do Echinacea seedlings look like?

If you direct sow your Echinacea seeds, you should get familiar with what the seedlings look like. The cotyledons are usually small rounded leaves, while the first true leaf will emerge in the center. It is often “fuzzy” and has a pointed-feather shape.

Transplanting

If growing in seed cell containers, they can be transplanted into larger containers before moving outdoors. This allows the roots to develop a bit more before moving into the ground. Make sure to harden off your seedlings if moving from inside to adjust the plants the direct sun and wind.

Though Echinacea can handle freezing temperatures, I recommend transplanting outside around the last frost date. The young seedlings may be more vulnerable to cold than established mature plants. Once the young plants have developed strong roots in their starter pots, they can be moved to a final location.

Planting tips:

  • Full sun. Echinacea prefers at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, but can survive in partial shade. More sun means more flowers, so set your expectations based on where you are planting.
  • Good drainage. Echinacea can adapt to a wide variety of soils, but prefers a dry place with good drainage. Sandy soil is ideal, though as long as drainage is good the plants should thrive.
  • Proper spacing. To avoid over-crowding, give each Echinacea plant at least 1.5-2′ of space. Over time, the plants will spread and fill the space out with more foliage and blooms.
  • Medium fertility. Fertilizer is not required in most cases, as Echinacea prefers mild fertility. Annual compost application can help improve poor soil enough for prolific coneflower blooms. Overly rich soils may lead to tall, leggy growth, so fertilize sparingly!

Mulching Echinacea

I recommend mulching your Echinacea plants with a natural mulch like leaf mulch, straw, or pine needles. This will help keep the soil healthy, retain moisture in very hot and dry conditions, and suppress weeds. Apply mulch right after planting.

In late winter, you can uncover the mulch temporarily to increase the soil temperature. This can help the plants wake up sooner in spring.

Protecting seedlings from threats

In the first month or two of growth, Echinacea is vulnerable to rodents and other animals. Rabbits, deer, and mice all like to eat the young seedlings, and they can cause severe damage in just a few bites!

To protect your plants, I recommend Liquid Fence. This natural product contains putrescent whole egg solids which effectively deters rabbits and deer. Spray it directly on your seedling’s leaves and in an unbroken like around your garden beds. If your garden has a physical fence to keep out the pests, there is no need to use Liquid Fence!


Caring For Echinacea

Growing Echinacea from seed to seedling is the hardest part of the process! Once the plants are in the ground, they require minimal maintenance.

Year 1 vs. Year 2

As mentioned, Echinacea plants typically do not produce flowers in their first year of growth. Expect some leafy greens, low growth, and not much else in year 1. This is the time when your Echinacea is busy establishing a strong root system underground.

The plants will then die back in winter and regrow in early spring. In the 2nd year, your plants should produce flowers starting in mid-summer and through to autumn. In subsequent years, your coneflower plants will grow larger and should produce more blooms every season!

Getting more blooms

So, you want more purple coneflower blooms, what can you do to achieve this?

  • Provide ample sunlight. More sunlight gives your plants more energy to put into blooming. If your site is shaded, consider moving your plant (see below) to a sunnier spot, or removing large plants that cast shade on your flower garden.
  • Don’t over-fertilize. Applying a thin layer of compost to the soil surface each year is plenty of nutrition for E. purpurea. Too much nitrogen can lead to tall, lanky growth and potentially less flowers.
  • Prevent pests and disease. A diseased or otherwise unhealthy plant will struggle to perform. Powdery mildew is a common issue with coneflower. Make sure the plants are spaced properly (1.5-2′ between clumps) for good airflow, and avoid touching the plants when not necessary.
Purple coneflower echinacea with bumble bee

Dividing Echinacea

The best time to divide echinacea is in late fall or early spring while the plants are still dormant. The ground should be moist to make the process easier.

Dig around the clump with a shovel, then uproot the entire plant. Use a hori hori or a small saw to cut the plant in half (or quarters for larger plants). Then, replant each division in its own space in the garden. When done properly, the resulting plants should bloom in the very next year!

Saving Echinacea seeds

In early fall, your coneflowers will begin to die back and produce seeds. This is the perfect time to save seeds for planting next year.

The seeds are formed in the center of the flower heads. Birds love to eat the seeds, so act fast to avoid losing them. As soon as the flower heads start to turn brown, you can harvest them.

Cut the flower heads from their stalk just below the bloom. Place the flowers on a paper plate and allow them to dry completely at room temperature for about a week (depending on the humidity).

Echinacea seeds form on the central cone of each flower. To remove them, there is a simple trick I like to use. Place the dried flowers in a closed container (like a tupperware) and shake it vigorously for about 10 seconds. Open the container and remove the flower heads.

What is left should be mostly seeds, and perhaps some petals and “chaff” which can be sifted out. Store the seeds in a cool, dry place.


Purple coneflower echinacea

I hope this article helps you grow your own echinacea from seed! These are wonderful plants that offer a host of benefits in the garden. Our gardens will always have these beautiful purple flowers buzzing with bees all summer long.

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