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The purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is one of my favorite flowers; it's easy to grow, cheap, spreads quickly (giving me lots of new plants to spread around) and looks good over a long season (I leave the seedheads up for the birds).

I so fell in love with purple coneflower that I planted other types as well, White swan, some of the Big Sky hybrids, and others.

I bought and planted in the spring, in well-draining loamy soil and full sun (watering them in, and appropriately until established), fed only early in the season with Osmocote giving them an opportunity to establish. To my disappointment, none of the newer varieties came back more than for one additional season (except for White Swan, which has done well.

I decided that either I know a lot less about gardening than I thought I did, the new echinaceas are weak, or maybe both.

Has anyone else had success with the newer echinaceas? Are some better than others? At this point, I don't even know why they're labeled as perennials.

Can anyone tell me why I am incapable of keeping the newer varieties? I am in zone 6b, but my microclimate is probably more like zone 6.

  • Most of them like free-draining, sandy soil high in organic matter. Do you have clay? That might explain it – J. Musser Dec 31 '14 at 23:08
  • I do have clay, but I dig out enormous holes for my plants and usually elevate them (like, about 18 inches deep and more in width). Also, some were planted in a raised bed on a gravel base with good drainage... – anongoodnurse Dec 31 '14 at 23:16
  • How much yearly precip do you get? – J. Musser Dec 31 '14 at 23:18
  • USA.com says 43 inches a year. For first-year plants, I water well once a week, less if there's a soaking rain, for about 8 weeks. My regular echinaceas and my rudbekias go crazy. So I don't get it. Also, the plants themselves look great the first year. – anongoodnurse Dec 31 '14 at 23:23
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It's entirely possible that some of the newer hybrids are not all they're advertised to be. The Big Sky series, for instance, are a cross between Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea paradoxa, though it's not clear to me whether these have a tap root or fibrous roots, as E. purpurea does. Some in the series have already been withdrawn because of various problems (distortion of petals in Sunset, for instance). White Swan is a cultivar of Echinacea purpurea, and does not have a separate Echinacea variety as a parent, which may be why that one is successful.

There are a few web threads devoted to complaining about the Big Sky series from people who've tried growing them - from reading those, there appears to be a general consensus that the following are better performing plants: Razmatazz, Coconut Lime, Tiki Torch, and Double Delight. Note, though, that double flowered plants do not encourage pollinating insects, since they are sterile.

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Some perennials do better with building up the soil with more natural fertilizer such as well composted manure rather than Osmocote. Perennials can be very light feeders. Also what do you do in the fall? Cutting them back too far may expose the roots too much to the weather. That said it is true that many new varieties do not live up to their hype.

  • Thanks for the info! I have a pile of what we call mushroom soil (a mixture of manure, finely shredded tanbark, corncobs, and a few other ingredients). It's pretty rich, and I usually let mine sit for a year, but then incorporate into the soil generously. In the fall, I like to let them be (I like the seedheads, and if it feeds the birds, even better), so it's not that I'm disrupting them. – anongoodnurse Jan 3 '15 at 20:20

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