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Home & garden.

16 August 2021

How to grow echinaceas

Echinaceas return year after year to bloom in mid-summer. Discover our best varieties and tips for how to grow them.
CT
Ceri Thomas
Echinacea

Echinaceas, commonly called coneflowers, start to bloom in mid-summer and look good for many weeks, their mellow colours ideally suited to the late-summer sun. They fit into both formal or natural-looking gardens, as well as the ‘prairie’- style planting for which they’ve become well-known.

They have a temperamental side though, and sometimes die down in winter, never to be seen again. We thought it was time to find out which of them not only looked good but had some staying power as well.

Which? Gardening magazine grew a range of popular varieties in the north and south of the UK over two years to see which would give us the best display and be hardy enough to get through UK winters.


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Key facts

PLANT TYPE Herbaceous perennial

POSITION Sunny

SOIL Well-drained 

How to grow echinaceas: month by month

January
February
March
April
May
June


CUT BACK/PLANT
PLANT


July
August
September
October
November
December
FLOWERING/DEADHEADING
FLOWERING/DEADHEADING
FLOWERING



Best echinacea varieties

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Best Buy echinaceas
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
110 x 60cm
A new relatively introduction from the US, the striking flowers of this variety had a huge cone which started with a prominent green centre, though later it looked like a giant orange button in the middle of the short, flat petals. The stems were strong, straight and branching, so plants were nicely shaped, though they did need some support when the flowers were fully open. They had good scent and proved to be a popular variety with bees. Peak flowering: Jul-Sep
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
110 x 40cm
This classic variety had a really long flowering season in Northumberland, where it bloomed until the end of September. In north London, it was sturdy and colourful into the start of September, and carried on flowering well, even though it began to suffer from a leaf disease later in the season. The plants needed little support and attracted lots of bees to the large flowers, whose petals drooped in the typical echinacea fashion as they matured. Peak flowering: Jul-Sep
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
115 x 70cm
This was another recent variety that’s already proved popular in the US, and it really came up trumps in our trial with its unusual colour, strong stems and staying power. Petals faded from red to old-rose and gradually to dusky-pink as they aged. They were one of the best for scent, too. Although this variety is usually said to be around 60cm tall, ours were much taller and needed some support when they were in full flower. However, they might be sturdier if grown on less rich soil. Peak flowering: Jul-Sep
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
100 x 65cm
We thought this was one of the most elegant varieties in the trial with its tall stems and beautifully shaped flowers. The large cones started off green, changing to orange as they matured and became more pointed. The petals dropped down as the cones developed. They had a light but pleasant scent, were one of the most attractive to insects, and their plentiful flowers looked good until the end of September in both north London and Northumberland. Peak flowering: Jul-Sep
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
120 x 80cm
The parent of most of the purple-flowered echinaceas, this had the strong constitution which makes many of the purple varieties the best bet for persistence. It was just about the tallest in the trial but didn’t need any support. The large central flower cone was surrounded by long, strongly coloured petals that dropped down as flowers matured. They had a very natural appearance that would work especially well with grasses in the prairie style. Peak flowering: Jul-Sep
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
110 x 70cm
This variety looked similar to its purple parent and flowered for almost exactly the same number of weeks, but it was a bit shorter and had larger flowers, which we thought gave it a more refined air. The varieties related to E. purpurea tend to survive better than some of the more sunny-coloured newcomers and these seemed typically hearty plants. However, the mass of flower stems did need some support. Peak flowering: Jul-Sep

How we test echinaceas

In spring, we planted three plants of each variety at our Capel Manor trial garden in north London, where the soil is well-drained and the climate mild and relatively dry. We did the same at Alnwick Garden in Northumberland, where it’s colder, slightly wetter and the soil is also well-drained. Plants were grown for two years and assessed for: duration and impact of flowering; whether they were floppy or self-supporting; which had the best scent; those that attracted the most pollinators; susceptibility to problems.

Caring for your plants

Planting

Plant in any soil, as long as it’s well-drained. Add well-rotted garden compost when planting. Place in full sun for best flowering, though they can also grow in light shade. Plant in spring if possible so plants establish before winter sets in.

Deadheading

Deadheading regularly early in the flowering season prolongs flowering. Stop deadheading in September and allow stems to stay on until new growth starts in spring. This helps protect the plant’s crown in winter.

Common growing problems

Slugs and snails

Watch out for slugs and snails eating leaves as plants come into growth in spring. Use organic slug pellets or biological control (for slugs only).

Read more about slugs and snails