Why Can’t I Grow Coneflowers?


While my surviving kale and romaine seedlings continue to grow and I wait for something to germinate from my clumping onion seeds, I’ve been having fun with flower catalogs. I’ve been returning again and again to one in particular, the Prairie Moon Nursery. Why? They offer several types of coneflowers and two I’m especially interested in growing – Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea pallida – both prairie natives. The price for plants is reasonable and for seeds even more reasonable.

What stops me? I haven’t been able to get a coneflower to survive. Ever.

Now I’m not talking hybrids. A number of catalogs offer these amazing looking coneflower hybrids in colors ranging from white to green to red to spicy orange. And yes, I’d love to have them in my garden. But even these “hardy natives” have never worked for me.

Some research gave me a checklist for planting, one that I can easily check off.

Plant in loamy soil in the sun. Check. I had them in a raised bed with amended soil in full sun.

They don’t like wet feet. Got it! The raised bed again, plus I tend to underwater rather than over-water. If it rains during the week, I won’t water at all. The last two or three years, with quasi-drought in eastern Kansas, I’ll water once a week.

The rest of the advice focused on deadheading (never had any flowers), preventing excessive self-seeding (please…not my problem), and how to propagate by dividing clumps (you can’t propagate a dead plant).

A post from the North Dakota State Extension Office recommended planting coneflowers in the fall instead of the spring so that the plants get needed cold stratification. Okay. Been there, done that. The plant did not overwinter.

So that left the disease and pest list, which included powdery mildew, gray mold, vine weevils, and leaf miners. One of the photos for this list looked familiar and turned out to be aster yellows, which according to the Missouri Botanical Gardens affects some 300 plants.

Cone flowers -astyl7

Uh oh. I’ve had no luck with several of the plants on their list, including and especially asters, which do great year one and are dead year two. We know we have some kind of problem that keeps our grass turning brown by certain times through the summer, and we’ve failed to grow carrots, one of the vulnerable vegetables.

So what to do? Aster yellows is “…a viral-like disease caused by a phytoplasma…Insects that suck the sap of plants, especially the aster leafhopper, vector the disease.” The Botanical Gardens suggests using mesh fabric to keep leafhoppers away from plants. Hmmm… Sort of defeats the purpose of flowers to put mesh fabric over them, right? A more interesting suggestion was to put strips of aluminum foil between rows (of veggies, I imagine) because the reflected sunlight “confuses” the leafhoppers.

Oh dear. Well, I’ve been studying photos of leafhoppers – all of which seem to be copyrighted – so that I can recognize them if I find them. Meanwhile I need to answer the question – should I order coneflowers or wait another year?



9 thoughts on “Why Can’t I Grow Coneflowers?

  1. Both those native Echinacea are excellent choices, but you do have to be very careful of the source because of the ‘aster yellows’ And you’ve already figured out that the hybrids don’t survive our Kansas winters. I ordered mine from Missouri Wildflowers Nursery in Jeff City and they now delightfully self-seed. The goldfinches ensure that it’s not “too much”. Prairie Moon is an excellent nursery, but it is in Minnesota and the plants are not genetically adapted to our climate & soil.

    • You are so right about the soil test. As soon as the weather warms up enough, we’re collecting our soil samples. And my sister-in-law about 20 miles away pulls them up like weeds. Go figure… Thanks for dropping by!

  2. They are such lovely flowers! My first thought is to try again…but.. Linking over to see the damage the nasty aster yellow does just broke my heart. . Maybe the source change will help!

  3. I never had trouble with coneflowers, so I totally believe you have this leaf hopper problem. (Because once those purple beauties are established, they are hard to kill, at least in MN.)

    You’ve done some excellent research on this … if the plants are inexpensive (and I’d definitely go with the plants) try the tin foil thing. (Because, yes, using nets is terrible advice,)

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