It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of picking out coneflower colors and varieties at the plant nursery. However, making sure they flower to their full potential depends on how carefully you plant them. I love to see my garden filled with jaw-dropping summer coneflower blossoms, so I’ve developed a science for helping them thrive. Planting coneflowers is all about timing, placement, and feeding your young plants. Once they’re planted, they’re a low-maintenance flower. So, you’ll have plenty of time to relax and enjoy the majesty of your coneflowers.
1. Plant in Spring
March, April, and May are the best months to plant coneflowers. To get the most beautiful summer blooms, begin planting coneflowers in spring, two weeks after the last average spring frost in your region. If you’re not sure when the last frost will be in your area, use this online frost date finder to check.
Do not wait until summer to plant coneflowers. I made this mistake once. Unfortunately, my coneflowers shriveled and died. This is because the summer heat is very hard on young coneflowers. It will hinder their root development and make it difficult for the plants to establish themselves. If you missed your spring planting window, you can plant in the fall or wait until next spring.
2. Choose Your Coneflowers
You may be asking, “Can I grow coneflowers from seed?” While this can be done, I recommend planting young coneflowers purchased from a nursery. You’ll get colorful blooms much sooner this way. Plus, nursery plants are hardier than seedlings. They’re more likely to thrive after you plant them in your garden or pot.
When selecting your coneflower cultivar, choose colors and styles that appeal to you. Coneflower plants belong to Asteraceae—the daisy family. Like other plants in this group, their blooms range in color and intensity. The purple coneflower is the most common, but far from the only choice. I chose the Ruby Star and Goldsturm for my garden because I love the red-and-gold color combination. However, it’s common to find coneflower varieties that are pink, white, yellow, and orange.
3. Select Your Planting Location
Coneflowers must be planted where they can receive six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily. However, they should be protected from nonstop sun. Excess heat from the afternoon sun will make your flowers fade and wilt. For this reason, I plant my coneflowers in an east-facing bed that receives shade in the late afternoon. Search for space in your garden bed that is sunny throughout the morning and early afternoon but is shaded late in the day to meet proper coneflower sun requirements.
Growing coneflowers in pots is a great solution if you don’t have a perfect spot in your garden. Select a medium- or large-sized pot with several drainage holes. Most varieties of coneflowers are eager to grow in pots. Plus, you can move the pot around to different places in your yard to see where the plant grows best.
4. Dig Your Planting Hole
Use a garden trowel to dig a planting hole that is at least as deep as the coneflower’s nursery pot. Then, widen the hole until it is twice as wide as the pot. This helps to loosen the soil and encourage healthy root development.
In addition to widening the coneflower planting hole, I find that I grow healthier cornflowers when I dig the hole two inches (5 cm) deeper than necessary. After digging out this extra soil, refill the bottom of the hole with the loosened dirt or good topsoil, like this one. Cornflowers develop deep taproots. Loosening the soil beneath your flowers helps them send these essential roots deep into the ground.
5. Add Fertilizer Before Planting
Coneflowers benefit from fertilizer, especially at the time of planting. To get the best results, use a granular garden fertilizer. Sprinkle one tablespoon (21 grams) of fertilizer evenly in the planting hole. This is enough fertilizer to boost your young coneflower’s growth and help it survive the shock of transplanting.
I use this all-purpose garden fertilizer in my garden. In addition to coneflowers, it can be used for a wide variety of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. This way, you won’t have to buy a specialty fertilizer for each plant you’re growing.
6. Remove Your Coneflower from its Container
Before you plant your coneflower, you need to remove it from the plastic nursery container. To do this, turn your container sideways. Then, push on the bottom of the container to free the flower, roots, and soil. Never pull on your coneflower’s stalk to remove it from the plastic container. This can damage or even kill the plant.
Once your coneflower is free, look at the roots. If they are tightly packed in a swirling pattern, this means the flower was “rootbound” by a too-small container. In this case, use your fingers to gently loosen the roots and soil. Take care to avoid breaking the roots. As soon as the ends of the roots are hanging downward, it’s time to plant.
7. Fill in Soil Around the Plant
Place your coneflower into the fertilized planting hole. Make sure the coneflower sits at the same height as the surrounding soil. Add or remove soil beneath the plant as necessary to achieve the right height. This will help you avoid burying the lower portion of coneflower stalks or leaving exposed roots. Both these mistakes can harm the health of your flowers.
Fill in the hole around the coneflower with the loosened soil you removed while digging. Press the soil gently into place with your hand, but do not compact the soil. Fill the hole until the soil is level with the rest of your garden. Then, mulch the area around your flower. Plus, mulching has many surprising benefits. I hate weeding, so I use plenty of mulch to prevent weeds from sprouting.
8. Water Your New Coneflower
Immediately after planting, water your newly planted coneflower. Use one to two cups of water (240–480 ml) to moisten the soil in the planting area. Do not splash the leaves or other parts of the plant. This water will begin activating the fertilizer so it can start to feed your plant.
Continue to provide water each day for one week after planting. During this first week, coneflowers benefit from consistently moist soil. Only use enough water to moisten the soil. Do not flood the soil or make it soggy. After one week, gradually reduce the watering frequency until you are watering your flowers one to two times per week.
9. Plant Your Next Coneflower
Coneflowers look best when planted where they can mingle. This really shows off the variety of colors you’ve chosen. So, plant additional coneflowers 12 to 18 inches from your first plant (30–45 cm). This creates clusters of blooms but won’t cause your plants to fight each other for resources.
A single coneflower can look thin and awkward on its own. So, it’s best to plant at least five in the same area. If you have more space, consider adding even more coneflowers. If you’re growing coneflowers in pots, choose a large container that can hold at least three plants.
10. Add Coneflower Companion Plants
The best companion plants for coneflowers include black-eyed susans, lupines, lavender, bee balm, butterfly weed, and more. Each of these is tall and distinct enough that they won’t be overshadowed by your coneflowers. By mixing in additional colors from other plants, your garden will shine even brighter.
Whenever you’re selecting varieties to add to your garden, keep in mind that coneflowers grow up to 36 inches (90 cm) tall. Choose other tall plants to prevent coneflowers from shading them out. Tall varieties of snapdragon are my go-to choice. Snapdragons are easy to grow, produce beautiful blooms, and they attract my favorite pollinator—bumble bees.
What is the Best Way to Plant Coneflowers?
In order to grow incredible coneflowers, follow these planting steps:
- Begin planting in spring.
- Select a variety of coneflowers colors from a plant nursery.
- Choose a garden bed that gets early sun and afternoon shade.
- Dig a planting hole wider and deeper than necessary.
- Add granular fertilizer to the planting hole.
- Take the coneflower out of its container and detangle the roots.
- Place the flower in your planting hole and fill it with loose soil.
- Water your coneflower daily for one week after planting.
- Plant more coneflowers 12–18 inches (30–45 cm) from your first one.
- Add other tall flowers as companion plants.
Whether you’re growing the classic purple coneflower or a wide mix of other varieties, you’ll attract a host of pollinators in the summer. Then, as the blooms fade, songbirds will be drawn to the seed heads so they can feast on coneflower seeds.