Growing up, whenever I caught a cold, my mom would reach for the echinacea tea. She always said it was one of the best natural treatments for a cold or flu, and once I got older, I found that this was absolutely the case.
Echinacea has a million uses in the kitchen and the medicine cabinet – and it’s also a super easy to grow plant. I’ve grown it several times in my own garden and had great success, even when I cultivated my seeds in somewhat poor soil.
This year, I almost cried when I realized I forgot to order more echinacea seeds – and that they were no longer available at my favorite seed supply store. However, rest assured that next year they will become a fixture in my garden once more!
If you’re new to growing echinacea, don’t worry – it’s something that is super easy to do. Here are some tips for learning how to grow echinacea, wherever you might live.
Why You Should Grow Echinacea
There are plenty of reasons to grow echinacea in your garden.
For starters, it’s pretty to look at. It is closely related to the daisy and similar plants, offering a gorgeous appearance with colorful petals. It can also attract pollinators.
When consumed, echinacea roots have a variety of medicinal benefits. They can help fight the viruses responsible for colds and flu, and they can also help control blood sugar. Echinacea can lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation, too.
Echinacea isn’t commonly used as an edible herb, but is most often consumed in tea.
Types of Echinacea
Lots of people lump echinacea plants into one category, but the reality is that there are actually several kinds of echinacea you can grow in your garden (more than two dozen, in fact). Here are some of the most popular:
- Avalanche Echinicaea: Grows well in full sun or dappled shade in zones 3 to 8; deer-resistant cultivar
- Cheyenne Spirit: Can be found in shade of red, white, yellow, cream, orange, pink, or purple; best for warmer growing zones
- Daydream: Produces soft yellow flowers that bloom earlier than others
- Double Scoop Cranberry: Offers lush, double-petaled flowers in zones 4 to 7
- Firebird: Produces bright orange flowers from midsummer until fall
- Flame Thrower: Has bicolor orange and yellow petals and grows in zones 3 to 8
- Greenline: Has chartreuse blooms that produces from June to August
Planting Echinacea from Seed
You can grow echinacea by sowing seed directly in the garden, or by starting your seed early indoors. It can be transplanted as soon as the last frost has passed.
If you sow directly, do so in the summer. You should sow your seeds at least 12 weeks before the ground freezes. Begin by removing weeds and working organic matter, like compost, into the top seven inches of soil.
Sow your seeds evenly, then cover with ¼ inches of fine soil. Pat the soil down and keep it moist. Your seedlings should emerge in about ten to twenty days.
If you plan on sowing seeds indoors you will want to start them about eight to ten weeks before the last estimated frost date in the spring. Sow your seeds thinly, then cover with a light ¼ inch of potting soil or seed starting mix.
Until the seeds germinate, you will need to keep the soil moist. It should be maintained at around 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (18 C to 21 C) – using a heat mat is a great way to make sure your soil stays consistently warm.
On average, echinacea seeds emerge in about ten to twenty days, although this can vary depending on the amount of heat and light provided.
If you want to jumpstart their germination, consider using a fluorescent plant light. Incandescent bulbs just don’t work for echinacea because they get too hot.
As your plants get taller, you can raise your grow light to keep up. Make sure you keep the light on for around sixteen hours per day, and turn it off for eight hours at night. This will help keep the soil at the proper temperature and stimulate the natural growing processes of these plants.
Growing in a small planting cell? You might want to transplant your seedlings once they get about two pairs of mature leaves. Move them to a three-inch pot a few weeks before you transplant them to the garden. This will give them the time and pace they need to develop strong roots.
Before you can transplant your echinacea seedlings into the garden, you will need to harden them off. You can do this by gradually exposing your plants to outdoor conditions, including wind, sunlight, and temperatures.
Start by moving your plants to a shelter location for at least a couple of hours. The next day, add a few more hours. Build up slowly until your plants can stay outside at all hours.
Hardening off is essential for all kinds of plants, but especially for delicate plants like herbs. This will help them develop the natural defenses they need to withstand outdoor conditions 24/7.
When you plant, be sure to select a location that has full sunlight and plenty of fertile soil. You should prepare the soil by turning it under to about seven inches.
Add organic matter, like leaf mold or compost, and try to plant on a cloudy day to reduce transplant shock.
Begin by digging a hole for each plant that is large enough to comfortably accommodate the roots of the plant. Gently loosen the clump of roots with your hands, then place the top of the clump level with the soil. Backfill, then pat down firmly.
Water lightly and apply a light layer of mulch to reduce weed competition and conserve water.
How to Grow and Care for Echinacea
As a perennial, echinacea benefits from regular watering. Try to water at least once a week, which will help your roots grow down deep into the soil.
Keep soil moist at one inch below the soil line. Ideally, you should water first thing in the morning, which will give the leaves the entire day to dry.
You can water less once your plants are established but you might occasionally need to protect them from hot, direct sunlight and wind.
Weeds can be problematic to echinacea during the growing season. Not only will they compete with your fragile plants for space, water, and nutrients, but they can also reduce the amount of sunlight available, too. You should pull weeds often or use mulch to prevent them from germinating.
One of the best ways to prevent weeds, in fact, is to mulch. It will keep weeds away and help maintain an even soil temperature.
The best mulch will be aged bark or shredded leaves, which will give your planting area a more natural appearance and will add nutrients to the soil as they break down.
Echinacea is a hardy plant that does not need to be fertilized very often. In fact, you can probably get by with fertilizing just when the plants are seedlings.
Do this when your seedlings are about four weeks old. You can use a basic starter fertilizer that is diluted to half the strength of normal indoor houseplant food.
Pests and Diseases
As an herb, there aren’t many pests and diseases to which echinacea is prone. However, there are a couple that you should be aware of.
One of the most common diseases is known as aster yellows. This causes your plants to become stunted and for the petals to become deformed. Spread by leafhoppers, a common garden pest, it can be prevented by following a good wedding regimen.
Botrytis is another common disease. This is actually a fungus that causes grey mold on leaves, flowers, buds, and stems, thriving in cold and wet weather.
If you notice this disease appears, you will want to remove any affected plant parts. Try to limit nighttime watering, and make sure your plants have good circulation.
If your plants happen to die over the winter despite being cultivated in recommended growing zones, drainage might be an issue. Add organic matter to the soil the following year, and consider keeping your plants indoors if you are growing them in containers.
Echinacea can be grown alongside many common garden plants. Although it doesn’t receive many benefits from those plants, it does provide a whole host of benefits itself.
Its best companion plants are things like phlox, bee balm, sedum, and fountain grass. Since it attracts beneficial bees and butterflies, it’s good to have around plants that need to be pollinated, too.
Growing Echinacea in a Container
Echinacea is a perennial that will overwinter well in most growing zones, so most gardeners don’t bother planting in containers. However, this is something you can certainly do if you are so inclined.
If you grow echidna in a container, just make sure it’s a large one. Echinacea is a very drought-tolerant plant once established, so you don’t need to get too overzealous with your watering.
Your container, however, does need to have large drainage holes. Consider adding some crushed rocks to the bottom of the container to help with this, too.
Growing Echinacea Indoors
As gorgeous as they are, echinacea plants aren’t the best suited to being grown indoors. They simply get too big.
You would be better off growing your echinacea in a container out on your balcony or in a sunny spot in your backyard. This will provide them with the proper conditions they need for optimal health.
As your echinacea plants grow, deadhead the spent flower heads to encourage flowering and
seed development. After the first hard frost in the fall, you can discard some of the foliage. You might want to apply a layer of mulch after that first freeze, too.
When your plants become crowded, you can divide them. You can also divide plants when they start to lose their vigor or the bloom size becomes smaller.
The best time to divide echinacea is in the fall or spring, ideally when plants are dormant. Dig clumps from the ground, and cut them into divisions – but make sure each division has several eyes and plenty of roots.
You can replant one division where the plant was originally, and move the others to another spot.
Otherwise, to harvest echinacea, you can cut the flowers when the blooms are open. You can also dry the cones for arrangements or save the seeds from the plant, too.
To preserve the buds and leaves from your plants, all you need to do is dry them. You can hang dry them to be used in decorations, tinctures, or teas later on, or you can toss them in a dehydrator.
Store your echinacea in an airtight container, ideally in a dark location.
Uses for Echinacea
The best way to use echinacea, in my opinion, is as a tea. The leaves, roots, and flowers can all be steeped to make a delicious tea with a variety of health benefits. However, echinacea flowers can also be dried and make a wonderful addition to potpourri.
In the garden, echinacea is often used to attract pollinators to the garden. You can also cut and dry the seed heads to add fragrance, too.
Should I Grow Echinacea?
As long as you live somewhere in (approximately) zone 3 to 8, you can easily grow echinacea. These gorgeous flowers grow best along the edges of woodlands, so they’ll thrive when given a bit of morning shade and afternoon sun (or vice versa).
Believe it or not, echinacea flowers are found in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors, too – so you don’t have to stick with one variety in order to make a show stopping display. You can combine a few all at once!
You don’t need a ton of expertise, time, or skills to grow echinacea – all you need is a bit of patience and know-how. Consider learning how to grow echinacea this year for a gorgeous summer display of color.
Rebekah is a full-time homesteader. On her 22 acres, she raises chickens, sheep, and bees, not to mention she grows a wide variety of veggies. She has a huge greenhouse and does lots of DIY projects with her husband in her ever-growing homesteading endeavor. Learn more about Rebekah here.