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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Entries in Echinacea purpurea (1)

Thursday
Nov052009

Survival of the Echinacea Hybrids

Don't get too attached to Echinacea "After Midnight". This hybrid might not survive the winter.

The species Echinacea purpurea is ubiquitous in many parts of North America. It is so hardy that it can be found in cold Northern Ontario. Once it is planted in the garden, it makes itself at home forever. It is a reliable plant because it will thrive in spite of neglect. It naturalizes so easily that some gardeners think it’s a pretty weed worth keeping.

The Echinacea hybrids, on the other hand, are a totally different story. Most of them are not hardy in their first season. They require hardening and pampering. Once they become established they will perform as promised but, unlike the mother species E. purpurea, they have a life span of only 8 years. The one positive characteristic attributable to this collection of cultivars is the magnificent array of colors that have been bred into them.

Some gardeners have become frustrated by the finicky performance of these bred perennials. To avoid disappointment, they have begun to treat the hybrids as annuals. Growers understand that a dismal track record will hurt sales of these cultivars so they now educate nursery owners on proper care to ensure longevity. While not all of the advice is pertinent to the private gardener, here is what you need to know:-

  • If you are buying an Echinacea hybrid, make sure that the plant gets into the ground in the earlier half of the summer. Growers recommend that July be the cut off date for planting. Don’t listen to them. I garden in Zone 5 and have lost 50% of the new Echinacea hybrids that I planted in July.  Those that were planted in May and June have survived the winter. Those that were planted later, or that were moved around during the growing season, did not survive.
  • Plant in a location that has excellent drainage, not just good drainage. Echinacea hybrid roots will rot in wet soil.
  • Avoid clay soil. Just because the species E. purpurea is not fussy about its growing medium does not mean that the hybrids are just as adaptable. They are not.
  • Do not permit the flowers to bloom in the first season. Yes, it’s that serious! Cut off all blooms in the months following the planting. This perennial needs all of its energy to grow a deep tap root in order to overwinter successfully. Enjoy the flower next year.

A deeply embedded tap root is the key to success in growing Echinacea hybrids. A new plant will require an entire season growing in well-drained soil to reach that goal. If meeting that condition is not a realistic expectation, purchase the desired hybrid in the largest-sized pot offered [in order to ensure flowering] and then treat the hybrid as an annual.