Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea): A Seasonal Look

Are you interested in a long-blooming, tough-as-nails perennial that can withstand heat and drought, freeze and flood? Look no further than this gardener’s favorite, Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea.



Glorious in its spring beauty, this wide-spread North American native is a must-have for any garden. Here in Central Texas, the aster family flowers bloom during spring and summer, resting in the July and August dormant-hot season.



Though not quite as spectacular as in the spring show, there is usually a second flush of blooms during the autumn months.  In mild winters, Coneflowers bloom sporadically; a hard freeze nips the flowers and sends the plant into dormancy.

Individual plants form rosettes from seed, and those rosettes grow larger with maturity.



During winter, the rosettes are evergreen, or mostly so.  I like to plant  in groups of three to seven, but I’m happy to let volunteers seed out where they may.  If I don’t like where a plant grows, I transplant it or pass it along  to another gardener.


In my urban Austin garden, the foliage remains mostly evergreen through winter. Sometimes after a particularly hard freeze, exposed greenery suffers and the whole foliage rosette dies to the ground;; they typically emerge in early spring, ready for a long blooming season.   Since Purple Coneflowers range from Texas through the mid-Atlantic states and even a bit north and westward, the timing and severity of freezes and the flush of blooming varies from what Coneflowers experience here in Austin.


As spring approaches, new foliage emerges and the rosettes thicken.


In time, a bloom stalk shoots forward from the rosette,  followed by others.





It always seems to take weeks for those first blooms to appear, but appear they do!




By mid-to-late April (in Central Texas) the Purple Coneflower is in its prime blooming season.





New bloom stalks adorned with accompanying flowers continue to grow into early June. Purple Coneflower plants, en masse, provide quite a show.






A favorite of all kinds of bees and butterflies.





Purple Coneflower is an excellent pollinator plant.  Sometimes, even the “bad” bugs will hop on for a ride,



…but only rarely is there any damage to the flower, like this Cone with its neatly trimmed petals. Only a few of my Coneflowers have ever been damaged by insects.  It’s a tough, happy flower.  Remember that it’s just fine and dandy to have a few holes in your leaves or petals;  it means that you’re lovely plants are feeding some sort of wildlife and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.



One of the things I like most about the Purple Coneflower is that the individual blooms last a long time.  These are attractive garden plants for months and they complement other shrubs and perennials, in color and form. They also make great cut flowers for arrangements, if you’re so inclined.




I’ve noticed that there’s often a subtle color difference in each of the individual flowers, even when sharing the same rosette; some are lighter, some are darker.  Coneflowers morph into a paler color as they age.


As well, some are typical daisy-ray flowers,


…and some sport petals that droop down like a botanical hula-dancer.


As the summer months progress and Texas heat and dry weather pattern persists, Coneflowers’ color fades, the flowers coarsen, turn brown, and become “crispy”.





Crispy critters.

Truthfully, I rather like the “dried” form of the Coneflower–to a point.  By mid-to-late July, I begin pruning the flower stalks down to the rosette.  I usually take my pruning cue when a couple of events come into play:  bloom stalks have flopped to the ground; bloom stalks have developed a slight case of mildew and the foliage is wilting and unattractive;  resident and visiting finches have plenty of other seed sources from which to feed on.



Not only are Purple Coneflowers great for pollinators during bloom time, but the little seed eating birds find them yummy too.  I usually keep some of the “crispy” Cones around into autumn, just because I like the look of the dried flowers in the garden and to feed my feathered friends.  Originally, I kept the spent blooms so that seeds would develop and I’d have more Coneflowers for my gardens.  Trust me when I say, at this point in my life, I have plenty of Coneflowers!!

Once I trim off the spring growth and September rolls around with its shorter days, cooler nights and promises of more of the same, the Purple Coneflowers enjoy a second blooming cycle.  The flower stalks don’t grow as tall, nor do all of the individual rosettes bloom up, but enough of them do, providing for pollinators and birds, and thrilling this gardener again with their perkiness.  The second blooming period ends with the first hard freeze.


Purple Coneflower plants are tolerant of a wide variety of soil types, but  prefer good draining soil.  My urban garden has a clayey soil type and the Cones have always thrived.   Like most prairie plants, Coneflowers like full sun, but they will bloom in shade, too.  I’ve noticed that the shade Coneflowers sport a paler petal color than their more flamboyant, full sun purple/pink kin.  My gardens are part shade/part sun and I have Coneflowers in every garden bed–they all perform well, though the full sun exposed Cones bloom best, brightest, and longest.

My Purple Coneflowers hail from a $2 packet of seeds from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, purchased over twenty years ago.  These perennials grow well from seed, but four-inch or gallon containers are available, especially in spring, and at knowledgeable local nurseries. Unfortunately, Purple Coneflowers are not deer resistant, so pop them in where the deer can’t nibble them down.

In 2008, I removed the last grass area in my backyard and developed a large, perennial garden in its stead. I planted with seedlings of perennials, including Purple Coneflowers, that had germinated in other parts of my gardens.  In the new garden, I’d planted a few large, back border shrubs and small trees, but I wanted the bulk of the garden to consist of Purple Coneflowers, along with a few companion perennials.  Prior to planting, I wondered if it was possible to have too many Coneflowers. I discovered that it is indeed possible to have too much of a good thing.  While the new garden was stunning during its first Coneflower Palooza spring, once the summer Coneflower crisp set in and I pruned them to the ground, the garden was a bit boring.   I’ve since removed some of the Coneflowers and added other companion plants which bloom at different times of the year.  It was a good lesson:  the well-planned mixed perennial garden is just that–mixed.


Purple Coneflowers are magnificent in drifts during spring and summer, but they’re best planted for seasonal interest with compatible late summer and autumn flowering, and winter berrying, perennials and shrubs.

Because they’re an excellent wildlife perennial, a hardy Texas (and other places) native, and a pretty, pretty flower, you should plant Purple Coneflowers in your gardens.














Columbine (Aquilegia): A Seasonal Look

Dancing fairies?IMGP6524.new

Or shooting stars?


Neighbors have described the columbines in my gardens in both ways.  Me?  I think they’re simply beautiful and I anticipate and appreciate the showy and unusual blooms. Harbingers of spring, the Columbines I grow and which are commonly available in nurseries and which are native to Texas are the Golden or Yellow ColumbineAquilegia chrysantha, and Aquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana,IMGP6525.new

and the smaller, grayer-leafed, Wild Red Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis.


There are actually a number of Columbine species native to Texas and you can access that information by going to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s plant database on Aquilegiathe database also links to information on plants of the Aquilegia genus throughout North America.  This “A Seasonal Look” installment profiles my experiences with the yellow and the Wild Red columbines, both of which I purchased years ago. I actually don’t remember which of the yellow that I bought, but what grows now are likely descendants of Yellow/Golden or Hinckley’s columbine cultivars, which comprise the bulk of Columbines sold in Texas.  Like many wildflowers, Columbines readily hybridize and I imagine the nursery trade has tweaked Columbine production so that the more successful yellows are produced. Over the years, the two variants (yellow and red) in my gardens have hybridized to form new combinations of red/yellow that now happily inhabit my gardens.

IMGP6888.newFor clarity,  hybridize is cross breeding between two things, like plants, and cultivar is a hybrid created by selective breeding.  Hybridization occurs naturally and is common in wildflowers and the nursery trade routinely cultivates plants for sale.

Columbines, Aquilegia, are generally cool season plants.  There are many kinds of Columbines and even in Texas, nurseries will sell the exotic blue, purple, deep pink and red varieties, but those serve as annuals because of our blisteringly hot summers. What will survive are the natives and their hybrid/cultivars varieties–they are year-round perennials, though as a general rule, not long-lived perennials.


Here in Central Texas, the blooming begins in early March.



Columbines are not phased by late season freezes; I’ve witnessed ice on Columbines one day and open blooms a day or two later.   The prime blooming period is March through May, but can extend into June, depending on the onset of summer heat and the amount of rainfall.  In hot/dry years, Columbines peak in early April and are done by mid-May.  In more normal years, with rainfall and extended spring temperatures, they bloom and set seed into the summer months. In my gardens, Columbines usually live 5 years or less, though I have a couple that are older than that.

In spring, Columbines reach the pinnacle of their beauty.


P1030431.new IMGP6911.new

This one is a “Hinckley’s” Columbine,


..as are these beauties.P1030439.new

A few years back I wanted to add another yellow  and purchased it from a reliable local nursery, to ensure continuation of the pure yellow in my gardens.

This one is A. canadensis–Wild Red Columbine.


I adore the natural hybrids that have developed in my gardens which are produced from the co-mingling between A. chrysantha and the A. canadensis.  Thanks pollinators! The petals on these hybrids are usually yellow with blushes of red to pink on the sepals and the spurs.

IMGP6540_cropped_4479x3092..new IMGP6578.new


The flowers are pollinated by bees, butterflies, and moths and I’ve seen hummingbirds visit mine.The nectar spurs are a characteristic feature of all Columbine species.The long nectar spurs evolved to meet the needs of pollinators like hummingbirds and hawkmoths and probably little bees like this one, too.IMGP7143.new

Several Texas Columbine species are the host plant for the Columbine Duskywing, Erynnis lucilius.

During the blooming bonanza, I deadhead my Columbines to prolong their flowering.  I prune back the seedheads,

P1030492.new P1030494.new

…as they appear.


As the spring Columbine show progresses, I also let some seeds develop to ensure replacement plants. Columbine seeds are black and tiny.


I pick off the mature pods and sprinkle the seeds in the garden for future germination. I’m not at all scientific about my process–as I’ve stated, I love surprise combinations, and with soil contact, moisture, and future chilly winter conditions, the seeds will eventually create replacements for the mother plants.  I’m very happy to accept whatever nature provides: more of the pure yellow,



…or the smaller red/yellow,

IMGP6590_cropped_3830x3282..new  …or the blend of both.P1030100.new

Usually there are so many seedheads, that it’s quite a chore for me to keep up with deadheading and I have only so much patience and time for that. By early May, I’m ready to let them all seed out, at will.  The mother plants begin looking leggy,



…with blooms and seed pods atop the slender stalks, lush foliage anchoring below. Even with conscientious deadheading, Columbines will cease blooming with the onslaught of summer’s heat, usually sometime in June.  They begin looking a worn–and so would you, if you’d been non-stop, dead-drop gorgeous for months!


Summer is the time for Texas Columbines to rest.  Columbines are at their tallest and fullest during  spring–individual plants grow as much as 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide, including flower stalks. But as summer wears on and the bloom stalks dry and are pruned, the Columbines will shrink in size and more than likely, experience some foliage die-back.  During the summer months, wilted and discolored foliage is not unusual.P1050290_cropped_3283x2251..new


It’s no problem to prune the summer-damaged foliage at that point.  Older foliage is yellow-green and by September, brown, or with brown tips.The newer leaves are fresh and blue-green and emerge from the roots.  P1070276.new

Don’t overwater when you see the seemingly droopy Columbine–it is a waterwise plant and doesn’t need more than once per week irrigation–at most!  In fact, this is when many people kill their Columbines–by over watering during dormancy.  Continue reminding yourself  that Columbines are cool season plants:  they are dormant during summer and regain luster in cooler seasons.

As the heat of summer subsides and you’ve tidied your little Columbine shrubs,


…you can sit back during the fall and winter and watch them flush out again in preparation for their magnificent blooming bust.



It’s nice to interplant Columbine with cheery, heat-loving perennials to weather summer doldrums. Turk’s Cap Malvaviscus arboreus, Pigeonberry, Rivina humilis, Tropical Sage, Salvia coccinea, Lantana, or plants like the Plateau Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, beloware all good choices.  Many perennials bloom well in late summer and early fall when the Columbines are not looking their best.IMGP1440.new

When the Columbines look peeky, other things will beautify your gardens.

Sometimes, the entire plant will die back during summer. If the plant is young, it will pop back with the cooler, shorter days and autumn rains, but with older plants, return is tricky and not guaranteed. That’s one reason to keep a few Columbine seedlings around: you never quite know when you might want to replace a deceased plant, to share with a fellow gardener, or to transplant Columbines to new spots in your garden.

Columbines also prefer shade or part shade–the blazing Texas sun is a bit too much for this perennial, but it’s an excellent choice for enlivening  a dark part of the garden. Columbines survive hot Texas summers well, provided they’re planted in shade.


In general, Columbines aren’t too picky about soil type, though they do want good drainage.  My garden soil is heavy and clayey, yet they perform well.  If there is a period of heavy rain, especially in late summer/early fall when the Columbines are dormant, I pull mulch away from the base of the plants (assuming I remember to do so), otherwise they can get soggy and rot.  Some Columbines are considered moderately deer resistant, though typical with so many “deer-resistant” plants, munch ability depends on location and just how hungry the deer are.


Columbines are available by seed and in most Texas nurseries in varying sized containers.  They are a valuable shade-tolerant perennial in the Texas garden with stunning spring blooms and lovely evergreen fall and winter foliage.  The native Columbine bloom pretty yellow and yellow/red flowers and are not only attractive to gardeners and their neighbors, but are valuable wildlife plants.

Make a place in your garden for dancing fairies and carve out a viewing spot for shooting stars–you won’t regret it!


Possumhaw Addendum

In my Possumhaw Holly Seasonal Look post of Friday, February 13, I mentioned that if the berries aren’t gobbled up by birds during winter, the new spring leaves sprout in tandem with the ripe berries and sometimes, with last season’s “adult” leaves.  Well, spring sprung this past weekend for my Possumhaw and here’s a look at those new leaves and their berry companions–or maybe, it’s the other way ’round.IMGP5402.new



I’ve seen plenty of Cedar Waxwings flitting about, preening themselves in trees and there are always Blue Jays and Mockingbirds in my gardens, so I’m not quite sure why there hasn’t been more of a run, or swoop, on the berries.  I’m confident though, that the luscious fruits will be consumed in the next few weeks and the Possumhaw can begin its next year of life and production.