Bureau names Echinacea for 2014

The National Garden Bureau has named Echinacea as its favorite plant for 2014. Start planning your gardens accordingly.

I love Echinacea, commonly known as coneflower. I love the way this flower pulls back its petals to reveal the large flower head known botanically as a capitula. The blooms are actually the oversized center disks that appear prickly and what we think of as the petals are really colored bracts.

Echinacea is a member of the daisy family of plants, Asteracea, which is Greek for the word “star.” The plant’s botanic name, Echinacea, is derived from the Greek word, echino, meaning spiky or prickly.

According to the National Garden Bureau, the coneflower is native to central and eastern North America. You can put this flower in your garden with the knowledge that you are bringing a native plant back to its original habitat.

I’ve had several coneflower varieties in my gardens over the years. The most common is the purple coneflower, which also is listed as an herb due to its medicinal use by herbalists and Native Americans. It was used to soothe sore throats and headaches. It was also used as a pain reliever and some believe it has antidepressant properties.

What is so fun about these plants is that you don’t have to plant just purple. Since their popularity has grown over the years, many varieties of many colors have been cultivated. One of my favorites is called Green Envy, a pale green flower, but they also can be found in shades of pink, red, yellow, white and even orange. There are even double varieties with layers of petals. Some garden centers sell mixed color combinations.

In the wild, Echinacea likes to grow in sunny fields and prairies. Both bees and butterflies are attracted to this plant, which blooms from June through August. When other perennial flowers have faded, Echinacea will continue to bloom, making it a good plant for those in-between flowering stages in the garden.

If starting this plant from seed, you will need to start it indoors about eight to 10 weeks before moving it outside for the summer. This means seeds should be started no later than mid-March for early summer blooms.

It takes about two weeks for the seeds to germinate. Keep them moist and give them adequate light. I like to start my seeds under a fluorescent light fixture with one cool white and one regular bulb, making sure the lights aren’t more than two inches higher than the soil. As the plants grow, raise the light, keeping it within that two-inches. When the seedlings get their first set of true leaves, you can tranplant them to larger containers. The first leaves to emerge from the seeds are not the true leaves. These are called cotyledons or “seed leaves.” The next set of leaves after the seed leaves are the true leaves.

When they are moved outside, put them first in a partially shaded area to get them accustomed to the brighter light of the outdoors. After a while, you can gradually move them to full sun.

If you purchase plants from your local garden center, also take some time to acclimate them to your yard before planting.

Because these are native plants and are used to our climate, they don’t require a lot of maintenance. No fertilization is needed and no extra watering once they become established. As prairie plants, Echinacea are used to periods of drought.

The best way to plant Echinacea is in masses for the full effect of their beauty. I like to plant in, what is called drifts, which means to plant masses of the same plants in various places throughout the landscape.