Growing Coneflowers in Iowa

Coneflower is the common name of several genera of plants in the daisy family (Asteraceae), most notably Echinacea.  Two other species are also frequently referred to as coneflower, including Ratibida and Rudbeckia.

Coneflowers get their common name from the central portion of the flower known as the disk. The brown-to-black disk area is made up of many small individual flowers. This grouping of disk flowers in the center is cone-shaped, appears spiney, and can be raised or columnar in shape. The outer portion of the flowerhead is often referred to as the "petals" and is actually also made up of numerous small flowers called ray flowers, with each containing a long strap-like petal.

Coneflowers are native to North America, including several species in Iowa, and make excellent garden plants.  Generally, they grow in full sun, prefer dry to medium soils, and tolerate drought conditions well.  Coneflowers often freely reseed in the garden.  They are wonderful additions to pollinator gardens and are highly attractive to butterflies.  Learn more about some of the coneflowers you can grow in your garden.

Purple Coneflower  |  Pale Purple Coneflower  |  Yellow Coneflower  |  Tennessee Purple Coneflower  |  Hybrid Coneflowers  |  Orange Coneflower  |  Black-eyed Susan  |  Sweet Coneflower  |  Brown-eyed Susan  |  Cut-leaf Coneflower  |  Grey-headed Coneflower  |  Prairie Coneflower More Information

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Purple coneflower grows best in full sun and well-drained soils and tolerates hot and dry conditions well. Purple coneflower grows 1.5 to 3 feet tall and 1.5 to 2 feet wide and is winter hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 8.  Plants have a big flush of bloom in the first part of summer (June), with consistent bloom (but fewer) until the first frost.  Deadheading will promote more repeat blooms.  Goldfinches and other birds like the seed found in the dried black center part of the flower and spent flowers will stand through winter.  Plants freely and easily re-seed throughout the garden and this can be reduced if you remove flowers after they fade and before they set seed.  Plants can get overcrowded and benefit from division every 4 to 6 years. Native to eastern and central North America. 

Notable cultivars include 'White Swan' (white flowers), 'Ruby Giant' (large flowers), 'Razzmatazz' (double purple flowers), and 'Kim's Knee Hight' (short-statured plants), among many others.

Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida)

Pale Purple Coneflower is 2 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 1.5 wide.  It grows well in average dry to medium dry soils in full sun.  Plants tolerate poor soils and part-shade.  Hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 10. The narrow leaves give rise to flowers in June and July with pale purple petals that droop downward from a large coppery-orange cone-shaped center.  Plants freely bloom even when not deadheaded and can easily spread by seed in the garden. Divide clumps when they get crowded.  Native to eastern and central North America.

Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida)
Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida)

Yellow Coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa)

Yellow coneflower is the only Echinacea species that blooms with yellow flowers instead of the classic purple or purplish-pink color. Plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 1.5 wide. Hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 8, plants perform best in full sun and average to dry well-drained soils.  The peak bloom occurs in Mid-June to Mid to late July.  Native to southern central United States.

Tennessee Purple Coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis)

Native to a small range in Tennessee, this species is not as vigorous as other Echinacea. Flowers appear in Summer (June to August) with rosy purple slightly up-turned petals.  Plants grow 1.5 to 2 feet tall and 1 to 1.5 feet wide and are hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 and 6.  Like all Echinacea, it is attractive to butterflies and grows best in full sun with average medium-dry soils.  This species is on the Federal Endangered Species List.  It freely hybridizes with other Echinacea species, so only seed from plants grown in isolation will produce plants that are true-to-type. 'Rocky Top' is a compact cultivar available in some garden centers.

Hybrid Coneflowers 

There have been multiple new introductions of coneflower in many different colors.  Most of these new cultivars result from seedling selection of coneflower or crossing between E. purpurea and E. paradoxa (occasionally E. pallida, E. tennesseensis, and others).  Often these plants are denoted simply by the genus name (Echinacea) or  Echinacea hybrida

One of the most popular hybrid coneflowers is 'Cheyenne Spirit' a cultivar that blooms in various colors including purple, pink, red, orange, yellow, cream, or white. Other cultivars include 'All That Jazz' (quilled purple petals), the Sombrero series (several varieties that are compact, freely branched, and early blooming in colors such as red, coral, pink, orange, yellow, and white), 'Hot Papaya' (orange-red double flowers), 'Mac 'n' Cheese' (yellow flowers), and 'Milk Shake' (double white flowers). 

There are also a few intergeneric hybrids, including ×Rudbeckia, a cross between Rudbeckia hirta and Echinacea purpurea , sometimes referred to as Echibeckia.

Orange Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida)
Orange Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida)

Orange Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida)

Orange coneflower produces yellow to orangish-yellow flowers from July to frost.  Plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall and slowly colonize an area, often forming large clumps in the garden.  Plants grow best in full sun and medium to dry soils. Remove spent blooms to encourage more rebloom throughout the season. Plants make excellent cut flowers and are good additions to butterfly gardens. This species is hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 9.  Native to the Southeastern United States.  

Several notable cultivars are readily available, including 'Goldstrum' and Viette's Little Suzy.  

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Black-eyed Susan blooms from June to frost with flowers consisting of a black center with yellow petals.  Plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide in full sun and moist, well-drained soils.  Plants are short-lived in the garden and are sometimes treated as annuals.  When allowed to set seed, plants behave as perennials, with new plants growing from seed each year.  Hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 7 and native to the central United States.  

Notable cultivars include 'Indian Summer,' 'Irish Spring,' and 'Praire Sun.'

Sweet Coneflower (Rudbeckia subtomentosa)

Unlike many other coneflowers, this species does well in wetter soil conditions growing best in moist, well-drained soils and serving as a good candidate for rain gardens.  Grow in full sun and organic soils.  Plants are taller than other coneflowers, often reaching 3 to 5 feet tall and sometimes needing some support as plants can flop, especially if grown in part sun.  Yellow flowers have brownish-purple centers and bloom from July to frost.  Native to the central United States.

'Henry Eilers' is one notable cultivar that is often easier to find in the garden center than the straight species. It features yellow blooms with quilled (or rolled) petals.

Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba)

Brown-eyed Susan grows best in full sun and moist, organic soils. Growing 2 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 1.5 feet wide yellow flowers with a brownish purple center bloom in mid-summer through frost.  Plants are short-lived perennials but freely reseed (sometimes to the point of being weedy), so they can behave as perennials in the garden.  Deadheading can reduce seed production and encourage new blooms.  Hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8 and native to central and eastern United States.  

Cut-leaf Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)

This species is also called tall coneflower as plants grow from 3 to 9 feet tall in their native habitats at woodland edges or along streams or ponds.  Plants usually grow 3 to 4 feet tall in the garden and spread readily by underground stems, making them potentially difficult to contain in traditional perennial borders.  Grow in full to part sun in moist, well-drained soils.  Hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 9, this species can be found growing throughout much of North America.  Yellow flowers with green centers open in July and have sporadic bloom the rest of the season.  Deadheading can promote another flush of flowers in fall. 

'Hortensia' is a notable cultivar with fully double yellow flowers.  

Grey-headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)

Native to central North America, this species grows 3 to 5 feet tall in full sun and moist, well-drained soils.  Plants tolerate drought and poor soils well and are common roadside flowers.  Flowers have a raised cylindrical grey central cone surrounded by bright yellow petals that hang downward.  Plants bloom in summer (June to August).  Hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 8.

Rudbeckia in garden
Coneflowers, like this orange coneflower, are great additions to the perennial garden.

Prairie Coneflower (Ratibia columnifera)

Also referred to as long-headed coneflower and Mexican hat, the flowers have long center cones up to 2 inches long, surrounded by several drooping yellow petals.  Plants grow up to 3 feet tall and form a clump 1 to 1.5 feet across.  Grow in full sun and well-drained soils.  Plants are tolerant of dry conditions and poor soils but will not tolerate heavy, wet soils.  Flowers appear from June to frost.  Plants are hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 9 and are native to much of the North American great plains.

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Last reviewed:
June 2023