While it's snowy outside, I imagine the summer garden. And what would a summer garden be without coneflowers?
As charming as they are tough, these North American natives provide nectar and pollen to bees, butterflies and other pollinators. In fall, their raised cones offer seeds to birds. Their sturdy stems hold daisylike flowers in a wide range of colors that bloom beginning in midsummer and continue into fall.
Coneflowers are easy to grow in a wide range of soils if they are well-drained. They prefer full sun but tolerate part shade and are drought tolerant once established. Deadheading will encourage additional repeat blooms, but coneflowers will continue to bloom regardless. It's no wonder gardeners love coneflowers!
Native coneflowers were growing in moist prairies, meadows and open woodlands in the Midwest and eastern United States long before they became mainstays in perennial borders.
Echinacea purpurea, commonly called purple coneflower, grows from 2 to 4 feet tall, depending on their growing conditions. Large, rosy-pink flowers, up to 5 inches in diameter, bloom over dark green foliage.
Echinacea pallida, or pale purple coneflower, grows 2 to 3 feet tall. The narrow petals of its pale pink, daisylike flowers droop nearly straight down and its bulging, copper-colored cones flaunt orange tones.
Echinacea paradoxa, commonly called yellow coneflower, grows 3 feet tall. As its common name implies, its flowers feature thin, drooping, yellow petals and very large brown cones from late June through July.
A favorite of plant breeders, there are so many cultivars of coneflowers available on the benches of local garden centers it may be overwhelming to choose. Here is a sampling based on flower color and form.
New for 2018, Echinacea Kismet Red shows off large, intense red, slightly recurved petals surrounding orange cones on compact plants growing up to 18 inches tall and 24 inches wide. Flowers begin blooming as early as June and continue until frost.
If red does not fit in your landscape's color scheme, Echinacea purpurea Green Jewel features soft green petals around dark green cones on plants that grow up to 24 inches tall and 18 inches wide. Flowers bloom from June through August.
Gardeners who view their gardens mainly in the evening should consider Echinacea purpurea Purity. Pure white flowers with orange cones top sturdy 24-inch stems. Large flowers begin blooming in June and continue to August.
The Sombrero series of coneflowers was developed at Ball Horticultural Co. in West Chicago. This family of compact coneflowers with abundant flowers available in a rainbow of colors from white, yellow and orange to pink, purple and red begin blooming earlier in summer. The newest family member is Granada Gold -- a rich, golden-yellow coneflower that grows 18 inches tall.
Echinacea Cheyenne Spirit is a mix of coneflowers that grows from 18 inches to 30 inches tall and blooms in rich shades of cream, yellow, orange, red, rose pink and purple. Gardeners who like to grow plants from seed will appreciate that Cheyenne Spirit blooms in its first year from seed.
Echinacea Ferris Wheel boasts ruffled petals surrounding cones like spokes on a wheel. Petals emerge lemon yellow, unfurl cream-colored, and then develop bright lemon yellow tips. Plants grow 3 feet tall.
Echinacea Quills & Thrills is another ruffled-petaled coneflower that grows 3 feet tall. Its petals are deep rosy-pink lightening to light pink at the tips. Its large, orange center cones are appealing.
There are also coneflowers with double flowers. Echinacea purpurea Milkshake presents vanilla-colored, drooping petals encircling cones covered with more creamy-white flowers. Plants grow 3 feet tall.
The flowers of Echinacea purpurea Pink Double Delight look like pink pompons. Plants grow 18 to 24 inches tall and 12 to 18 inches wide.
And for the gardeners enraptured by red flowers, Echinacea Secret Love struts bright red, fully double blooms on plants growing up to 28 inches tall and 20 inches wide.
• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist, garden writer and the garden center manager at The Planter's Palette in Winfield. She blogs at gardenwithdiana.com.