7 Reasons to Grow Echinacea

Choosing plants for your garden can be challenging. There are so many incredible flowers, herbs, and vegetables to choose from. While everyone should make a garden that is uniquely theirs, one plant that I think deserves a spot in every garden is echinacea.

Echinacea is beautiful.

This one is a bit of a no-brainer, but echinacea is a gorgeous addition to the garden! They look lovely, added to cottage or potager-style gardens.

We carry four varieties of echinacea:

  • Echinacea Pallida (Pale Purple Coneflower)
    Drooping flower petals are 1½-3½ in. long and may range in color from pink, purple, or white, but are typically rosy purple, with a purple-brown flower disc. Long, narrow leaves.
  • Echinacea Angustifolia (Narrow-Leaved Coneflower)
    The plants are the smallest of the echinaceas (8-18 in.) and the spreading pink ray petals are the shortest (¾-13⁄8 in. long). The leaves are long and narrow.
  • Echinacea Paradoxa (Yellow Coneflower)
    The most exceptional of the echinaceas because the petals are yellow rather than purple, hence the name E. paradoxa. Leaves are long and narrow.
  • Echinacea Purpurea (Purple Coneflower)
    The flowers are 3-4 in. across with pink-orange cone-shaped centers and purple-pink rays. 

Echinacea is a native plant.

Selecting native species for your garden, whenever possible, is an excellent idea. Native species like echinacea tend to be low-maintenance. They’ve evolved to handle the climate conditions and pest and disease pressure found here in the Eastern United States. They also help provide food and habitat for native species.

Echinacea attracts butterflies.

As a native flower, echinacea is an excellent food source for native insects. You’ll frequently see native butterflies like yellow swallowtails and great spangled fritillaries visiting echinacea blooms.

Beneficial insects like bees and predatory beetles may also overwinter in dead foliage and stems. It’s best to avoid trimming back dead material until the temperature is consistently over 50°F in the spring.

Echinacea attracts birds.

Along with helping native insects, echinacea also helps native birds. You may spot goldfinches and other seed-eating birds visiting the flower seed heads in late summer and early fall.

Echinacea is a hardy perennial.

It’s easy to fall in love with flowers that bloom year after year. Echinacea will bloom for about two months each summer with little care and maintenance. It’s a great plant for busy gardeners. Also, echinacea will self sow and spread on its own. It isn’t so vigorous that it will take over your garden, but once you have it growing, it’s easy to transplant to other sections of your garden or share with friends.

Echinacea is drought-tolerant.

Echinacea has extensive root systems, and most varieties have a long taproot. These roots make them incredibly drought tolerant. If you live in an area experiencing more droughts or don’t get around to watering as often as you should, echinacea is a great choice.

Be sure echinacea gets enough water while the seed is germinating and it’s first getting established.

Echinacea is a potent medicinal herb.

You may have noticed that echinacea is frequently listed as an ingredient in “cold and flu” tea blends from your local grocery store. This is because studies have indicated that echinacea has immunostimulant, bacteriostatic, and anti-viral activity. It’s believed that echinacea can help your immune system respond and shorten the length of your cold or flu.

It can be used in teas and tinctures or infused in salves. A great thing about echinacea is that the entire plant is medicinal, including the roots, leaves, and flowers.

Additional Herbalism & Garden Resources

Transplanting: 9 Tips for Success

This time of year is all about planting. We’re transplanting cabbages and broccoli this week in our zone, but soon it’ll be time to start setting out tomatoes, peppers, and other warm-weather crops. While transplanting is relatively straightforward, there are a few things you can do to ensure your seedlings grow successfully.

Hardening Off

The first thing you need to do is harden your seedlings off. Seedlings accustomed to the relatively stable conditions in your home just aren’t up to coping with the outdoors just yet. For best results, move your plants outside for a few hours each day, gradually increasing the time over a week or two. This process allows your seedlings to become accustomed to the sunlight, wind, outdoor air temperature.

Prepare Your Soil

Transplants do best when they have fertile, soft soil to grow in. You can prepare your bed by incorporating a couple of inches of finished compost and loosening the soil with a garden or broad fork. It’s also a good idea to dig a larger hole than your transplant needs and fill in around your plant with compost.

Choose an Overcast Day

Even though you’ve hardened off your seedlings, it’s best to plant them on an overcast day. Transplanting is a bit stressful for plants, and a lot of heat and sun can make it harder for them to recover quickly. If you have to transplant on a sunny day, you can use shade cloth or similar material to create a bit of temporary shade.

Water Before Planting

Ensure that your seedlings are watered well before planting, preferably paying extra close attention starting a day or two ahead of time. Dry seedlings will have a more difficult time recovering from transplant shock.

Newly transplanted leek.

Gently Break Up Roots

If you notice that your transplants are root bound, meaning the roots have formed around the container’s inside, it’s a good idea to break them up a bit gently. Gently pinch apart the bottom and sides of the roots in a few places. These breaks will encourage the roots to grow outward.

Proper Planting

For most crops, you should plant your seedlings so that the soil is at the same level as it was in the pot. However, tomatoes will grow roots from farther up their stem, so it’s helpful to buy them deeply. You can plant tomatoes so that their first set of leaves is just above the soil (if the first set is yellow or dying, remove it and plant up to the next set). Another exception is leeks which you should plant in a hole to create the nice white, blanched stems.

You can also give your plants a bit of extra help by creating a small basin around your transplant. The basin will help catch and hold water while the plant is young.

If you’re using peat pots or other pots that you plant into the ground, it’s essential to avoid leaving any sticking up. You may need to tear a bit of the top off the pot. Leaving any material such as peat pot or newspaper sticking out into the air can wick moisture away from the plant’s roots.

Press the Soil in Gently but Firmly

Once your plant is in the hole, you should gently but firmly press the soil around it. If you don’t press the soil in, you may leave air pockets around the plant, preventing root growth.

Give Your Plants a Boost

After you’ve got your transplants in, you’ll want to water them. If you can, it’s best to provide extra nutrients with the water. Liquid kelp or seaweed liquid fertilizer is excellent for this. You should follow package instructions, but you typically only add a tablespoon or two to every gallon of water. Alternatively, you can use mild compost tea. Water at the base of the plant and avoid pouring all over the leaves.

It Will Take Plants a Little While to Take Off

Don’t be worried if you don’t see a lot of new growth quickly. When you first plant your seedlings, they’ll be working hard to establish healthy root systems. This will happen before you get to see any foliar growth. However, once their roots are established, you should see good growth.

Spring planting is a fun time of year for many gardeners. It’s good to be out in the garden finally and starting to see plants on their way. Make sure that your seedlings transplant well this year by using these simple tips. Getting your plants off to a good start can help ensure a good harvest.

10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Soil

Want healthy plants? Start by building healthy soil. Your soil health can affect your plant’s productivity, disease and pest resistance, and more. Use these ten strategies to improve your soil and build a healthier, more productive garden.

1. Start composting.

Compost enriches the soil and adds structure and beneficial fungi and bacteria. It’s an excellent amendment for any garden and easy to make yourself. Check out our post, Black Gold: Making Compost, for easy directions to get started in your backyard.

Those without yards can consider vermicomposting or check with community gardens or city compost facilities to bring kitchen scraps to and access aged compost.

2. Grow cover crops.

Cover crops are not just for big farms! Cover crops help improve the soil in many ways. Some are “nitrogen fixers” like clover and vetch and add nitrogen to the soil as they grow; other crops like buckwheat help quickly build up organic matter and make excellent mulch.

All cover crops are a good way to cover the soil. They shade it holding in moisture, provide habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators, and their roots hold the soil preventing erosion.

You can read more about using cover crops in your garden here.

3. Get a soil test.

Testing your soil can help you make the best choices for your garden, saving you time and money. You’ll learn what nutrients may be missing and whether you should amend your soil’s pH. Check out Understanding Soil Tests for a more in-depth explanation.

You can purchase at-home soil tests at most garden centers or send your soil to be tested. Many universities and state and county extension services offer very affordable soil testing.

4. Understand the soil food web.

The soil food web is similar to a “food chain” but is non-linear. It’s made up of plants, animals, and all the organisms in the soil from visible insects and fungus to microscopic bacteria. A healthy soil food web is key to a healthy garden and ecosystem. Learn more by reading our post, The Soil Food Web.

5. Reduce erosion.

Not everyone is blessed with a large, perfectly flat garden site. Even if you are, wind can still wreak havoc on exposed soil. Don’t lose soil to the effects of wind and water.

If you live in a windy area, utilize windbreaks. These can be fencing, shrubs, or trees. Even young shrubs and trees can make a surprising difference.

To prevent water erosion, you should try to keep your soil covered. Use cover crops whenever possible and keep the soil around plants mulched. Permanent pathways with a cover crop like clover are ideal.

If your property is sloped, look into permaculture methods like planting on contour and building swales. These can help you stop erosion and collect water for your plants!

6. Provide habitat for beneficial insects.

When people hear beneficial insects, they often think of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. While you should strive to help these species, there are many more that also play key roles in keeping your garden healthy. These include many predatory species such as wasps, beetles, and mantises.

You can support beneficial insects in many ways. Using cover crops and mulch, as I mentioned above, helps provide habitat as does planting native species and leaving dead material in your garden (unless it has a pest or disease issue). You can also create your own habitat by building an insect hotel.  Of course, it’s also important to avoid using pesticides. Even organic pesticides can spell doom for beneficial insects as they usually affect more than one species. 

7. Use mulch.

I’ve mentioned mulch a couple of times now, but it’s incredibly helpful in the garden. It helps to block weeds, keep the soil cool and moist (or warm in the winter), and provides structure and organic matter as it breaks down.

Check our post, Mulch Ado…, to learn more about why mulch is important and how we use it at SESE.

8. Rotate your crops.

Whether you have an acre in garden or just a tiny little plot, you should rotate your crops. Rotating crops prevents pests and diseases from building up the soil where you grow a particular plant. It also helps to reduce nutrient depletion. One year you grow heavy feeders like tomatoes or corn, and the next, you grow nitrogen fixers like beans and peas or a cover crop.

Need advice? See Planning Crop Rotation by Plant Family.

9. Amend your soil.

As you’ll learn from your soil test, it is sometimes necessary to add amendments to your soil. These amendments can be used to change the soil’s pH like lime, wood ash, or peat moss. Other amendments allow you to add the macro and micronutrients that are necessary for plant growth. These include manure, compost, eggshells, greensand, and fertilizer.

Learn more about amendments and common nutrient deficiencies in plants here.

10. Reduce or eliminate tilling.

Rototilling may seem like a crucial part of gardening, but many farmers, gardeners, and scientists have discovered that it’s possible to grow a more productive and more environmentally friendly garden by ditching the tiller.

Going no-till reduces compaction and keeps the soil structure intact. It allows you to use plant and cover crop residue as mulch that will decompose as it would in a natural ecosystem. It also allows beneficial bacteria, insects, and fungi to thrive in the soil. 

Follow these tips to build healthy soil in your garden.

Saving the Past for the Future