Native plants are those that developed in your local region. Because they're native to your part of the world, they're well adapted to the climate, soil and weather conditions in your yard, and thus need less coddling than plants introduced from other regions. Best of all, native plants support local wildlife. They nurture insects, birds and mammals in the region, all great reasons to plant more native perennials.
Among the American native perennials, perhaps the best known is Echinacea, or coneflower, so named because of the conical shape of the central disk. Purple coneflower or Echinacea purpurea is native to the eastern and central plains regions of the United States. There are nine species of Echinacea, with E. purpurea, or purple coneflower, the best known and the most prevalent.
Echinacea needs a sunny area with moderately fertile, well-drained soil. They tolerate heat well, and can be planted anywhere from central plains throughout the east coast.
Echinacea transplants well, and can be propagated from either seed or division.

Propagation by Seed

Growing Echinacea from seeds isnít difficult. It's best to start your seeds during the spring or summer months indoors, and transplant Echinacea into the garden in the early fall. Keep it well watered until the first frost; that will give the plants plenty of time to establish healthy roots in the garden.

How to Start Echinacea Seeds

Fill a seed starting tray or container with sterile potting soil or seed starting mix. Sprinkle seeds onto the cells, and cover seeds lightly with potting soil. Mist or gently water the seeds from the top until germination. Make sure that the temperatures are between 65 and 70 degrees F, the ideal temperatures under which Echinacea germinates.
Germination takes a while, so be patient. Under ideal circumstances, Echinacea seeds begin germinating around 10 days after planting, but it can take up to 20 days if the area where you keep your seed starting trays is on the cool side. You may even need to wait another few days beyond that if you are cultivating some of the yellow or white Echinacea species; these can take a little longer.
Once the plants germinate, keep a watchful eye on them. Provide them with plenty of light from a fluorescent light fixture with at least 12 hours of light a day. Using a timer on your light stand makes the task easier.
Echinacea seedlings are ready to transplant into the garden after approximately 28 days or when theyíve obtained their second or third set of leaves. When transplanting them, be very gentle and do not tug on the stem. If the stem breaks, the plant has a low chance of success in the garden. Keep transplants well-watered. Mulch can help reduce transplanting stress and retain water in the soil near the young plants.
It can take up to two years for Echinacea grown from seeds to bloom, but it's worth the wait. Once Echinacea is established in your garden, it may even self-sow. The young seedlings can be transplanted into other areas to increase your Echinacea collection.

Dividing Echinacea

Like many perennials, Echinacea benefit from division when the central plant becomes overgrown. Echinacea are typically divided every three or four years, but the actual time varies according to the growth rate of the plants. Monitor your plants and note when they begin to look crowded or bloom less often, both signs that they may benefit from division.
Divide Echinacea in the spring or fall on a cool, cloudy day to avoid stressing the plant too much. Echinacea have what's called a spreading root system, or a root system made up of a mat of small, thin, fragile roots. Dig the plant out of the ground carefully and use your hands or a sharp knife to divide it into two or more plants. Make sure that each plant has substantial roots and at least one or more growing stems. Dig a new planting hole in the location where you want to add Echinacea. Spread the roots out with your hands, planting it at the same depth as it was when you dug it up. Mulch, water and monitor for potential problems.

Problems with Echinacea

Echinacea are usually carefree growers, but they can suffer from some problems. Powdery mildew is the most prevalent disease, typically caused by plants growing too closely together in moist conditions that spread the mildew spores easily. Check with your local garden center for fungicide recommendations to tread powdery mildew.
Insects that affect Echinacea and Echinacea seedlings include Japanese beetles and aphids. Generally speaking, neither insect inflicts extensive damage on Echinacea; plants generally shrug off such damage, unless it is severe. If your plants are heavily infested, improve your Japanese beetle control practices including grub prevention in lawns, which disrupts their life cycle.
Echinacea attract butterflies when they bloom, and the seeds feed goldfinches, sparrows and other birds during the harsh winter months. Their attractive flowers can be accents or focal points in the garden. Growing Echinacea from seed or from a division is relatively easy, and seeds are so inexpensive and plentiful that you can add dozens of new plants to your garden this year. With a little planning and forethought, you too can add these beautiful native perennials to your landscape.
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