Garden Adventurer: Color Shift: The New Echinaceas

Purple coneflowers are making way for a new, brighter wave of colorful echinacea introductions.

I used to grow purple coneflowers, but don’t anymore. It isn’t that they have fallen out of favor with me — what’s not to like about such a dependable, showy native ornamental? Rather, it is the name that just seems out of sync with many new introductions.

I now grow echinaceas instead of purple coneflowers. Yep, they are the same plant, with “echinacea” (come on, say it: eh-kih-NAY-shuh) simply being the genus name Echinacea that represents this pretty perennial’s many forms. However, it is a better fit because, these days, purple is just one of the many dazzling hues the plant’s updated selections bring to the flower garden.

Besides purple, the new echinaceas now flaunt oranges, salmons, yellows, whites, reds, pinks and even greens. I’ve seen this color shift at local nurseries with offerings like the popular “Sombrero” series that sports such sassies as ‘Sangrita,’ ‘Salsa Red,’ ‘Hot Coral,’ ‘Adobe Orange,’ ‘Blanco’ and ‘Baja Burgundy.’

And I have to give a special shoutout to the All-America Selections winner (and widely available) ‘Cheyenne Spirit,’ which, unable to decide what color it wants to be, simply cycles through a range of warm tints as it matures.

Echinaceas have even gone to the fluffy side with double flowers that look more like pompoms. This effect is achieved by inner rings of bloom petals rising and overwhelming the typically spiky centers. Many of these fancy plants also skip purple to flaunt other snappy hues. Some of the easier to find doubles — probably locally, but certainly online — come from the “Double Scoop” series, with aptly descriptive offerings such as ‘Bubble Gum,’ ‘Lemon Cream,’ ‘Raspberry,’ ‘Cranberry’ and ‘Mandarin.’

No matter how much glamour the new cultivars show off, true to their tough native roots, they are easy to grow and require minimal attention. Being lovers of natural light, these pretties should be placed in a sunny location. Average garden soil will do for the planting site, but just make sure it is well draining.

If you plant this spring, prevent echinaceas from drying out while they are becoming established during their first summer by watering when the rains don’t come. To help retain ground moisture, add a 3-inch layer of mulch, being careful not to push this organic ground covering up against the crowns.

Once established, these new echinaceas perform like the “old” purple coneflowers and provide reliable, jazzy colors — with an s — to the summer garden for years to come.

Timely Tip

Summertime gladiolus flower shows begin with May plantings.

With soil temperatures warming up nicely now, grab some gladiolus corms and start digging them into conspicuous corners of the garden where their cheerful blooms can readily be seen this summer. And don’t be so eager to tuck them away all at once. Staggered planting in the late spring every week to 10 days will result in an extended flower show.

Glads do best in well-draining sites with full sun. To help keep these pretties from pooping out in the summer heat, add mulch and water weekly. Finally, for more flower power, apply a time-release bulb fertilizer at planting time.

To Do in the Garden


  • Mulching annual ornamental and vegetable beds by the end of this month is a good idea, but before laying down this beneficial organic ground cover, spread newspaper two to three sheets thick over the area as an extra, effective barrier against pesky weeds.
  • If you haven’t started any okra yet, you’re a smart gardener because transplants of this heat-seeker will just sit and sulk if planted too early in the spring. Also, keep in mind okra is a rather handsome, exotic-looking plant, meaning this veggie patch regular can also be creatively used in ornamental beds.
  • Strong spring rains can turn bird seed and treats to mush, so clean out and dry the feeder after particularly heavy downpours.

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