Coneflowers are flowering plants in the Ratibida, Echinacea, or Rudbeckia genus. They are named for the distinctive spiky cones in the middle of each blossom. These plants are native to North America, where they have been used in traditional medicine for centuries, and they are also lovely ornamentals for the garden. Some good companion plants for coneflowers include blue flax, yarrow, Russian sage, verbena, lavender, and black-eyed Susans.
In nature, these hardy perennials have purple, yellow, brown, or sometimes black blossoms on long stems, and they superficially resemble daisies, although the petals will start to curl back from the middle of the flower as the flower ages, rather than remaining arrayed around the center as with daisies. Gardeners have produced white, pink, orange, and a variety of other colors, and they have selectively bred more bushy plants, making coneflowers less leggy and more compact. Garden stores which stock coneflowers usually offer a range of colors to choose from, with purple coneflowers in particular being very popular.
Coneflowers can cope with limited water and poor soil conditions, although they prefer fertile soil. Their tolerance and hardiness makes them great choices for a low-water garden. These flowers grow in full sun to partial shade, preferring well-drained soil with lots of air circulation around their stems to prevent rot. Mulching coneflowers is not advised, as it can cause the roots to rot. In the right conditions, coneflowers will bloom all the way through the summer, especially if they are regularly deadheaded and trimmed.
USDA zones three through nine are usually suitable for growing coneflowers, although specific cultivars may have slightly different ranges. Every four years or so, coneflowers usually need to be divided. Dividing gives the plants more room to grow, and allows gardeners to expand their coneflower plots, if desired. Dividing should be done in the fall, when the plants have gone dormant. These plants tend to look best in clusters, providing a bright patch of color in the summer and lush green foliage for much of the rest of the year, although coneflowers can also be used as border plantings.
A patch of coneflowers in the garden doesn't just appeal to humans. Birds and butterflies are also drawn to the colorful blooms, and the seeds are a useful source of nutrition to many wild birds. Gardeners who want to encourage bird and butterfly visitors would be well-advised to plant coneflowers. A bird bath or pool near a patch of coneflowers can also attract birds.