new cultivars

Proven Winners Shrubs to keep an eye out for

I saw a couple of these varieties this season, and hope to see more and try some of them next season.   (Note that pictures appear beneath each plant description)

Weigela 'Spilled Wine' - I'm not a big fan of weigela because I think it gets to look ratty later in the season and the older varieties needed to be pruned constantly in order to look like anything in the landscape.  But this variety was named 2018 Landscape Plant of the Year "selected by landscapers and growers who understand the needs of the market and the range of challenging climatic conditions acrosss North America".  Is it the Big Mac of weigelas?  Available anywhere and always tastes the same?  Well, here's the description in the Spring Valley Nursery catalog:

"Weigela florida 'Bokraspiwi' Spilled Wine  has dark red, waxy leaves and a spreadinbg habit.  Its hot-pink-magenta flowers are similer to Wine & Roses  weigela, but this is a smaller plant that is wider than it is tall,  Perfect for edging or filling in spaces in a sunny border"

Zone 4, 2-3' tall and 3' wide, spring bloom, deer resistant - could it be a sub for 'Concorde' barberry?

Buddleia 'Miss Molly' - The reddest buddleia - a really beautiful jewel-tone color for when you get sick and tired of purple - stands out in the garden.  It's a "compact form" (4-5 ft) and is an interspecific hybrid that is non-invasive.  Now that buddleias are better-behaved (not so gigantic and weedy-looking) and non-invasive, I'm using them a lot again.

Buddleia  X 'Miss Molly'

Buddleia X 'Miss Molly'

Callicarpa 'Purple Pearls': saw it, loved it, instantly bought it, installed it.  Deer walked by and didn't eat it.  That's the first good sign.  Its another inter-specific hybrid, with the nice dark eggplant-ish foliage of one parent and the pink flowers of the other.  Lots of big berries in fall.  Also and upright habit.  For my money, you can't go wrong!

Callicarpa  'Purple Pearls'

Callicarpa 'Purple Pearls'

Chaenomeles 'Double Take Orange' - same thing - saw it just at the end of its flowering, instantly bought it, installed it, deer walk right on by.  Flowers are quite a bit more noticeable than the non-double-flowered forms, but the shrub still has a quirky yet interesting habit.  Plant along the top of a wall where the flowers can be at or above eye level.  You will eventually have to prune it  (grows 4-5 ft tall)- try to wait until late winter so that you can bring the trimmings inside and force them.  No thorns; no fruit.  Don't move away from the non-double chaenomeles completely, though, because the fruit is unexpected, pretty, and you can bring them inside to act as natural air fresheners instead of buying expensive quince candles!

Chaenomeles  'Double Take Orange'

Chaenomeles 'Double Take Orange'

Clematis - PLANT MORE of them!  What can I say, but that they give you bang for buck.  They're really not hard to grow after all, at least not some of the newer varieties (as well as some of the good old tried-and-true ones).  These Proven Winner ones have been selected for vigor, disease-resistance and flower power.  Try 'Sweet Summer Love' and 'Brother Stefan'.  'Brother Stefan' is one of the of the ones developed in Poland - it is a late spring bloomer (old wood) with sporadic rebloom later on new wood.  The flowers are "true blue" - unusual, as we know, in the plant kingdom and therefore eye-catching.  'Sweet Summer Love' is another cultivar from Poland that flowers late in the season on new wood - meaning that it can be cut back hard evey spring.  The small but prolific flowers are cranberry-violet colored and fragrant.  Plant and go.  Not particularly deer-resistant but not one of their favorite foods either.

Cornus obliqua 'Powell Gardens'  Red Rover   (Silky dogwood) - I haven't seen this one around anywhere yet, but if I do I will definitely try it.  Its native, and is proported to have a compact habit, purple-to-red fall foliage color and showy blue fruit. Also red stems in winter.  What's not to look - it's a great selection for moist sites and a pollinator resource and sounds far less blah than "regular" silky dogwood.


Heptacodium miconoides 'Temple of Bloom'.  I am a HUGE fan of Heptacodium and would like to plant one at each job just like Lagerstromia.  Unfortunately, they're not so easy to find as young trees, also because they are very gangly and some would say almost ugly as young trees.  I think they have personality and don't mind some asymmetry.  But they do have to be pruned as they grow to have a nice shae (or you can buy them bigger of course, so that they've already been trained).  This new variety from Proven Winners is described as being a compact cultivar with extra-large flowers and extra-red bracts - an improvement over the species that begins to flower earlier as well, for a longer blooming season.  If nothing else, it will be containerized and have some sort of decent-looking habit if its going to be sold in that coveted white pot.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Bobo' - buy it immediately if you see it!  Its a dwarf PG hydrangea with white flowers that are more round than conical and held upright, giving the overall visual of the shrub being totally engulfed in flowers.  No flopping, starts blooming earlier than some PGs and is "plain" - i.e. no half-pink-half-white, just a calm fade to pink, surprisingly quite a different "look" than 'Limelight' or 'Little Lime'.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Little Quick Fire' - same bloom time as 'Quick Fire' but only about a third the size.  The flowers transition from white to burgundy-red fairly quickly, which I like, and the plant has a beautiful and somewhat unusual orange fall foliage color.  Several of my clients have thought that 'Quick Fire' is the "best" PG hydrangea, so though I haven't seen 'Little Quick Fire' in bloom yet, I'm looking forward to installing it.

Itea virginica 'Scentlandia' - I haven't seen this one yet either.  But its billed as a "game changer" because it is the most fragrant Itea ever, has superior bud hardiness, still has great fall color and has a compact habit like 'Little Henry'.  Definitely one of my favorite natives.  Itea is described as being deer-resistant, but I think sometimes they munch it a little bit.  In my experience with 'Little Henry' I've noticed that the flowering has been a little uneven - maybe this new cultivar will help solve that problem which I had previously thought was due to deer browse not lack of bud hardiness.  The fall color, though, is definitely worth the price of admission!

Parthenocissus quinquefolia 'Red Wall'.  I've seen the nightmare of having an ivy-covered stucco façade, where the only solution is to rip off the ivy and re-stucco the house.  But some houses just look so nice with vines growing on them!  Enter, Virginia creeper.  It is much less damaging to the house, and of course turns a beautiful fall color.  Its native, has berries and I think could be beautiful even on a chain-link fence if not a house.  But, beware, it is a strong grower and will jump over onto trees in a heartbeat!

Parthenocissus quinquefolia  'Red Wall'

Parthenocissus quinquefolia 'Red Wall'

Viburnum nudum 'Bulk' Brandywine  - has the most beautiful berry display in the world of viburnums - green to ivory to pink and blue.  'Brandywine' sets fruit without a pollinator, so in that sense a wiser choice then 'Winterthur' (which has been one of my all-time favorites).  It has the same symmetrical habit, those same glossy leaves and maroon-red fall color as 'Winterthur', though.  If you add 'Brandywine' to an existing planting with 'Winterthur' in it, you'll find them both setting lots of berries.  But V. nudum has "stinky flowers" - so put it in the second layer or in the hedgerow.

American Gardener Magazine New Plants 2016

Excerpted from "The American Gardener" magazine - Jan/Feb 2016

New Plants for 2016

For Dendranthema fans (otherwise known as Korean mums or Hardy mums – these are the ones that come back every year but can be quite floppy and really should be pinched at least once) there’s a new, lower-maintenance cultivar.  Dendranthema ‘Pumpkin Igloo’ has a “non-fading vibrant orange flower color on a compact branching plant that doesn’t need to be pinched”.  Does well down to Zone 5.  If you’ve not used these, they bring amazing flower power to the late summer/early fall perennial border - plants are covered in orange daisy flowers for over a month.  They attract masses of late-season pollinators and are deer-resistant.

Dendranthemum 'Pumpkin Igloo' flower color really pops with other early-fall flowers and foliage.

Dendranthemum 'Pumpkin Igloo' flower color really pops with other early-fall flowers and foliage.

'Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage) is drought-tolerant and deer-resistant but can be a little too wild for some gardens.  ‘Denim ‘n Lace’ is a new cultivar with shorter upright stems that won’t flop over. 

Perovskia atriplicifolia 'Denim 'n Lace' is more compact and makes a bigger flower statement than the species - but it reads more purple catmint-colored than the bluer color of the species.

Heliopsis helianthoides var. scabra (False sunflower or Oxeye Daisy) also has a sturdier new cultivar called ‘Prima Ballerina’.  This is a native perennial for the back of the border with bright yellow daisy-like flowers that attract pollinators.  Heliopsis flowers from July to October and is surprisingly deer-resistant in most locations I’ve used it.  It’s a drought-tolerant native (once established) and can tolerate clay soil.  ‘Prima Ballerina’ tops out at only about 40 inches tall and does well to Zone 3.

Heliopsis is perfect for the back of a border - it even works in front foundation plantings.

If you’re looking for something different to put in annual containers this year, look into Echeveria gibbiflora Wildfire™.  This is a 10-inch tall rosette-forming succulent with ruffled, red-edged foliage serves a dramatic visual punctuation and and would look great with ground-cover sedums in a dry, desert-y full-sun container.

This Echeveria will make the blue-toned varieties pop!

Don’t be afraid to try some of the new roses – they really are much easier to grow and maintain nowadays if you choose the disease-resistant repeat-blooming varieties.  Knock-Out roses are in every median strip nowadays – we need a step up from them in our gardens!  There’s a new David Austin rose in 2016 called Rosa ‘Olivia Rose Austin’ which David Austin has called “possibly the best rose that we have introduced to date.  It is also one of the most disease-resistant roses we know.”  It’s a 3-ft tall shrub rose that blooms prolifically with double/full old-rose style flowers and a strong fruity fragrance.

Rosa 'Olivia Rose Austin'

I hope everyone has discovered the wonderfulness of highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum).  For those without deer, blueberries are practically an ideal shrub.  They stay fairly compact (about the size of boxwood or spirea) with an interesting branching pattern.  They have delicate and beautiful flowers in spring, followed by berries that birds love (you can eat them too if you want) and then show-stopping red-orange-burgundy fall foliage color.  They don’t mind a bit of shade, and they tolerate wet feet.  And they’re native – what’s not to love?!  There’s a new series of compact shrubs called BrazelBerries® that includes blueberry varieties.  The new variety for 2016, ‘Perpetua’, is described as “a true double-cropping blueberry, setting fruit in midsummer and then again in fall.  ’Perpetua’s dark green leaves grow in a twisted form and are flushed deep red in fall, while the new canes turn bright yellow and red”.  Does well to Zone 4. 

Brazelberry 'Perpetua' is a compact blueberry cultivar that is self-pollinating.

The wonderfulness of high bush blueberries! This is the 'Perpetual' Brazelberry cultivar. Here you can see the flowers for the fall berry crop together with the fall-colored foliage.

Some Plants you should try

Try these plants in your garden - you will be rewarded with long-lasting and beautiful flowers.  And we all know there can never be enough flowers!

Hydrangea macrophylla Everlasting Revolution - Many different colors of blooms on the same plant

Hydrangea Everlasting Revolution with green tinge as blooms ageThe plant grows to about 3 ft X 3 ft with sturdy stems and deeply-toothed leaves  Hydrangea macrophylla  Cultivar name: 'Hokomarevo'.  The color changes on a single Revolution shrub are incredible.  You will see combinations of deep pink, maroon and blue blooms, all with green highlights as the flowers mature.  Every color can be present at once on this heavily re-blooming shrub.  It's as if all the colors and combinations possible in the Hydrangea family have come together in a single shrub.

"Everlasting™" is a Dutch series, and it was originally bred for the cut-flower market, so the emphasis is entirely on the blooms. The flower stems are stronger and straighter than those of many other Hydrangeas, ensuring that the blooms won't flop or twist.  The flowers are ultra long-lasting and quite large, especially when seen on the plant, which is just 3 to 4 feet high and wide.

It needs consistently moist soil and a bit of shade. Do not allow it to dry out completely, but make sure the soil drainage is good.  Zones 5-9.

Rosa X 'Citrus Burst'

Rosa X 'Citrus Burst'

This climbing rose has flowers with soft pink and yellow stripes that repeat steadily all summer.  It has a light green apple fragrance and a vigorious grower, reaching up to 12 feet.  It has excellent disease resistance and with dark green, very glossy foliage.  Bloom Season: spring to fall. 

Clematis Still Waters

Clematis Still Waters™ - "Dependable performance and soothing lavender tones." Cultivar Name: 'Zostiwa'.

Still Waters™ produces pale lavender-blue 4-inch blooms with maroon centers.  It starts blooming in June and flowers freely, reblooming all summer.  The pale blooms hold their color beautifully - a long-lasting play of light against warmer colors.  It is a Group 3 Clematis, meaning that it blooms primarily on new wood (making it "easy" to grow because you can cut it back each year).  Every spring you should prune it back to about 2 feet from the ground.  

Bred in the Netherlands, Still Waters™ is a Proven Winners® ColorChoice® plant chosen for its exceptional beauty and performance.  To be selected for this group, it was thoroughly tested in trial gardens all around the world, and found to have superb health, vigor, and color.

You commonly read that Clematis prefer light shade, especially on their roots.  But I've also learned from experts that this "preference" is because many people don't plant Clematis correctly.  Just like tomato plants, they should be planted with their crowns 2 – 3 inches deeper in the ground compared to the pot-dirt-level to encourage robust root growth.  The first set of true leaves should be under the soil surface.  This allows the plant to grow a strong root system – critical for a vigorous vine.

I know, I know.  This goes against everything we’ve ever heard about “don’t plant too deeply or you’ll kill the plant.”  Tomatoes and Clematis break that rule.  They sprout roots from nodes along the buried stem, and these extra roots strengthen the plants so that they can support more fruit (tomato) or climb more vigorously and produce more flowers (clematis).  With proper planting, watering until establishment (and during periods of drought) and mulch to conserve soil moisture, Clematis should do just fine without "cool" or "shaded" roots.  Remember to keep the mulch several inches away from the crown, where the vines emerge from the soil.

Old habits die hard, but I've tried it a number of times and it really does work work.  Clematis is "finnicky" no longer!  You can get Clematis Still Waters™ and a great selection of other Clematis and other types of vines and climbers mail-order from Brushwood Nursery.  They propagate from cuttings, and ship again starting Sept through Nov (although last I checked they are out of stock for Still Waters™).  I've been very pleased with their quality and I've tried small-flowered Clematis and non-vining Clematis varieties as well – both turn out to be unusual and beautiful (and low-maintenance as well).  It’s a cheap and easy way to add flowers to your landscape, especially if you have trellises, gazebos, garden arches or stone walls for the vines to grow on.

Zones 5 to 9.

US National Arboretum Tree and Shrub Introductions

I ran across the US National Arboretum website again recently, and my attention was caught by the information on introductions to the Nursery trade that have come from there.  There are some we all use and might be surprised came from the National Arboretum (like 'Green Giant' arborvitae, who knew?!), and others that are worth looking out for this coming season, like 'Sun Valley' red maple.  Here are the descriptions of a few of them.

Malus 'Adirondack' (Crabapple) Five hundred open-pollinated seedlings of Malus halliana were artificially inoculated with fire blight under controlled conditions.  Of the sixty surviving seedlings, several showed field resistance to scab, cedar-apple rust, and powdery mildew when exposed to natural inoculum from heavily infected, susceptible plants during eleven years of field trial.  'Adirondack' was selected from this seedling population in 1974 by Donald R. Egolf and released in 1987.  'Adirondack' has a narrow, upright-branched growth habit, abundant, small, persistent fruit, a slow to moderate growth rate, and multiple disease tolerance. This is one for confined spaces, an allee, or next to a walkway.  Even the front border if there's anough space.

  • Height and Width: 18 feet tall and 16 feet crown width at 20 years.
  • Habit: Narrow obovate, upright-branched small tree. Maintains upright form with age.
  • Foliage: Leathery dark green leaves. The foliage is highly tolerant to cedar apple rust, apple scab, and powdery mildew.
  • Flowers: Dark carmine buds mature to a lighter red and open to white, waxy, heavy-textured, wide-spreading flowers with traces of red; slightly fragrant.
  • Fruit: Abundant, bright orange-red, hard, small (1/2-inch) fruit persist until early winter. Relished by birds after softened by freezing.
  • Adaptable to diverse soil, moisture, and climatic conditions. Requires virtually no pruning to maintain its shape nor chemical controls for the common crabapple diseases.

Viburnum X burkwoodii 'Conoy' U.S.D.A. Zones 5b - 8; reliably evergreen in U.S.D.A. Zones 7 - 8.

'Conoy' is a selection from the cross of V. utile with V. x burkwoodii 'Park Farm Hybrid' made in 1968 by Dr. Donald Egolf at the U.S. National Arboretum. Selected for field trial and propagation in 1976, 'Conoy' was named and released in 1988.

'Conoy' is distinguished from other Burkwood viburnum cultivars by its compact growth habit, fine-textured, evergreen foliage, and persistent, abundant, glossy red fruit for approximately 6-8 weeks in the fall.

  • Height and width: 4-5 feet tall and 7-8 feet wide.
  • Habit: Spreading, dense-branched, evergreen shrub.
  • Foliage: Extremely glossy, small, dark green leaves in summer with dark maroon tinge in winter.
  • Flowers: Dark pink buds open to slightly fragrant, cream-white flowers in late April.
  • Fruit: Slightly pendulous clusters of fruit ripen in mid-August to bright red before turning black in October.
  • Grows best in full sun to partial shade in a heavy loam with an adequate moisture supply. Tolerates drought and drier soils extremely well.

Thuja 'Green Giant'  Thuja (standishii x plicata) 'Green Giant'  U.S.D.A. Zones 5–7

In 1967, a single plant reputed to be Thuja (standishii x plicata)was received from D.T. Poulsen, Kvistgaard, Denmark, and planted at the U.S. National Arboretum. This plant exhibited exceptional landscape quality and propagations were distributed. In the distribution process, the name and identity of this clone became confused with that of another arborvitae from the same source, T. occidentalis 'Giganteoides'. The identity of the exceptional clone as the T. (standishii x plicata) hybrid was resolved by Susan Martin, USNA, Kim Trip, New York Botanic Garden, and Robert Marquard, Holden Arboretum, through extensive records searches, nursery inspections, and isozyme analysis. The name Thuja 'Green Giant' was selected to identify and promote this clone.

'Green Giant' is a vigorously growing, pyramidal evergreen with rich green color that remains outstanding throughout hardiness range. It has no serious pest or disease problems and has been widely grown and tested in commercial nursery production. 

  • Height and width: To 60 feet tall with a 12–20 foot spread at maturity; 30 feet at 30 years.
  • Growth rate: Rapid.
  • Habit: Tightly pyramidal to conical evergreen tree; uniform appearance.
  • Foliage: Dense, rich green, scalelike foliage in flattened sprays borne on horizontal to ascending branches; good winter color.
  • Fruit: Persistent, oblong cones, approximately 1/2 inch length. Cones emerge green and mature to brown.
  • Adaptable; grows in soil types from sandy loams to heavy clays. Requires little to no pruning.

The "Girl" Magnolias U.S.D.A. Zones 3 - 8

  • Magnolia (liliflora 'Nigra' x stellata 'Rosea') 'Ann', 'Betty', 'Judy', 'Randy', 'Ricki', 'Susan'
  • Magnolia (liliflora 'Reflorescens' x stellata 'Waterlily') 'Jane' 
  • Magnolia (liliflora 'Reflorescens' x stellata 'Rosea') 'Pinkie' 

'The "Girl Magnolias'' are selections resulting from controlled pollinations of Magnolia liliflora 'Nigra' by M. stellata 'Rosea'; M. liliflora 'Reflorescens' by M. stellata 'Rosea'; and M. liliflora 'Reflorescens' by M. stellata 'Waterlily'.  The crosses were made at the U.S. National Arboretum in 1955 and 1956 by William F. Kosar and Dr. Francis de Vos. All are F1 hybrids and reported to be sterile triploid selections.

These magnolia selections bloom two to four weeks later than M. stellata and M. x soulangiana, reducing the possibility of late spring frost damage. Plants produce flowers with a variety of colors from reddish-purple to pink on white. The unexpected sporadic summer bloom adds landscape interest.  Plants grow best in full sun to light shade; prefer loam soil with adequate moisture; tolerate poorly drained, heavy clay soils or dry areas.

Magnolia 'Jane'Magnolia 'Ann'

Viburnum X burkwoodii 'Mohawk' U.S.D.A. Zones 5b - 8  A backcross of Viburnum x burkwoodii to V. carlesii was made in 1953 by Dr. Donald Egolf.  Seed produced from this cross was embryo-cultured to expedite seedling production.  The cultivar 'Mohawk' was selected from this population in 1960 and released in 1966.

'Mohawk' is distinguished from related cultivars by abundant clusters of glossy, dark red flower buds that are ornamental for several weeks prior to full bloom.  The waxy white flowers with red blotches on the reverse side of the petals have a strong, spicy, clove fragrance.  'Mohawk' has a fairly compact growth habit and foliage resistant to bacterial leaf spot and powdery mildew.  Definitely choose this as your fragrant viburnum if you see it in the Nursery!

  • Height and width: 8 feet tall and 10 feet wide.
  • Habit: Deciduous shrub with spreading branches.
  • Foliage: Glossy, dark green leaves turn a brilliant orange-red in autumn. The foliage is highly tolerant to bacterial leaf spot and powdery mildew.
  • Flowers: Brilliant, glossy red flower buds appear several weeks before the flowers begin to open in late April, extending the effective ornamental period by several weeks. The red of the flower buds contrasts well with the white of the opened flowers and is retained on the reverse of the flower. Flowers have a strong, spicy, clove fragrance. 
  • Fruit: A black drupe.
  • 'Mohawk' grows well in many exposures and soils, but performs best in sun with moderate moisture and well-drained soils.

Acer rubrum 'Sun Valley' U.S.D.A. Zones 4–7 'Sun Valley' resulted from a controlled cross made in 1982 by A.M. Townsend as part of a tree genetics research project examining the inheritance of fall color and leafhopper resistance.  'Sun Valley' is a cross of A.rubrum 'Red Sunset' and A.rubrum 'Autumn Flame'. Released December, 1994.  I saw a whole row of these about 2 years ago at Prospero Nursery in full color, and they were so beautiful.  Completely symmetrical shape and some hints of orange in their red color.  They really looked like a sunset.  Unfortunately, at the time I didn't know anything about this hybrid, so we didn't end up buying one, to my eternal regret!

  • Height and Width: 21 feet tall, 10 feet wide at 10 years.
  • Habit: Medium-sized deciduous tree.  Symmetrical ovate crown.
  • Foliage: Brilliant red, exceptionally long- lasting (2 weeks or more) with peak color in the 3rd to 4th week of October, about 1 week before 'October Glory'.  Medium green leaves in summer. 
  • Bark: Light grey and smooth when young; turning dark grey with age. 
  • Flowers: Male, early spring.
  • Adaptable to a wide range of soil conditions. Prefer slightly acid, moist soils.  

Echinacea (Coneflower) morphology is different than you may imagine, and that’s how all the wild and crazy-looking new cultivars have been bred.

Echinacea flowers are in heads (or cones) like sunflowers - these flowers are called disc florets. The drooping outer ray florets, which we think of as petals, attract insects visually but typically are sterile (don’t produce seeds or nectar).  Instead, pollinators obtain pollen and nectar from individual disc florets.  Since only small amounts of nectar are produced by a single floret, insects are enticed to visit more than one floret, and often more than one flowerhead per foraging trip in order to become satiated.

Here’s how that’s described scientifically: The cone-shaped capitulum of E. purpurea begins anthesis with the maturation of the outer, single whorl of sterile, ray florets, which surround multiple whorls of fertile, bisexual disc florets.  Each disc floret is subtended by a bract, which gives the capitulum's center a “hedgehog”-like appearance.  Disc florets mature sequentially, in whorls, from the periphery of the capitulum to the center, with one whorl of florets reaching anthesis (corolla opening) in the morning of each day. 


Capitulum = a compact head of a structure, in particular a dense, flat cluster of small flowers or florets, as in plants of the daisy family.

Anthesis = the flowering period of a plant, from the opening of the flower bud.

Bract = a modified leaf or scale, typically small, with a flower or flower cluster in its axil. Bracts are sometimes larger and more brightly colored than the true flower, as in a poinsettia.

Subtended = (of a bract): extended under (a flower) so as to support or enfold it.

Inflorescence = the complete flower head of a plant including stems, stalks, bracts, and flowers.

Echinacea word origin = from Latin echīnātus prickly, from echīnus hedgehog

This is a picture of the disc florets - don't worry about the labels, you get the idea.

There are several species of Echinacea, including:

E. pallida  - Pale Coneflower, long and hanging pale-pink ray florets.

E. paradoxa – Yellow Coneflower, with long hanging bright yellow ray florets and sturdy stems.

E. purpurea  - Purple Coneflower, originating in open woodlands and prairies, with ray floret colors ranging from pale-pink to dark blue-red.

•Some growers also add E. tennesseensis – Tennessee Coneflower, only known to exist naturally on certain glades near Nashville, Tennessee, and on the Federal Endangered Species List.  Its ray florets are slightly upturned and the disc florets are coppery with a green tinge.  

E. pallida


E. purpurea

E. tennesseensis

Most Echinacea species have taproots, making them difficult to transplant or grow in containers, and they resent poorly-drained soil.  The exception is E. purpurea (Purple Coneflower), which grows in damp or even wet prairies and as a consequence has evolved a more forgiving fibrous root system that functions better in this type of soil.  It has a further advantage in that its ray florets are wide and flat, not long and droopy, making it more showy. 

E. paradoxa has yellow ray florets, and breeders realized that if they crossed this plant with E. purpurea, all manner of white, orange, red, purple and pink progeny result.  The disc florets of the various Echinacea species can vary from dark burgundy, black, white, yellow or orange.  Mixing and matching ray floret color and disc floret color has created some beautiful combinations.  The characteristics that have been selected for by Echinacea hybridizers include:

  • Bloom the first year from seed;
  • Overcome the self-incompatibility barrier so that they reproduce from seed;
  • Sweetly fragrant flower heads;
  • Compact, sturdy stems;
  • Ray florets in white, pink, magenta, orange, red;
  • Ray florets with different orientation - i.e. drooping, horizontal, erect;
  • Doubled forms, including increases in the numbers of ray florets and petalody of the disc florets;
  • Enhanced disease and pest resistance;
  • Greater tolerance of wet soils and shade;
  • Fibrous root system for greater transplantability.

Petalody = The metamorphosis of various floral organs, usually stamens, into petals.

Some of the “new” coneflowers are naturally-occurring cultivars – for example ‘Razzmatazz’, the first double cultivar, was discovered as a seedling in a Dutch cut flower field.    Others are inter-specific hybrids, many between E. purpurea and  E. paradoxa, some with a soupçon of E. tennesseensis thrown in.  Then they can also be back-crossed with other seedlings to make different colors, doubles or dwarfs.

The most complicated part of Echinacea breeding is the self-incompatibility issue – a given Echinacea species is self-sterile; it doesn’t produce seed unless it is cross-pollinated.  But wherever different species grow together, they hybridize.  Echinacea allowed to self-seed in a garden is almost guaranteed to be hybrid if there are other echinaceas around.  Thus, there’s a lot of naturally-occuring variation in coneflowers to begin with, which is good for selecting interesting cultivars, but once you select a hybrid that you want to propagate, it has to be done either vegetatively or in tissue culture.   From a practical point of view, it also means that you should eliminate self-sown seedlings from your garden, because they won’t be “true” to the new and exciting hybrid that you want to grow.

Echinacea hybrids are quite sensitive to soil drainage conditions.  Plugs can die fairly quickly if they’re wet for too long and sometimes those growing in pots can also die if they’re set out on landscape fabric without well-drained soil underneath.  If spring rains come while the ground is still frozen lower down, the young plants often can’t survive the excess moisture and won’t come back.  So when you’re looking for the right place to plant echinaceas in your garden, stick to the well-drained areas or create a slightly raised berm with a sand-rich soil mix.

Here are some of the newer cultivars:

'Katie Saul' ('Summer Sky') is the first with bicolored ray florets and has a strong, sweet honey fragrance

'Tangerine Dream' has sweetly fragrant bright orange flowers

'Tomato Soup' has ray florets the color of - you guessed it - tomato soup!

‘Hot Papaya’ takes double into a whole new world of color, with bright orange pom poms surrounded by a row of single drooping petals

‘Alaska’ an improved white-flowered form that is dwarf, sturdy and floriferous

‘Fatal Attraction’ was bred by Piet Oudolf – say no more!