Among the nine varieties of echinacea, only three types are used for medicinal purposes. These are echinacea pallida, echinacea angustifolia and echinacea purpurea. The latter type, echinacea purpurea, is considered the strongest in supporting immune function and fighting infectious disease. As a natural health remedy, these plants have been used by many cultures for centuries for numerous purposes. Cultivating these hardy herbaceous perennials is not at all difficult. As garden plants, they tend to resist disease and infestation. In very rare cases, the Japanese beetle has been a nuisance in those areas where this species of insect is present. Fortunately, planting thyme and similar herbs next to echinacea keeps the pests away. This article outlines the simple basics that any gardener would need to know to successfully cultivate and care for echinacea purpurea at home. These sturdy flowering plants are an excellent choice for the beginning gardener, because they don't require a great deal of attention beyond these basic needs.
Water echinacea purpurea plants correctly. Young plants require about 2.5 cm (one inch) of water each week, whether by rain or watering, to develop their taproots. Once the taproots have been established, the plants can do well in drier soil. Although these plants enjoy full sun, excessive heat and soggy, poorly drained soil tend to hamper growth, as do long droughts. If there has not been any rain in 7 to 14 days, you should water them by hand. Nutrient-rich soil with lots of organic matter (i.e. chopped, unsprayed leaves) is best for them.
Feed juvenile plants sparingly. Young plants in their first and second years of growth will need to be fed a handful of general, all purpose, slowly dissolving fertiliser once in late spring. Sprinkle this mixture directly on the soil around the base of a group of echinacea plants, taking care not to let it come in contact with the new stems or leaves. Overfeeding/fertilising will slow down growth and encourage disease. Older, established plants will not need fertilising as long as they are not growing in poor soil.
Use mulch (such as chipped, organic cedar), which is beneficial for maintaining soil moisture. This is especially true as the flowers bloom during the heat of spring to summer. Spread a layer of 5 cm (2 inches) of organic mulch on the soil around the flowers in cultivated beds. If your flowers are growing in natural meadows or woodlands, mulching is only necessary when you first plant them. As mulch decomposes, the nutrients return to the soil, enriching it. Mulch discourages weeds and slows the evaporation of water during hot weather. Once the soil has decomposed to less than 4 cm (1 ½ inches) thick, it should be renewed.
Prune minimally for best results. Like many wildflowers, echinacea plants need very little grooming. If you wish to extend their blooming season, you may remove fading flower tops to encourage new buds to form. Some gardeners permit the declining blooms to dry on the stems and remain after first frost to provide food for migrating songbirds in winter.
Propagating echinacea couldn't be easier. Due to their self-seeding nature, gardeners only need to occasionally divide clusters of echinacea plants to begin new groupings. Organically grown echinacea can be used to make immune boosting teas for your own use. Thoroughly wash and dry an entire plant (from root to bloom), and hang it upside down to dry in a warm, dry area. Use a food processor to finely chop the plant and brew as you would any other tea.