Coneflowers are lovely perennials that are native to North America. This is a very showy native plant that has been hybridized to include hundreds of colorful varieties. Coneflowers thrive in full sun, and after a year or two of being established, they are quite drought-tolerant.
Pruning your coneflowers is an important step to growing healthy and lush blooms in your summer garden. Pruning can be done in the spring but also should be done in the fall before the plant goes dormant.
Coneflowers are very low-maintenance perennials, and when it comes to deadheading or pruning, there is no difference. If this is your first time, or you are looking for a few tips to help streamline the process, read along, and let’s get digging!
Coneflowers are herbaceous perennials, but they are a little tough. Oftentimes with herbaceous perennials, you can easily use your fingers to deadhead and remove unwanted stems or leaves. When it comes to coneflowers, using gardening scissors or shears is the way to go.
Bypass pruners are popular gardening tools with two blades that make clean cuts.
You may already be familiar with bypass pruners. They are very common gardening tools. These shears have two blades passing each other while cutting, making a complete and clean cut.
Bypass pruners are my go-to garden tool, they can handle most gardening tasks with ease, and it makes tackling an entire garden in one swoop very easy.
Resembling kitchen shears, gardening scissors are portable, and are useful for precise cuts on plants.
Garden scissors look just like everyday household scissors that you may use in your kitchen. They cut the same way. They are easy to stick into your back pocket and make nice clean cuts to your plants. Garden scissors may work a little better for deadheading your coneflowers or removing leaves.
Hedge shears can quickly cut down large clumps of coneflowers.
If you have large clumps of coneflowers, hedge shears may come in handy. These larger tools require both of your hands, but you can take down perennials with one pass.
Depending on how neat you want your garden to look, you may need to go back and touch up the garden. Either way, hedge shears can be a very big time saver.
Whichever garden shear you choose, you will want to regularly wipe them down with rubbing alcohol or bleach. This will help to keep them free and clear from insects or other pathogens that could cause harm to your plants.
Wiping your tools down when you finish working is a great easy way to remember to keep your tools clean. Store your tools in a bucket of sand with a bit of multi-purpose oil mixed in. This will help to keep them clean, sharp, and in good working order.
Prune coneflowers in late winter before new growth emerges, cutting stems and leaves to the ground.
Pruning your coneflowers in the spring is always an option. This comes in handy if you like to leave your perennials intact for winter interest or if you like to leave the seed heads for birds to feed on.
Cut the stems and any remaining leaves back to the ground in late winter before any new growth emerges on the plant.
This is a really great option if you have your coneflowers planted in a natural setting. Allowing the seed heads to remain throughout the winter will also allow for some self-sowing, resulting in new plants with minimal effort from you. Who doesn’t love free plants?
Deadhead coneflowers by removing spent blossoms to encourage new flower growth.
Many coneflowers will benefit from being deadheaded. Removing spent blossoms encourages new flower growth in perennials.
You will be able to identify spent coneflowers by taking a quick look at the blossoms themselves. The petals will be discolored and possibly even brown. The cones will also be mostly black, losing their color when the seeds form in the seed head.
To deadhead coneflowers, first, you want to locate your spent flowers. Next, move your fingers down the stem until you find a set of leaves or a new flower bud. Make your cut just above the new growth points (leaves or flower buds).
Depending on the variety you are growing in your garden, you may need to deadhead your coneflowers a few times a season. Some varieties bloom prolifically without deadheading, while others need a little trim to encourage new growth.
Cut back in Fall
Cut back perennials in autumn after the first frost or from early October.
When autumn hits, and all of the perennials begin to turn yellow, you can begin to cut your perennials back. I like to wait until the first frost arrives before cutting anything back, but if you want to keep your garden neat and tidy, feel free to cut them back starting in early October.
Using one hand, gather the leaves and stems from the base of the plant. Taking your shears in your free hand, make multiple cuts about one inch above the soil level, and take the entire plant down. Once you have the bulk of the plant cut down, go back and remove any stragglers that you may have missed.
You could also do this in stages. Once your flowers have passed, you can cut all of the flower stems back to the leaf level and make a return visit once the foliage begins to yellow.
Breaking up the work here will leave some pretty foliage in your garden rather than clearing it out on the earlier side. This is something that will differ from gardener to gardener, depending on how you like to keep your garden.
Save the Seed Heads
Save seed heads by drying them in a brown bag, then store seeds in a sealed bag with sand in a cold place.
If you like to grow your own coneflowers, be sure to save the seeds heads to make collecting seeds a much more simple process.
A really simple way to collect seeds is to toss your seed heads into a brown lunch bag and wait for them to dry completely.
The seeds will release themselves and come loose in the bag. When you have collected your seeds, stick them in an airtight bag with a little bit of sand in the refrigerator or outside if you have cold winters. This will mimic winter temperatures and allow the seeds to go through a dormant period.
Once you have your seeds, sow them indoors two months before your last frost date, or wait to sow them outdoors when the soil has warmed. Your freshly planted coneflower seeds will germinate in a few weeks. However, it may not flower for a season or two.
Don’t Deadhead at All!
Avoid deadheading your coneflowers if you like the old seed heads for winter interest and feeding birds.
There are only a couple of times that you should not prune or deadhead your coneflowers. The first is if you enjoy keeping the old seed heads on your plant for winter interest and for feeding the birds.
The second is when you may confuse your new coneflower blossoms for older flowers. Before coneflowers unravel their bright petals, the cones will be more prominent than the furled up petals, sometimes giving the appearance of a cone that has already dropped its petals.
This is more likely to happen during the second round of blooming since you may lose track of which flowers are new or old.
The best way to tell is to take a look at the actual cone. Coneflowers that are mature enough that they have dropped their petals will have very prominent seeds and will be spikey to the touch.
Clear Away Debris
Removing debris after pruning coneflowers is crucial to preventing fungal diseases.
You should take this step no matter what time of the year you choose to prune your coneflowers. Once you have pruned all of the foliage from your coneflower, you should scoop up all of that debris and remove it from the garden.
Coneflowers are prone to mildew and other fungal diseases. Keeping your garden neat from old leaves and stems is a great way to prevent these diseases from occurring in the first place.
After you have pruned your coneflowers to the ground, getting any additional leaves or plant material out of your garden will be much easier. Gently rake around your perennials, or use a leaf blower if you have one.
Spores from fungal diseases can hang out on leaves or even in the soil over the winter, waiting to attack your beautiful, fresh spring plants! Insect eggs can also overwinter in your gardens. Removing any plant material, infected or otherwise, will help to maintain a clean garden and get you started off on the right foot in the spring.
Pruning your coneflowers is a simple task that has a lot of flexibility for gardeners. I choose to cut my coneflowers back in the fall, so it is easier for me to keep my garden free from leaves, but that might not be what is best for your garden. Whenever you decide to prune your coneflowers, you will be sure to have a beautiful perennial explosion in the next growing season!