Coneflowers are members of the Echinacea family, known for their downward arching flower petals that form a floral skirt around a prickly, center cone.
These native wildflowers possess intrinsic features that make them both practical and beautiful in a diverse range of garden settings. Keep reading to discover the best coneflower companion plants, as well as what to avoid.
What Is Companion Planting
While the practice of effective companion planting requires some research, and perhaps even a bit of ‘trial and error’, what it is is easy.
It’s the pairing of specific plants, with similar care needs, that contributes to the overall health and productivity of the entire grouping.
As I’ll explain more in detail in a moment, these benefits include but are not limited to, organic pest and weed control, improved soil quality, and increased flower and crop yields.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when this practice first began. But, thanks to the detailed and diligent crop documentation left to us by early aboriginal people in North America, as well as by those living in ancient Greece, Rome, and China, we can see that companion planting has been in practice for thousands of years with highly fruitful results.
Today, modern science is just beginning to study and test the attributes of this practice, motivated by thousands of years of compelling anecdotal evidence.
So, what does companion planting mean for Coneflowers, in particular?
Benefits of Companion Planting
If you’ve ever witnessed wild echinacea swaying in the breeze in an open meadow, you may have observed some of the benefits of companion planting without realizing it. Not only are these flowering plants able to survive along with the surrounding wild growth, but they are also capable of thriving without any human assistance.
Clearly, nature figured this thing out long before we did. Let’s explore those benefits in more detail.
This is the most prized benefit of coneflower companion planting and removes any need for toxic pesticides.
The large, easily accessible ‘button’ atop each coneflower is popular with birds and pollinators that also enjoy snacking on harmful pests that would otherwise decimate these and other plants in the immediate area.
Thus, natural pest control is achieved. This feature is especially advantageous in a vegetable garden.
By pairing plants loaded with pollen together, beneficial pollinators will show up in droves to encourage the all-important cross-pollination of crops and to feast on detrimental pests.
Diverse root systems among companion plants can weave an organic web beneath the soil that keeps weed seeds from germinating and growing.
A proportional distribution of resources will also starve any surviving weed seedling of nutrients and/or water.
Improved Soil Health
By eliminating the need for synthetic pesticides and weed control products, a natural community of vital microorganisms begins to flourish in your soil. These convert nutrients into a form that is easily absorbed and utilized by your plants.
Blooming nitrogen fixers, like tall Lupins and low-growing crimson clover, infuse the soil around coneflowers with organic nitrogen. This results in less of a requirement for supplemental fertilization.
Varying root structures also contribute to a healthy balance between soil aeration, water drainage, and retention. All of these features equate to increased soil fertility.
Increased Flower Yields
The sum of all these benefits is the increased productivity you’ll see in your flowering perennials and vegetables.
Coneflower companion plants aren’t limited to practicality. They can also escalate the seasonal show in your garden by boosting its depth, dimension, and color variances.
Protection Against Extreme Heat
Echinacea typically reaches a mature height of 2-4 ft and is thus able to provide shade for smaller companions that would otherwise fail in full sun.
Perennial shrubs, like butterfly bush (Buddleja) grow even taller and can offer this same benefit to coneflowers when planted in regions with intense heat.
Both being drought-resistant, these make highly effective coneflower companion plants in xeriscape gardens and because one has a deep tap root vs the fibrous, sprawling root system of the other, it’s unlikely they’ll ever compete for resources.
Considerations When Selecting Companion Plants
Coneflowers are robust and drought-resistant plants that attract pollinators, provide shade for smaller plantings and deter deer and rabbits. Sounds like a no-brainer for companion planting, right?
Almost. There are certain things to consider when choosing plants to pair with your existing coneflowers or are thinking of adding them to your perennial beds.
While generally hardy plants, Coneflowers are native to the central and eastern regions of North America and are therefore recommended as ground plantings in zones 3-9.
If you live outside of these zones, you can still grow them as companion plants in pots and then place the pots in your perennial beds.
You would still get the benefit of pollinator attraction and pest control, which may yet lead to improved soil fertility and increased bud production.
Within the recommended zones, however, Coneflowers exhibit the benefits of companion planting much faster when paired with other native wildflowers.
While this isn’t necessary, it does afford you the opportunity to grow a gorgeous, low-maintenance, and completely organic wildflower garden.
Another point to consider is that despite Echinacea being fairly resistant to pests on their own, incorporating companion plants that are known to attract detrimental pests, like aphids and leafhoppers, could see these plants becoming infested rather quickly. Keep reading to the end of this article to learn all about what specific plants to avoid when growing Coneflowers.
One way to mitigate pest damage, in this case, is to disperse pest-prone flowering plants and/or crops within the same genus (kale, cabbage, cauliflower, for example) throughout your garden and pair each with a coneflower plant to encourage that natural pest control process.
Finally, these three points deserve critical consideration.
- The size of your intended planting space
- The mature size of the plants you’re considering
- Sufficient spacing between plants
If plants grow too big, they’ll begin to choke out the smaller ones and all plants in that grouping will end up competing for resources. This negates the whole point of companion planting.
So, which plants are best?
Best Companion Plants for Echinacea
Naturally, other native wildflowers that thrive in zones 3-9, are top performers as companion plants. But luckily, many flowering plants and vegetable crops accomplish the goal of beneficial groupings with equal success.
Not only in the areas discussed above but in creating the kind of diverse ecosystem (polyculture planting) that mimics nature, itself.
Bearing in mind that edible, sun-loving Coneflowers reach 2-4ft tall at maturity, they can offer shade and protection to cool-season crops.
Their lush foliage and vibrant blooms are excellent companion plants for broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
Wide vegetable varieties still require external pollination assistance to produce, and the number of beneficial pollinators that coneflowers attract ensures this. In addition, they are able to keep detrimental pests, like white cabbage moths and their larvae from chewing on the tender leaves of these crops.
In return, these cool-season crops establish a low-growing ground cover that keeps weeds at bay and increases moisture retention in the soil.
Herbs and Flowers
Diverse bloomer groupings weave a perennial tapestry of color and form that returns year after year and only improves with age.
Coneflower companion plants will contribute to this beautiful show and throw in all the amazing benefits I’ve already mentioned.
Fragrant, flowering herbs, like lavender, rosemary, sage, and catmint are all fellow sun lovers and will deter deer and rabbits from chewing on your Coneflowers thanks to their heady scent.
This will also confuse the receptors of undesirable pests that are lured in by a coneflower’s bright color.
Allium, goldenrod, buddleia, and sedum will share pollinator-attracting duties in vegetable and perennial gardens, alike. Adding their unique bloom shapes to a polyculture aesthetic.
Bad Coneflower Companion Plants
As resilient and low-maintenance as Echinacea plants are, it’s easy to assume you can plant just about anything with them. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. There are plenty of plant varieties that would not fare well as coneflower companions.
The best way to determine a good fit is to first know what environmental conditions coneflower plants prefer.
- Open spaces, minus any shade from large trees
- Full sun
- A somewhat dry, well-draining soil
- A soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0
- Little to no fertilizer
Plants that can’t tolerate these preferences make bad companion choices. They simply won’t live long enough to benefit your coneflowers. For example:
Shade or partial shade plants – While certain coneflower varieties are bred to tolerate partial sun, they perform far better in full sun. Hostas, ferns, heuchera, and even hydrangeas have sun-sensitive foliage, thrive in moist soil, and have different soil pH requirements.
Heavy feeders – Peonies, tall phlox, and astilbe, among others, require higher levels of soil nutrients in order to produce. This much fertilizer could easily burn the roots of light feeders like coneflowers.
Plants that are prone to heavy pest infestation – each hardiness zone is known for a certain kind of destructive pest, be they aphids, tomato bugs, slugs, or scale.
If you choose to pair your coneflowers with plants that are known to attract certain pests in your hardiness zone heavily, it’s best to offer them allies that can attract more beneficial insects than your coneflower can, alone.
Shrubs that grow taller than your coneflower plants – these would be rhododendrons, barberry, or even evergreens like boxwood and cypress or arborvitae trees.
These can grow much taller than 4 ft and end up casting an undue shadow on your echinacea that may cause it to eventually fail.
- Permaculture Research Institute – Guidelines for Perennial Polyculture Design
Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.