Cone flowers keep the blooms coming

As we move into late summer, the profuse color and interest of perennial gardens may be fading a bit. Some of the best bloomers of midsummer, such as day lilies, are past their peaks and roses are recovering from the assaults of Japanese beetles.

The bloom period for some perennials can be prolonged by monitoring the plants as petals start to drop. For bee balm and phlox, simply cutting each stem back to the point where tiny new leaves are forming will provide a new flush of blooms.

The same practice works well for a true Midwest garden staple, the coneflower. Nothing is more drought-resistant than this native prairie plant. The classic Echinacea purpura features abundant blooms with pink-purple petals and the distinctive burnt orange cone that butterflies adore.

A new coneflower plant may seem a little slow to take hold in the garden, but that?s because it is doing work below the garden surface. The deep roots that the coneflower puts down allow it to sail through dry weather once established.

The coneflower is tough in other ways as well. It will put up with most any soil, isn?t subject to disease and is not a favorite of deer once it is mature. If you live in an area where deer love to graze, some spray repellent on small new plants might be advisable.

Early fall is a great time to plant coneflowers. You might ask for divisions from a gardening friend, or you can obtain plants from well-stocked garden centers and garden catalogs.

Everything that I have written to this point applies to the classic purple coneflower. In recent years, hybridizers have been introducing an enormous range of cultivars that extend the color and form possibilities of coneflowers. Cultivar names such as ?White Swan,? ?Adobe Orange,? ?Salsa Red,? and ?Lemon Yellow? clue you in to some color options. There is even a mix of ?hot? colors marketed under the name ?Cheyenne Spirit.?

Doubles offer the further variation of a disc, or cone, that looks more like a pom-pom. In these plants, the cone and petals are all one color.

While it is always fun to look over new varieties, some caution is well-advised. Some expert gardeners have found that the new cultivars tend to be less hardy in their home gardens. Also, in some cases, the new color has reverted to the original purple after a couple of years.

If you are tolerant of some risk and seek some exciting new colors and forms for the garden in late summer, some new coneflower cultivars are worth a try. However, few other plants are so welcome and dependable as the classic purple coneflower.