March 1, 2013

My Failures Have Numbers

Purple coneflowers are easy to grow. They are prairie style flowers that evoke simplicity and carefree summer color.

But I failed with them. Who fails with these easy plants?

This is my confession of a garden Oops.  Joene calls these GOOPs, or Garden Oops and you can read more on her blog on the first of every month.

I planted Echinacea purpurea 'Pink Double Delight.'  They were pretty for a brief while, but mostly they flopped over, and not just splayed out a little, but lying prostrate on the ground.  Then they got eaten.

The bugs (I think earwigs?) ate the petals, leaving just the shredded cones. The flowers that were not lying down in the mud looked ragged.  From a distance there was greenery and a little bit of tired pink, but no sunrays of pink happiness.  I staked, I tried to combat the bugs, but it was all a lot of effort and in the end I gave up. I took them out.

Who's eating all the petals?

Then I came across this thorough study of coneflower cultivars conducted by Mt. Cuba Research Center in Delaware.

Mt. Cuba Center Research Report 2009

I am so much happier when my failures are assigned a number. On the chart of cultivar performance 'Pink Double Delight' gets a 2.5 score out of a possible 5.0.

Mt. Cuba Center evaluated the confusing and exploding number of cultivars of coneflowers for good habit, disease and pest resistance, abundant floral display and winter hardiness. The plants in my garden did not rise to the top in any of these categories.
Not my fault!  Not my fault! The plants were genetically defective. It was not the gardener's failure at all. Well.
Echinacea Pink Double Delight with Physostegia Miss Manners.
They looked like this for a week, then never looked this good again.

The home gardener gets confused when presented with a marketing array of new and improved and special varieties of old standbys. Are they really better? Is every new version an improvement? Do we need so many?

Apparently not. I am impressed when I see a study like the one Mt. Cuba Center did on coneflowers. I wish every new cultivar offered for sale had this kind of research done, before I get to the garden center.

Do you grow purple coneflowers? Is the variety you grow on the chart and if it is, does it score well? And has it been a success in your garden?

 

40 comments:

  1. I have trouble with coneflowers getting asters yellow where the petals don't develop and it's just the center. I keep trying, but usually within a year or two of planting them, the deformed blooms appear and I have to rip the whole plant out :-(

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    1. Toni, I hate to see that others have trouble growing coneflowers, but it's good to know I have company!

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  2. I guess great minds think alike as I happened to post about coneflowers today as well. ;-) And then I ran onto this other blog where's some information about a disease called Aster yellows. http://www.coneflower.com/search/label/Aster%20Yellows

    People keep telling me that Echinacea doesn't live too many years anyway and that you will need to buy new plants within few years. Let's see. I only planted mine last summer.

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    1. Oasis Verde, I guess these plants are not as "easy care" as I thought. Many seem to have trouble, especially with aster yellows. But they are so pretty, it's worth trying to grow them.

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  3. Before Catzilla arrived I couldn't grow them because the rabbits would mow them to the ground faster than they could regrow. Lack of true full sun keeps me from adding too many but I have two that appear to be winners-the old standby 'White Swan' and a newer cultivar 'Hot Papaya'.

    White Swam literally blooms for months if you keep up with the deadheading and does not flop. Hot Papaya does require light staking (probably because the flowers are double and top heavy). Last year I planted 'Salsa Red'. Guess I'd better go take a peek at that link and see if any cultivars get a "5".

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    1. Sue, Mine were rabbit food, too. That was another strike against them, but I did get some clumps to survive and once they were high enough, the rabbits left them alone. It's interesting about the double flowers being too heavy --- another case where breeders selected a certain attribute to the detriment of the original plant I think.

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  4. I have your old fashioned purple cone flowers in my garden. They do fine, reseeding themselves even. Love them. I have tried several of the fancy ones and they haven't lasted. It is good to know it might not have been the gardener or the garden that caused them to fail.

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    1. Lisa, I am beginning to learn that new and improved and exciting fancy cultivars can come with a price -- they are not improved at all! The original plant is carefree and sturdy, but it's not accurate to say the cultivars and hot new introductions are.

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  5. Laurrie, I grow coneflowers of two colors: white and dark red. Don't know why but I haven't problems like you have. They grow third year now, and bloom with big buds.

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    1. Nadezda, I'm glad yours grow so well for you. They really are happy, fun flowers!

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  6. Yup, stick to Magnus. That's what I've learned after failing with a bunch of new, cool varieties. I've also done well with Kim's Kneehigh. Of course, your area and mine are totally different so that's probably not worth too much.

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    1. Sarah, I've seen Kim's Knee High sold around here. On the Mt. Cuba chart it doesn't get a number rating, just a note saying it did not grow as advertised! Hmmm.

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    2. Kim's Knee High grows to normal size. I remember Kim Hawks writing about it in the Niche catalog.

      I just grow the species purple coneflower. I like it better than 'Magnus', which fades a LOT and quickly in this climate. 'White Swan' if I remember to keep it going; it's a biennial at best in my garden.

      Very interesting and useful report! I will consult it if I get more coneflowers.

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  7. I was doing well with the regular old standby until aster yellows got them. Not sure how it's going to go this year with them. My "White Swan" does well, as does my "Green Envy". But this is good food for thought - sometimes it is best to stick with what works instead of going for what's newest and shiniest.

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    1. Kathryn, I also found that with coreopsis the old field grown standby, big and meadowy, was great, but the new pretty cultivars did not perform. You are right, sometimes it is best to stick with the old ones.

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  8. Ugh, so sorry you've had such bad experiences with Echinacea. I almost always try to stick to plants that are as close to their natural form as possible...after all, they evolved over thousands of years to be that way for a reason! I stick with the straight species (if I can find it), but 'Magnus' is a great cultivar as well, about as close to the natural form as we are likely to find in a nursery. Even so, Aster Yellows can strike at any time...and to ANY plant in the Asteracae family (including Rudbeckia). I watch for it like a hawk, and yank out any plant that looks even remotely suspicious. It breaks my heart to do it, of course, but better to lose one plant rather than a whole bunch! I hope you find some Echinacea that work well for you, they really are GREAT plants, and I can't imagine a garden without them :-)

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    1. Scott, Magnus seems to be a good performer for others too. I would like to try coneflowers again, so maybe Magnus is in my future. Like you, it is hard for me to imagine my garden without the pretty pinks of coneflowers.

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  9. LOVE that you found out it was not your fault! And I think there should be a disclaimer on new varieties that are not "improved', just different. I have a bad tendency to weed all my coneflowers in the spring. I long to grow them, but won't put any more in my garden. Unfortunately, I know that that is totally my fault!

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    1. HolleyGarden, I do the same thing -- the self seeders I love tend to get weeded out by my careful spring weeding! Lost all my foxgloves and flowering tobacco by weeding too aggressively : (

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  10. Thank you for posting that report--I was just trying to decide which cultivar to plant, so this was timely information. I can see why you chose the ones you did; they were so pretty in bloom.

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    1. Heather, I hope you find the right coneflowers for where you are.. . they are such bright additions.

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  11. i grow row only old-fashioned coneflowers. Most of the newer hybrids that I have tried have ended up dying. I feel this has a lot to do with the heavier soils that we have. I've had a goal of trying to develop an area with more sandy soil and experimenting some more. Just another thing on my to do list This was an extremely interesting post. Thank you, Larry

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    1. Larry, that is a common refrain -- the new cultivars just don't perform for most gardeners. Good luck with the experiments to lighten your soil and try new plants!

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  12. Who fails? I did. Because the deer used to eat them down to nubs each year, until they (the coneflowers) just gave up. Ironically, the deer no longer hang out in the field. Time to plant more coneflowers. But no fancy cultivars.

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    1. Lee, try some of the old standards. I think I will try again with either Magnus, or a straight species coneflower. No more of the doubles or oddities like the one I had.

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  13. The coneflowers in my garden are the straight species in pink and white. I do have White Swan too which also does well. They are in an area where I do not add extra compost or water, nada, and do just fine.

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    1. Patty, neglect and old standbys--- that's gardening as I would like to do it!

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  14. Hi Laurrie...this was such a good post! I grow all different types of coneflowers including a TN native called Rocky Top Hybrid. I really like coneflowers and they go so well in my cottage garden. I've had a problem with two of them...White Swan and Hot Papaya. Both grew for one season and then never came back.

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    1. Christy, they really are a "cottage" looking plant, so they are so useful in many gardens. I'm glad to hear yours do well, except for a few that are fussy. I'd love to see 'Rocky Top'.

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  15. I have grown a lot of coneflowers but I have pretty much given up on them because of their tendency to develop aster yellows, so I think you have lots of company. The coneflowers in the first picture above look to me like they also have aster yellows.

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    1. Jason, I am hearing from so many gardeners that coneflowers can be trouble -- at least the newer varieties. I went with the advertising that said they were easy to grow when I first planted these!

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  16. I'm with Lisa at Greenbow ... grow old fashioned, unfancy Echinacea purpurea. While deer, in some years, seem to know the exact night prior to full bloom, and come around to munch, during many years they leave them to flower. Self-seeding takes care of the rest. I planted no more than three purchased Echinacea purpurea 15 years ago and have not had to purchase/obtain new plants since then. They come back every year in spite of deer and goldfinch love any seed pods left to mature. In contrast, Echinacea 'White Swan' is an intermitent performer. I love the years when it shines but these seem to be few and far between. Echinacea 'Green Envy' which grows in a fenced-from-deer area of my property does well but is not as prolific and easy care as the plain old-fashioned Echinacea purpurea.
    I've read research - sorry, cannot recall from where - indicating that new Echinacea cultivars/hybrids are not as annually reliable as the old-fashioned Echinacea purpurea. Sometimes what's old is what's best.

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    1. Joene, plain and old fashioned seems to be the best recommendation. My experience was the same with coreopsis -- couldn't grow any of the cultivars but the tall old fashioned yellow meadow coreopsis grows easily for me. Thanks for all the specific info on your coneflower experiences!

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  17. I've read that report before and found it really interesting. I grow Magnus, Rocky Top, Rubinstern, Fragrant Angel, Summer Sky, and Tiki Torch - all of which were rated highly. However, Tiki Torch is super picky about its drainage and is living in a pot. I'm a bit hesitant to grab most new cultivars. I like to wait until they've been around a bit and I can get more info about them. They're also cheaper once they're not the new hothouse darling. I've seen pots of coneflowers sell for $22. Ack!

    I've had plants fall over when ants built nests in their roots and destroyed their root structure. I've also had them fall over and develop too many weird surface roots instead of strong deep roots when the soil was too heavy and dry and they were depending on available surface moisture to keep them happy.

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    1. Tammy, you've had some real experience with a lot of varieties - a laboratory study of your own -- and it's good information to know!

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  18. I like how you investigate your oops.
    I have coneflowers that birds planted for me. No idea what they are but they seem to be fine. Native probably. Except, I need to move them. The 'free' purple coneflowers are really pink and need to get out of my purple and yellow bed. Ha!

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    1. Gardener on Sherlock, it's too bad your helpful bird gardeners have no sense of color! : )

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  19. Totally off topic - what's your secret to growing nasturiums? Mine were total duds last year. I think the soil was too rich. Please advise! I want to try them again. :o)

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    1. Tammy, I have had poor luck with nasturtiums in prior years, but last year they took off and I can't even say why! I grew 'Gleam' (orange) and 'Moonlight' (yellow), and it was the first time with both of those, so maybe it was the variety. You might try those two and see if they do well for you.

      My soil was just garden soil, not enriched, but not poor grit either. But it was recently dug, so it was airy, not compacted, and I think nasturtiums like a soft bed. No fertilizer. Lots of sun. Neglect. Some trimming for salads, and only a little deadheading was needed.

      Last year was the first time there were no aphids, none, and another Connecticut gardener said the same thing -- where were the aphids? For whatever reason the whole state had a ban on aphids apparently. Go figure.

      Good luck with them this year! Keep trying.

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