All About Gardening and Gardening Q & A

by Pernell Gerver

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"You Gotta See These New Coneflowers!"

Summer is a time of color in the perennial garden and there are many different perennials that put on their colorful show at this time of year. One of my favorites is coneflower. There has been a lot of hybridizing going on with coneflowers and the results are stunning. There have been color and size breakthroughs, unique flower forms have been created, and many improvements have been made to the original species.

Purple ConeflowerConeflowers are some of the easiest perennials to grow in the garden. Insects and diseases are not a problem, they are drought tolerant, grow well in hot, sunny spots in the garden, and, probably their best attribute, they begin blooming in very early summer and continue blooming all summer long right into autumn. They attract hummingbirds and butterflies to the garden and their large flowers are very long lasting when cut. The flowers are held on tall, stiff, sturdy stems that seldom need staking and the stems can grow up to four feet high on some varieties.

Monarch butterfly on coneflowerThe common name coneflower refers to the prominent, orange-brown cone in the center of the flower. This prickly cone is the perfect landing spot for butterflies and I have photographed many a butterfly sipping the nectar from this plant. All sorts of butterflies feed on purple coneflowers and it's not unusual to see half a dozen or more butterflies fluttering about this plant. And it's not just butterflies that love purple coneflower - hummingbirds also visit their colorful flowers to sip the nectar.

Coneflower 'Kim's Mophead'There have been many new coneflower introductions in recent years. The variety 'Kim's Mophead' is a size breakthrough. Growing just 12 to 15 inches tall, this coneflower is a white-flowered variety that bears large, three-inch-wide creamy-white flowers. The flowers have a golden-brown, prominent, prickly cone in the center of its petals. Because of its small size, it's the ideal perennial for the front of the flower bed or border. It begins blooming in midsummer and continues to bloom into autumn, producing dozens and dozens of flowers over its very-long bloom period. Like all coneflowers, it thrives in sunny, hot locations and attracts butterflies to the garden.


Echinacea 'Pica Bella'Flower form has undergone many changes through hybridizing. A brand-new coneflower just introduced this year has very unusual flowers. Called 'Pica Bella,' this new coneflower bears elegant flowers that have slender petals surrounding the central orange-bronze cone. The flower petals are slightly twisted and almost resemble a spoon mum. The central cone is orange brown and is oval and slightly more flattened. The flowers stand atop three-foot-high stems and bloom from early summer to early autumn.

Echinacea 'Green Envy'In addition to plant size and flower form, hybridizers have also created new flower colors. The brand-new variety 'Green Envy' is a color breakthrough in the world of horticulture. It bears rare, green flowers. Each rounded flower petal is lime green. As the flower matures, the flower petals elongate and develop a rose-pink blush where the petals meet the center cone. The center cone emerges deep green and remains green for weeks, then gradually changes to greenish purple. The large flowers are held atop strong, stiff stems and are long lasting when cut. It forms a clump three feet high and nearly as wide.


Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Prune Wisteria Regularly Throughout Summer"

Q. When and how is the best way to cut back a wisteria so that it would bloom and does it have to be a certain age before it will do so? Thank you very much!

WisteriaA. After non-blooming hydrangea, non-blooming wisteria is one of the most-often-asked questions I receive. When and how to prune wisteria is important to getting those beautiful long, dangling blooms. However, wisteria is not a no-maintenance plant. In order to maintain and control its size you need to prune wisteria regularly throughout summer.

Wisteria is a vine that sends out long, whip-like shoots. The key to pruning wisteria is to trim back those long, whip-like shoots on a regular basis. In spring when the shoots start growing prune them back to two nodes (nodes are where the leaves join the stems). From the nodes flowers appear next year. Throughout the summer you'll need to repeat the process of pruning back the long shoots to two nodes each time. Wisteria grows very quickly, so you will be doing many pruning sessions throughout the summer. This is a chore you need to do each summer all summer long. Like I said, wisteria is definitely not a no-maintenance plant.

To answer the second part of your question, yes, wisteria does need to be a certain age to bloom. On average a young wisteria will begin blooming when it is seven to 10 years old. That may seem like a long time to wait, but I have seen old wisteria vines on old Victorian houses that are over 100 years old.

Another important tip regarding wisterias is that they need ample water while they are young. Make sure they receive adequate moisture, especially during dry spells. Fertilizing regularly throughout the season also helps. Use Electra Plant Food first, then three weeks later use Electra Bloom Food and alternate between the two all season long.