Gray-headed Coneflower misgivings

WildflowergmaJuly 6, 2014

Hi, does anyone have experience with growing Gray-headed Coneflower, Ratibida pinnata? It seems to be taking over in a garden where I volunteer. Some of the plants with flowers are almost 6 feet tall. The garden is normally not watered, except for new plantings. I have seen and admired Gray-headed Coneflower growing in the wild, but none were as tall as these. And the crown of each plant must be between 12-14 inches wide, also much wider than what I have experienced in the wild.

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That sounds about par for the course, based on numerous prairie plantings I've seen and been involved with. Also, for whatever reason(s), yellow-flowering plants get the jump on just about everything else in such projects. Have also seen that occur time and time again. Have you any warm-season grasses in your mix, things like big bluestem, Indian grass, etc? Those, with their height and vigor, will eventually compete well with Ratibida, especially if you use fire to manage your planting.


    Bookmark   July 7, 2014 at 7:45AM
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Hi wisconsitom, thanks for answering my post. There is a lot of Sideoats Grama Grass and Little Bluestem in the garden, but they are for the most part growing alone, and then the coneflower is mixed with a few other species of native plants, like Wild Bergamot, Canada Rye, and Mountain Mint. So the coneflower does not have much competition with the grasses. The Sideoats Grama Grass is the predominant grass, but it is so thick places, it hides the beauty of the plants. I guess some of that needs to be removed also.

Now that I know how aggressive the Gray-headed Coneflower can be, we will probably start removing a considerable amount of it. Like I said, it really does not add to the beauty of the garden.

I wish we could burn the area, but that is not possible because the garden is not in an isolated area. The garden is cut back every spring though. I am wondering if it would be better to cut it back late fall, at least for this year. Perhaps that would help to get a jump on the control of weeds and coneflowers.

When I said the crown of the plant, I was referring to the base of the plant. I have never seen plants this thick in the wild. Even the Monardas look like shrubs they are so large. I have been told the garden hasn't been fertilized, but in past years, it has always been watered, which hasn't been done this year.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2014 at 9:07PM
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Yes, all of our prairie plantings are free-range, that is, no supplemental water, fertilizer, or any other inputs. We do try to burn any given site roughly once every three years. That is a rough guide.

I'm not at all sure how much more benefit you'd get from a fall mowing verus spring. With the spring version, you can sometimes knock back cool-season grasses, most of which are not native, and thereby give at least some degree of advantage to your sideoats, little blue, etc. But the difference is slight. And for that matter, here in the north, the experts are finally coming around to the fact that cool-season plants do well up here for a reason! Kinda makes me chuckle-the one-size-fits-all approach that has so predominated this so-called native restoration up to very recently. Heck, I'm planting things like tamaracks, N. white cedar, red osier dogwoods, etc. in an effort to not only diversify our plant palette, but to also get it closer to the reality of what native means arou nd these parts. But I digress.......good luck. A well-designed meadow (prairie means meadow) garden can sure be a thing of beauty!


    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 3:09PM
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Thanks for your input, wisconsitom.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 11:55PM
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