hot stuff: welcoming summer with fiery new coneflowers

PURPLE CONEFLOWER USED TO BE a major element of the garden here in its early days, but now the Echinacea that I have my eye on—as in through the camera lens this morning—is not purple at all, but orange. Hello, ‘Hot Summer’ (above) both literally and figuratively, since this solstice week has included a heatwave and the first coneflower blooms.

‘Hot Summer’ (a 2010 release, but new to my garden this spring from Klehm’s Song Sparrow Farm) is one of an impressive selection of recent Echinacea hybrids that seem to be getting better and better, almost insisting that I wake up to coneflowers again and make some room.  It was discovered in the nursery of Marco van Noort, a Dutch breeder, in 2007.

The most exciting thing about ‘Hot Summer’ (Zone 4-9; 30-36 inches tall) is that yesterday the flower in the top photo was another fiery shade altogether. Each 4 1/2-inch flower opens yellow-orange and passes through an aging process to deep red, so once you have a lot of flowers you can have the whole fiery spectrum on the plant at once (can’t wait, but you can see it here).

Is that spectral possibility a little too hot for your taste? ‘Tangerine Dream’ (above) is looking good to me, too—and is shorter in stature (just over 2 feet), with flowers about 4 inches wide. (Note: This is one of the plant’s first few flowers, so it’s probably not fully developed to form yet.)

Coneflowers are easy and adaptable, asking most of all for good drainage in full sun but will take part shade. They don’t ask much in the way of fertility or other coddling. And though the birds and butterflies don’t appreciate it, they’re good for cutting. When the first of these new-colored hybrids came out, I wasn’t impressed with their vigor, but these newer-generation plants look more vigorous to me so far, and are said to have strong branching habits, so fingers crossed.

Could it be that coneflowers become a major element here again? The birds would be happy, especially voracious fall-into-winter seed-eaters like the goldfinches. Though the first part of the coneflower genus name, echinos, comes from the Greek for hedgehog, those prickly looking centers will become miniature feeders for my feathered, not spiny, friends.

  1. Chris Rodriguez says:

    I just planted two of these beauts in my garden this week, can’t wait to see more blooms from them.

  2. MiSchelle says:

    I agree. The “Big Sky” series of Echinacea was a total bust in my garden. They performed well the first year but petered out over time, which was a disappointment as I loved the color spectrum. I’ll have to give “Hot Summer” a try!

  3. Sharon says:

    Another strong performer is “Hot Papaya” which looks spectacular amid my daisies. Can’t wait to plant more!

  4. val says:

    I’ve read the complaints about sundown (big sky), but I love it as much as I do all of my cone flowers–original recipe, coconut lime, and white swan. Not only do I love their appearance, they need virtually no amendments and laugh at my clay soil. Watching the goldfinches feast on the seeds is just icing on the cake.

  5. Ellie says:

    Hi Margaret,
    Thanks for the etymology behind Echinacea! Though I love words (and hedgehogs), this never occurred to me before. So far, the garden at my new house is coneflower free, but now that I know this, I’ll have to remedy that! Not sure my little hedgehog would like to eat a coneflower (she’s much more interested in grubs and cookies)…I think I’ll leave them for the birds!

  6. Eileen says:

    I have given up on all of these new introductions, failure after failure. I have my staples White Swan, Magnus, Mango Meadowbrite and my favorite Kim’s Knee High.


  7. Debbie says:

    I planted 3 Hot Summer’s early last year. They didn’t do much last year and were so late coming up this year I thought I’d lost them! They finally came up and are now starting to produce some flower buds but no where near the height they should be.
    They’re only abot 6-8″ tall. They were small plants to begin with so I’m hoping they improve with some more time and a couple handfuls of compost.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Debbie. Are they in a well-drained spot, not wet or clayey? I think that’s important. They would struggle I expect in a heavy, soggy soil. Just a thought from what you are describing. What’s the location/soil/light like?

  8. Another opinion: My third year Big Sky Sundown does OK with a handful of blooms each year. My third year Coconut Lime is spectacular!!!! Your Hot Summer looks promising to check out – keep us informed on its progress.

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Jenny, for more info on ‘Hot Papaya.’

      Hi, Ray. ‘Big Sky Sundown,’ huh? Have to look it up! and ‘Coconut Lime’ sounds delicious.:)

  9. Debbie says:

    The soil has been well amended over the years. Crumbles in your hand fairly easily. Winter time can be somewhat wet but summer it’s the exact opposite. Full southern exposure until about 5 then dappled shade. The thing that perplexes me is anything I put in this bed grows like gangbusters, except these!

  10. Pj says:

    absolutely LOVE your talk on the flowers..and gorgeous colors!…but the FROGS…ahhhh, I LOVE FROGS…ya learn something new everyday! Thank you!

  11. Jenny says:

    I, too, have planted a lot of the new echinaceas over the last several years and they have been poor performers. I think it’s pretty well known, and I’ve heard several well respected nursery people comment on it. ‘Hot Papaya’ has been an exception, and I’ve planted quite a few of them and they’re just gorgeous.

  12. nielly says:

    Their beautiful!….mine barely get a chance to bloom, those pincher bugs
    eat all the petals off. Any ideas how to rid my garden of them?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Nielly. I assume you mean earwigs? If the damage occurs at night it might be them. You can place rolled-up newspaper in the garden before dark near where you see their damage and they may hide inside it. Empty the “traps” into a bucket of water first thing each morning. I have also read that the will be lured into a tuna fish can )or other low can) with a little vegetable oil in it, again at night. Try reading this bulletin about them.

  13. Gardenwitch says:

    Do the new echininacae spread around the garden like the older varieties? I had tried some of the Sundown Series and they did not return the following year. I had Coconut Lime for a couple of years and it too did not return this year.

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Gardenwitch, for the feedback. I have had some varieties return, but not so many seed themselves in like the E. purpurea originals. (Even if they did, I guess they wouldn’t be true from seed since they are hybrids…). I am crossing fingers that some of the newer generation are stronger and more long-lasting.

  14. Tricia says:

    I love coneflowers – and these are particularly stunning. Unfortunately, so do my neighborhood critters. Every year the greens sprout and I feel hopeful – and someone decimates them. Rabbit — or hedgehog maybe? What to do??

  15. Dahlink says:

    Thanks for this discussion–very timely! I’m with Eileen on three of her four favorites: White Swan, Magnus and Kim’s Knee High. I guess I’ll have to try Mango Meadowbrite!

    My gripe about the newer varieties is that they don’t seem to self-seed. I used to count on my old-fashioned Echinacea multiplying through scattered seeds, but no more. On the other hand, I have a new Echinacea coming up that I have no memory of planting–so how did it get there? It looks as if the blooms (which are just about to open) are going to be white or pale green. (I’m not complaining, mind you!)

  16. Donald says:

    I am one of those persons who thought they needed EVERY single new coneflower hybrid out there. For the past few years, fancy new coneflowers have been a way hot thing too. It got to the point where I had to limit my preferences. I decided I’d skip the doubles and the new hot pinks and collect the single orange varieties. As the years have passed and the success stories have started to dwindle, I have fallen out of love. I do have success stories with photos on my blog to prove it, but alas the success was short lived. I’m back in love with the original happy reseeding purples. I’m glad to know these fancy new hybrids are getting better, but I think I’ll stick with the tried and true that keep doing so well for me year after year.

    1. margaret says:

      I may end up the same way, Donald, and just use a few plants of these “new” ones in a cutting area since the colors are spectacular. We shall see! Thanks for the input.

  17. Julia says:

    I’ve been unsuccessful with these new hybrids, too. Tried two with failure and the company provided me a replacement of one. Failed to resurface the following spring unlike the old faithful purple cornflower relative that welcomes me year after year.

    1. margaret says:

      So glad it wasn’t just me, Julia. Good that the breeder are trying harder. We shall see. I am frustrated when plants are released too soon, and that’s become the norm rather than the exception in recent years of $$$ plant patents and so on. UGH.

  18. Eileen2 says:

    I finally got a purple coneflower to ‘go’ in my herb garden after 3 years of trying. Rabbits love to eat the young ones to the ground. This year I bought a bunch of nylon netting and covered young plants until they grew too large to be attractive to rabbits. (Also, sadly, my neighbor has been eliminating rabbits – not my way of doing things – and there are fewer of them this year.)

    I will try Tangerine Dream. The color is stunning. I can’t wait. I love how coneflowers thrive through the hottest, driest part of summer when other flowers languish.

    1. margaret says:

      Nice to see you, Eileen2. I have a rabbit here at the moment who is giving me a little run for my money. Am trying to get him to hang out in a live trap so he can join the Witness Relocation Program and move a bit away from here. No luck so far. (By the way, I pay a licensed wildlife control operator to do the moving; it’s against the law here for me to do it myself.)

  19. Sheryl at Providence Acres Farm says:

    What a beautiful colour that is! I grew new “Double Decker” cone flowers this year. I planted many seeds and only got one plant, but I only need one :-)

  20. narf7 says:

    Those hybrids are gorgeous! I wonder if we (Australia) will get them any day soon? Echinacea’s are incredibly good to use in waterwise gardening (Xeriscape) and here in Australia we need to make good use of waterwise plants. It never ceases to amaze me how many people think that a waterwise garden is a garden full of succulents and cacti and no colour! There are so many plants that will give good colour on very little water you just have to do a bit of research to find out those that will thrive and those that won’t and may people would be very surprised about some plants that they may think of as incredibly delicate and fragile that are tough as nails! Thank you again for another delightful post that reminded me that it might be -2C here in Tasmania, but somewhere in the world the flowers are blooming :)

  21. Barb says:

    I’ve had some of the same problems mentioned. I tried Big Sky Sundown and Sunrise (I think that’s the name of the “morning” version), and they’ve diminished each year for the past 5 years. The groundhogs don’t help much – they devour the new leaves to the ground each time they start making progress. I sprinkled cayenne pepper on and around them, which works like a charm, but those two are still small and weak.

    Last year we came across Hot Papaya, and it didn’t do very well all last summer, but it just started blooming in last week’s heat and is gorgeous! It’s about a foot and a half high so far, and is a real standout in the garden. I was going to get a couple more, but now that you’ve shown us Hot Summer and Tangerine Dream, I might try those. Thanks!

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Barb for adding to the success and failure reports. HATE woodchucks; can’t blame the plants on that score, though. :)

  22. Dahlink says:

    On the subject of rabbits, I am reminded of an email I recently received from neighbors. They were complaining that the neighborhood foxes are eating their bunnies. While silently thinking “Go, foxes!” I reminded them that foxes also eat mice and other vermin.

    Since we acquired two rescue kitties a few years ago, my garden is much less troubled by the rabbits. Before they would actually hop up the kitchen steps to eat my herbs in pots. Shameless!

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