On gardening: Southern Belle echinacea a champion bloomer

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceSeptember 20, 2013 

LIFE HOME-ONGARDENING MCT

The Southern Belle is not only among the most beautiful purple coneflowers in the market, but blooms for an extended season. McCLATCHY TRIBUNE

HANDOUT — MCT

Southern Belle, in simple terms, is the best echinacea I have ever grown. It is in its 15th week of blooming and still forming buds. The other varieties in our garden stopped weeks ago. Southern Belle has only been out a couple of years and originated from breeding in the Netherlands. It is being introduced from Plants Nourveau in Charleston, S.C., as part of their Cone-fections series.

During the past year and a half I have touted Pow Wow Wildberry and Somebero Hot Coral, all of which I like. But I'm not accustomed to seeing beautiful echinaceas out my window in mid-September and, judging from the buds, early October, too.

Describing the flower is a little challenging for me. It forms almost a ball-shape or cone with deep rose magenta petals combined with what Plants Nouveau describes as a formal pink pettiskirt. Another thing that I really like is that even after the flowers have aged or past their prime they are still very effective in the landscape to the point that I have trouble making myself deadhead them.

Southern Belle flowers reach about 30 to 36 inches in height with an equal spread. The breeding also imparts genetics Echinacea tennesseensis known as the Tennessee purple coneflower for a hybrid that seems made in heaven.

We planted ours from gallon containers in early May and a month later they were in bloom.

Early spring is the best time to plant purple coneflowers, even though now is when we are reaping the rewards. Select a healthy, growing transplant in a 4-inch or larger container and you will most likely find success. These small plants without buds are still producing roots and green leaves, and will get happy in your garden. This is also the best recommendation for rudbeckias, salvias and Shasta daisies.

Choose a site in full sun for best flower performance. While the soil need not be luxuriantly fertile, if it takes a pick axe to break apart, plan on incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter. We go through a regular process of shredding leaves and grinding small trees and brush for compost that gets worked into the needier areas of our soil.

While tilling, go ahead and work in two pounds of a slow release 12-6-6 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed space. Space your plants 14 to 18 inches apart in informal drifts or even something similar to a teardrop shape. Since the Southern Belle blooms for such an extended period of time, the choice of companions is terrific. My first choice would be to have them partnered with Mystic Spires Blue salvia, and Goldsturm rudbeckia. This would create a cottage garden of breathtaking beauty. Try also with gold and yellow forms of lantana that have a little less spread. The Lucky Pot of Gold would be a great choice.

Southern Belle is a must-have coneflower, so start searching out your

sources for next planting season. Ours was purchased from a vendor at our annual plant sale. I am confident you'll be able some for your garden, too.

Norman Winter, executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, Columbus, Ga., is author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden."

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