Use this guide to grow sunny rudbeckias in your garden

Julia Atkinson-Dunn gives her garden the Midas touch with sunny rudbeckias. This is everything you need to know about growing them in your garden.

I can say, with hand on heart, that I never set out to populate my garden with orange-yellow flowers. While orange and yellow will never venture into my house via paint or homeware, colour from Mother Nature is different and rudbeckias are now a full-blown obsession for me.

How to grow rudbeckias

I think the biggest trick when delving into the world of rudbeckias is identifying if you are planting annuals or perennials. The majority of mine are perennials, which I far prefer, allowing them to establish over time and divide when I want more plants. However, the annual varieties tend to be the shorter ones, which are cool for pots and filling in edges near the front of a garden bed. So research or read the labels when purchasing plants or seed.

Rudbeckia is yet to be a mainstream garden centre plant, so I would recommend exploring speciality perennial nurseries or online trading platforms.

It is a great plant to pick for the vase, as picking and deadheading encourages fresh growth and the plant will slow down if it goes to seed. I leave my flowers to form seed heads when I start to notice the leaves looking a little tired. The interest provided by the bobble-headed stems is welcome visually, but also for birds hunting for lunch in the winter months.

To harvest your own seed, gently run your thumb over the seed head. If the spikes of seeds easily pull away, you are good to go. If not, they need a little more time on the plant.

In winter I trim the plant down close to the ground or to the new foliage growth developing on the clump. If it is an annual, I simply pull it out.

My favourites

My favourite rudbeckia was picked up for $5 off the Christchurch Botanic Gardens seedling table and, sadly, had no label. I am quite sure it is Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’. I’m also encouraging Rudbeckia ‘Irish Eyes’, which has pale green centres and yellow petals.

Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’  floats alongside Verbena rigida
Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ floats alongside Verbena rigida.

My perennial rudbeckias are so satisfying, requiring minimum attention for maximum positive impact. Lovely and loose on their long stalks, they weave between neighbours like Knautia macedonica and Verbena rigida. Plants like these encourage the feeling of a messy, mixed arrangement in the ground, which I just love.

For the vase

Beyond the dwarf varieties, you are rewarded with brilliant long, smooth stems, which are perfect for slipping into a mixed arrangement. I have found all rudbeckias to have an incredibly long vase life and often move them to a new vase once all their friends have finished.

Flowers in a vase

Flower facts

Common name: Rudbeckia, black- eyed Susan or coneflower.

Latin name: Rudbeckia genus with an emphasis on the species Rudbeckia hirta.

Place of origin: North America.

Plant type: Clump-forming perennials with annual varieties too. Growing from 40cm to 2m, depending on the variety.

Flowering: Summer through autumn. Growing conditions: Full sun but will tolerate light shade.

When to plant: Raise from seed under cover in spring to plant out after the risk of frost has passed. Perennial plants can be planted at any time from spring to autumn. Divide clumps in early spring.

Spacing: About 20cm for dwarf varieties and 50cm for taller ones.

Suitable for containers: Yes.

Cut and come again: Yes.

Staking: No.

Susceptible to: Occasional powdery mildew – remove affected leaves.

Toxicity: Yes, if large amounts are eaten by humans or pets.

Petal Power: 12 plants with personality to grow for garden and vase by Julia Atkinson Dunn
Extract and photography from Petal Power: 12 plants with personality to grow for garden and vase by Julia Atkinson Dunn (Koa Press, $44.95).

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