Learn About Rudbeckias

How to Sow

Rudbeckia may be grown from seed sown early indoors or planted as a potted plant.

Sowing Seed Indoors:

  • Sow indoors 10 weeks before last spring frost date using a seed starting kit
  • Sow seeds 1/8 inch deep in seed-starting formula
  • Keep the soil moist at 70-75 degrees F
  • Seedlings emerge in approximately 21 days
  • As soon as seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light on a sunny windowsill or grow seedlings 3-4 inches beneath fluorescent plant lights turned on 16 hours per day, off for 8 hours at night. Raise the lights as the plants grow taller. Incandescent bulbs will not work for this process because they will get too hot. Most plants require a dark period to grow, do not leave lights on for 24 hours.
  • Seedlings do not need much fertilizer, feed when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half strength of a complete indoor houseplant food) according to manufacturer’s directions.
  • If you are growing in small cells, you may need to transplant the seedlings to 3 or 4 inch pots when seedlings have at least 2 pairs of true leaves before transplanting to the garden so they have enough room to develop strong roots
  • Before planting in the garden, seedling plants need to be “hardened off”. Accustom young plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week. Be sure to protect them from wind and hot sun at first. If frost threatens at night, cover or bring containers indoors, then take them out again in the morning.  This hardening off process toughens the plant’s cell structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding.

Sowing Directly in the Garden:

  • In mild climates, sow seeds outdoors at any time of the year.
  • Remove weeds and work organic matter into the top 6-8 inches of soil; then level and smooth.
  • Sow seeds evenly and cover with 1/4 inches of fine soil.
  • Firm the soil lightly and keep it evenly moist.
  • Seedlings will emerge in about 21 days.

Planting in the Garden:

  • Select a location in full sun with good rich moist organic soil.
  • Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 6-12, inches removing any debris, and lightly raking as level as possible.
  • The addition of organic matter (leaf mold, compost, well-rotted manure) benefits all gardens and is essential in recently constructed neighborhoods.
  • Plant on a cloudy day or in late afternoon to reduce transplant shock.
  • Dig a hole for each plant large enough to amply accommodate the root ball.
  • Unpot the plant and gently loosen the root ball with your hands to encourage good root growth.
  • Place the top of the root ball even with the level of the surrounding soil. Fill with soil to the top of the root ball. Press soil down firmly with your hand.
  • Use the plant tag as a location marker.
  • Thoroughly water and apply a light mulch layer on top of the soil (1-2 inches) to conserve water and reduce weeds.

How to Grow

  • Keep weeds under control during the growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their germination. 
  • Mulches also help retain soil moisture and maintain even soil temperatures. For perennials, an organic mulch of aged bark or shredded leaves lends a natural look to the bed and will improve the soil as it breaks down in time.  Always keep mulches off a plant’s stems to prevent possible rot.
  • Careful watering is essential in getting perennials off to a good start. Water thoroughly at least once a week to help new roots grow down deeply. Soil should be damp at about 1 inch below the soil surface. You can check this by sticking your finger in the soil. Water early in the morning to give all leaves enough time to dry. One inch of rain or watering per week is recommended for most perennial plants. You can check to see if you need to add water by using a rain gauge.
  • After new growth appears, a light fertilizer may be applied. Keep granular fertilizers away from the plant crown and foliage to avoid burn injury. Use low rates of a slow release fertilizer, as higher rates may encourage root rots.
  • “Deadhead”, remove spent flower heads to encourage continuous flowering and prevent seed development.
  • In colder regions, apply another layer of mulch (1-2 inches) after the ground freezes in fall. Evergreen boughs (from Christmas trees) provide additional protection. Remove this mulch in the spring.
  • Divide when plants become overcrowded, bloom size begins to diminish or plants lose their vigor. Rudbeckia can be divided every 3-4 years in spring or fall four weeks before the ground freezes. Rudbeckia has spreading roots. Spreading root systems have many slender matted roots that originate from many locations with no distinct pattern. These can crowd out their own centers. They can usually can be pulled apart by hand, or cut apart with shears or knife. Replant one division where the plant was originally and plant the extra divisions elsewhere in your garden or give them away to gardening friends. Plant the divisions immediately, or as soon as possible, and water well

Growing tips

  • Many gardeners do not cut back perennial flower seed heads in the fall, but wait until early spring before the new foliage appears. This provides food for wildlife over the winter.
  • Rudbeckia makes an excellent, long lasting cut flower. Pick when flowers are fully open.
  • Plants are great for a pollinator garden.

Common Pests and Problems

Common Disease Problems

Aster Yellows: Plants are stunted, develop witch's brooms (excessive growth), petals turn green and become deformed. This virus-like condition is spread by leafhoppers. Burpee Recommends: Remove infected plants and control leafhoppers. Remove weeds in the area which serve as alternate hosts to the disease.

Bacterial Leaf Spot: First signs are small translucent spots with a broad yellowish edge that slowly enlarge and become angular or irregularly circular with a reddish center. It thrives in cooler temperatures. The disease may also affect and disfigure flower heads. Burpee Recommends: Remove infected plants. Avoid overhead watering. Do not work around plants when they are wet.

Downy Mildew: This fungus causes whitish gray patches on the undersides and eventually both sides of the leaves. Burpee Recommends: Avoid overhead watering. Provide adequate air circulation, do not overcrowd plants. Do not work around plants when they are wet.

Powdery Mildew: This fungus disease occurs on the top of the leaves in humid weather conditions. The leaves appear to have a whitish or greyish surface and may curl. Burpee Recommends: Avoid powdery mildew by providing good air circulation for the plants by good spacing and pruning. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Virus (Various causes): The most characteristic sign of virus is tight and dark green mottling of the leaves. Young leaves may be bunched. Young plants may have a yellowish tone and become stunted.  Leaflets may point upward and have a grayish cast. Burpee Recommends: This disease is readily spread by handling. Destroy diseased plants and the plants on either side. Control aphids and leafhoppers.

Common Pest and Cultural Problems

Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps who feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.

Leafhoppers: Leafhoppers cause injury to leaves and stunt growth. They also spread disease. Burpee Recommends: Remove plant debris. Use insecticidal soaps. Consult your Cooperative Extension Service for other insecticide recommendations.

Spider Mites: These tiny spider-like pests are about the size of a grain of pepper. They may be red, black, brown or yellow. They suck on the plant juices removing chlorophyll and injecting toxins which cause white dots on the foliage. There is often webbing visible on the plant. They cause the foliage to turn yellow and become dry and stippled. They multiply quickly and thrive in dry conditions. Burpee Recommends: Spider mites may be controlled with a forceful spray every other day. Try hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for miticide recommendations.

Tarnished Plant Bug: These insects cause distorted leaves and flower buds. The adults are about ¼ inch long, oval shaped and flat. They are greenish brown with reddish brown markings on their wings. There is a small but distinct yellow tipped triangle in the center of the back behind the head. Burpee Recommends: Introduce beneficial insects to your garden. Traps are available. Try insecticidal soap.

Thrips: Thrips are tiny needle-thin insects that are black or straw colored. They suck the juices of plants and attack flower petals, leaves and stems. The plant will have a stippling, discolored flecking or silvering of the leaf surface. Thrips can spread many diseases from plant to plant. Burpee Recommends: Many thrips may be repelled by sheets of aluminum foil spread between rows of plants. Remove weeds from the bed and remove debris from the bed after frost. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls.

FAQ

Can rudbeckia be used as a cut flower? Yes.

What are good companion plants for rudbeckia? Salvia, ornamental grasses, asters, sedums, penstemon and catmints.

Does rudbeckia attract pollinators? Yes, they attract butterflies and bees.

Is rudbeckia native? Yes, there are about 30 species native to North America.

Can I grow rudbeckia in containers? Yes, especially lower growing varieties.

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