Echinecea, aka, Rudbeckia, marmalade gloriosa daisy, black-eyed Susan and cone flower is an old-fashioned flower. Not only is Echinacea a hardy flower, it is also a medicinal herb. People have grown and used this flower to treat scarlet fever, colds, flu, and ear infections. Many people plant this lovely flower in flowerbeds, or in their vegetable gardens. If you want a jump-start on the season, start the seeds indoors. Toward the end of February, or 6 to 8 weeds before the last expected frost date in your area, it is time to plant the seeds.
Prepare the Seed Starting Soil
Moisten the seed starting soil mix before filling your cell packs, trays, or pots. To moisten the soil, cover your worktable with a tarp or an old plastic tablecloth. Pour the soil on top of the tarp leaving it in a mound. Using a sprinkle can, pour water over the soil. Only pour a little bit of water at a time otherwise you’ll end up with soggy soil. Mix the soil and water with your hands, testing it after several minutes for moisture content. This is a simple procedure of picking up the soil in your hand and squeezing it. Does water squish between your fingers? You don’t want that to happen because it means that the soil is too wet. Does it fall apart when you open your hand? If it does, then the soil is too dry and needs more water. Does the soil hold together and not fall apart? Perfect. This is just what you want to happen.
Fill Cells or Pots
Place the 4-pack cells, or 2-inch pots into a tray for easier carrying. Fill the packs or pots with the moistened seed starter soil mix. Level the soil so it is slightly below the top of the container. Bang the tray on the tabletop to collapse any air pockets in the soil.
Place one seed in the center of each cell or pot. Some people plant two or three seeds per cell or pot, which is fine if you like to thin your plants. I hate thinning them because it makes me feel wasteful. Also, if you pull the plant improperly, it can damage the roots of the other plant that you are leaving to grow.
With your finger, push the seed so the bottom is in firm contact with the soil. Do not bury or cover the seed.
One thing to note here. Some say that the perennial varieties started indoors germinate better when placed in a cold area or refrigerator for one month. After that, bring the seed tray back into a warm environment. Other gardeners say they will germinate without doing this.
Cover the seed tray with a sheet of clear plastic. Place the seed tray in a warm location and a window that receives indirect light. You’ll want to maintain a soil temperature of around 70° Fahrenheit. A heat-mat works well for this because all you have to do is set the temperature dial and the heat-mat keeps the soil at the setting.
Check the soil every other day to make sure it is moist. If the soil starts to dry, mist it with a spray bottle filled with water. It can take 5 to 44 days for the seeds to sprout.
When the seeds germinate, remove the sheet of plastic. Move the seedlings to a bright sunny window or if you have grow-lights, place them so there is 4-inches of space between the plant’s top leaves and the lights.
If you planted two or more seeds per pot or cell, remember to thin the plants when they have their second set of true leaves. One way to do this without disturbing the roots of the other plant is to cut the weakest plant off at the soil line.
Continue to grow the Echinecea indoors until all danger of frost is past. Two weeks before planting them outdoors, you should harden them off so they adapt better to their new environment. Place the Echinecea outdoors in a protected location for one hour and then bring them back indoors. The next day, leave them outside for two hours. Keep increasing the outdoor time by two hours each day for one week. They will then be ready to handle the outdoor environment.
Plant the Echinecea in the prepared garden location.