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One of my favorite customers absolutely loves rudbeckias; she loves the yellow in her garden. We often redo beds at her house, and she always asks to have some rudbeckias added in. I try to fit them in whenever I can. In my home garden, the rudbeckias steal the show, whether it be the ‘Henry Eilers’ that blooms all summer in the monarch waystation, the sweet black-eyed Susan in the prairie, or the three-lobed coneflower in the cottage garden.
There are several rudbeckia species available to the home gardener. Rudbeckia is also known as black-eyed Susan. There is no confirmed record for where we get the name black-eyed Susan. Although black-eyed refers to the black or brown centers, where Susan comes from no one knows. Rudbeckia is a North American native plant and the different species are found throughout different regions. The best ones for gardeners are Rudbeckia hirta, R. missouriensis, R. fulgida, R. triloba, R. laciniata ‘Herbstonne’, and R. subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’. These are the most commonly grown species of rudbeckia. All rudbeckias prefer full to part sun and well-drained soil. They are drought and wind tolerant, and will grow in many situations.
Rudbeckia hirta, also known as brown eyed Susan or sweet black-eyed Susan, grows from 2 to 3 feet tall and wide and is best propagated by seed. If left alone in a garden bed, it will seed out vigorously and may overtake a bed with less aggressive plants. They often bloom intermittently from May to frost. Sweet black-eyed Susan can be found growing wild across the Great Plains and Midwest, in ditches and fields, prairies, and woodlands. It is great for bouquets and arrangements.
Rudbeckia missouriensis is an almost trailing rudbeckia from Missouri, with greenish flower centers and a lighter yellow color. They grow from 2 to 3 feet wide and 2 feet tall. They bloom from May to September. I have been observing Missouri black-eyed Susan in some of my client’s gardens for three years now and they hold their color better than other rudbeckias planted nearby.
From Rudbeckia fulgida comes the cultivar known across the globe, ‘Goldsturm’, a landscape favorite of many gardeners. This black-eyed Susan has very upright stems that bloom from May to July, and may rebloom in September if deadheaded quickly.
Rudbeckia triloba, also call three-lobed coneflower, is a taller, biennial or short-lived perennial. It grows from 3 to 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide. This rudbeckia also spreads vigorously by seed and can be weedy at times. It blooms profusely from May to September with small flowers, about 1 to 2 inches across. While we do not sell this species at Grimm’s Gardens, we do recommend it to gardeners. We caution you however, it is aggressive and will spread rapidly throughout a landscape. It is best planted in prairies, meadows, and cottage gardens. Seed sources are available for this rudbeckia.
Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Herbstonne’ is a cultivar that has become a favorite among collectors and plantsmen alike. It grows from 4 to 8 feet tall and 3 feet wide. It is a favorite of many butterflies, especially the American snout. The basal leaves are deeply lobed and large. The centers of the flowers are green aging to brown and more cone-shaped than other rudbeckias. They bloom from July to frost.
Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’ was found growing in a railroad prairie remnant in Illinois and has become a favorite of many gardeners. The petals are rolled instead of flat, giving it a very unique appearance. The plants grow from 4 to 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide. It blooms from June to frost, and may be the most consistent bloomer of all the rudbeckias. I have moved this plant twice since its original planting and have had no problems with transplant shock. It is also a wonderful species for flower arranging.
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