Seed Heads

Rudbeckia Goldsturm Seedheads in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Rudbeckia Goldsturm Seed heads (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

For textural entertainment in the late fall garden, an orchestra of burnished seed heads creates a melodious collaboration not to be missed. It’s harmony in motion as each chocolate orb sways two and fro in the breeze, mimicking tiny dancers in a Broadway show. These erect sentries stand proudly over areas where other perennials have softly wilted into the landscape, offering their nutritious seeds to any feathered friends that stop by.  Both beneficial and beautiful, what’s not to love?

Bee resting on rudbeckia blossom in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Even the bees love Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’ (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Plants with cone centers are some of the best for producing long lasting, attractive seed heads, and my favorites are rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan) and echinacea (coneflower). Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ is a long blooming black eyed Susan (July-September), that extends its display with late season seed heads densely clustered on 30 inch stems. Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Herbstsonne’, is a much taller cousin (up to 6 feet) that blooms late summer into early fall, when it drops its petals and reveals generously sized oblong seed heads that drape gracefully over the garden. ‘Herbstsonne’ benefits from a pruning of 1/3 to 1/2 in late June, as this practice promotes stem strength and helps prevent flopping. Rudbeckia maxima is another giant of the rudbeckia clan, offering unusually bluish green foliage and erect stems with cones reminiscent of Pinocchio’s nose. All rudbeckias adore sun, tolerate a variety of soils and are hardy to zone 5.

Echinacea purpurea and friend in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Echinacea purpurea and friend (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Echinaceas of all varieties (common Echinacea purpurea) are great seed head exhibitionists, with spiky domes about half again as large as ‘Goldsturm’, but standing just as upright on strong stems up to 3 feet tall. There are vast color selections of sumptuously named coneflower cultivars such as the white (‘White Swan’), hot pink (‘Hot Papaya’), fiery orange (‘Hot Lava’), dazzling yellow (‘Flame Thrower’), and even green (‘Green Envy’). Cone flowers like to be pruned after the first bloom, and if you’re diligent you may be rewarded with blossoms that linger until the frosts of November.  Like the fellow conehead rudbeckia, echinacea are also easy going sun worshippers that tolerate drought and cold temps to zone 5.

The flowing seed heads of Rudbeckia 'Herbstsonne' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

The flowing seed heads of Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Despite the many benefits, there is a slightly troublesome angle to leaving flower heads to linger through the fall and winter months. Although their structure is complementary to most evergreens or deciduous shrubs in the border, the minuscule seeds can travel all over and may show up in places you won’t be happy to see them next year. However, it is relatively easy to remove unwanted newcomers if you get to them early enough, and you can share these with neighbors and friends that may want to introduce some vibrant blossoms to their property as well.  Leave some ornamental seed heads standing in your garden this year, and allow them to make sweet music within the landscape~

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