En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
1 rating

Sunday - August 16, 2009

From: Hampshire, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Propagation, Transplants
Title: Trimming prairie coneflower for lower height when blooming in Hampshire IL
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Can the prairie coneflower, Ratibida Columnifera, be cut by half or some amount before setting flower buds to force the plant to bloom at a shorter height? If not, when is the best time to dig and transplant?

ANSWER:

Ratibida columnifera (upright prairie coneflower) is a perennial wildflower, native to the area around Kane Co., in the northeastern corner of Illinois. It ranges in size from 1 to 3 ft tall, and the tall, unleaved stem carrying the flowers well above the rest of the plant is one of the features most noticed, especially when the plant grows in fields or along roadsides. 

Plants have their genetic instructions in their seeds. If a plant is supposed to grow 3 ft. tall, there is no good reason besides severe drought or disease for it to do anything else. Plants' prime imperative is to reproduce themselves. In order to do that they must seed, and in order to seed, they must bloom. This principle means that you can sometimes get a plant to bloom more profusely by deadheading, or nipping off the bloom when it starts to wilt. However, this process takes a lot of energy, and there is no way of explaining to the plant that you will allow it to bloom, but it has to do it lower down on the stalk. If you cut the height in two, the plant will probably still try to bloom, but it is going to be trying to grow those longer bloom stalks, and in your climate, it is likely to be freezing weather before the plant manages that. 

We're assuming that you have your prairie coneflowers in a place where you wanted shorter plants, since you asked when you could move it. All the research we did indicated that, while perennial, this plant's recommended propagation is by seed. However, we believe it would be possible to divide the plant and replant it somewhere else. It should be trimmed back after the first freeze, but leave sticks or a marker so you will know where it is when you are ready to transplant. We would recommend you do this transplanting in Spring, after the ground begins to thaw. You appear to be in USDA Hardiness Zone 5a to 5b, which means you have average annual minimum temperatures of -20 to -10 deg. F. It would be harder on newly divided roots to cope with very cold temperatures soon after transplanting than with the gradual warming in the Spring. For more detail on the process, here is a website from About.com:Gardening on How to Divide Perennial Plants

From our Native Plant Image Gallery


Ratibida columnifera

Ratibida columnifera

Ratibida columnifera

Ratibida columnifera

 

 

 

More Transplants Questions

Transplanting Cornus sericea by sprouts in Maryland
November 21, 2008 - I would like to transplant suckers of a red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea). When is the best time to do it (before or during dormancy)? How big of a root system does each sucker need to survive? Where ...
view the full question and answer

Transplant shock of non-native Bougainvillea
May 22, 2008 - Well I bought two Bougainvilleas, the first one I transplanted is doing great, the second one not so good when I was taking it out of the original pot the root ball stayed in the pot but the plant wit...
view the full question and answer

Transplanting Virginia creeper
September 02, 2008 - I have a large Virginia creeper plant approximately 15 feet in length. Is it possible to transplant the whole thing without killing it? If so how do I care for it after it has been moved? Thank yo...
view the full question and answer

Propagation of Asclepias tuberosa
June 18, 2012 - Re: Asclepias tuberosa, "butterfly weed" bush -- I have a bed in a mix of Shoal Creek well-drained caliche, soil, and some enrichment of mulch that gets almost full sun and low water. After 4 yrs a...
view the full question and answer

Wild plum tree failing to bloom from Simonton TX
May 04, 2013 - I have a wild plum tree that has been in the ground for 3 or 4 years and it has not ever flowered. Why? I don't know what kind it is. I dug it up from a friends yard. Her wild plum trees have flowere...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center