By Charlie Nardozzi
Rudbeckias, or black-eyed Susans, are a favorite late-summer wildflower in many areas. These plants are easy to grow, naturalize quickly, and give your yard or meadow years of color. Newer varieties with larger flowers and more diverse colorings have expanded the range of rudbeckia options. However, these newer hybrids may not be as tough in the landscape as native species and are sometimes only short-lived perennials.
When growing rudbeckias, first determine where they will grow and what role they will play in the yard. For meadows or areas that will only get mowed down once a year and not weeded, stick with native species. These are tough plants that can fight their way through other wildflowers and weeds and spread over time. In the flower garden, these same characteristics can become a liability. Species black-eyed Susans can spread, taking over a perennial flower garden and choking out other less aggressive flowers. Here it’s best to stick with some of the modern hybrids such as ‘Cherokee Sunset’, ‘Toto’, and ‘Indian Summer’. These will be less aggressive and you can pamper them a bit so they last longer in the garden.
Rudbeckias generally don’t require special growing conditions other than full sun and well-drained soil. While the hybrids look attractive in a garden grown in small clusters of plants, I like the species black-eyed Susans planted en masse. They create a late-summer swath of color that’s pleasing to the eye. You can sow them to create this look or just move the self-sown seedlings in spring. Rudbeckias transplant easily and soon you’ll have more plants than you need.
After the main flower show is finished, either cut rudbeckias back to the ground immediately or leave the black seedheads in the garden. They provide an interesting contrast to the other fall flowers, and finches or other birds love to feed on the seeds. In late fall, cut these plants back as well.