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Past Articles Library | Growing Black-Eyed Susan

When I was growing up, I loved to pick Black-Eyed Susan out of my dad’s field.  While it was one of my favorite flowers, my grandmother just adored this little flower.  It reminded her of her mother and her short childhood. 

While the traditional Black-Eyed Susan is found with only yellow petals, other varieties in the Rudbeckia hirta species can also be red and orange.  Beyond the blooms in the summer and fall, the foliage will greet your garden guest with a flush of golden foliage.  In the winter when the petals have fallen off the flower, the stems remain leaving the dark brown to black centers or cones.  This, in turn, adds winter interest. 

The Black-Eyed Susan can be found in sizes that range from 1to 20 feet in height, which makes it easy to fit into many different types of landscaping but having said that there are a few limiting factors.  One factor is the size of the plant material.  While the mature height as mentioned before can be between 1 and 2 feet, the width of the mature plant material can be 1 ½ to 3 feet.    Beyond the size, this plant is also territorial, which means it will bully out other flowers. In doing so, the perfect garden spot can be limited.

Beyond the size, this plant requires full sun but can tolerate areas with partial shade. 

Due to their diverse size, they can be planted in containers, borders, and in flowerbeds along with naturalizing areas.  While the larger varieties may seem intimidating, do not avoid them.  They fit perfect in beds with shrubs since the shrub material itself can help hold up the taller types.

While Black Eyed Susan look great by itself, if you would like a floral companion for your black eyed beauty, consider zinnias.  Their height can help hold the plant up while providing a splash of color and texture.   

Now that you know the facts about the Black-Eyed Susan, how do you start the planting process?  Black-Eyed Susan can be started in three ways, which includes seed, division, and stem propagation.

Starting Black-Eyed Susan through seeds is easy and starts with preparing the garden soil.  If this sunny location is not already a bed, dig up the soil and fill in with well seasoned compost until the soil is level.  If the selected location is already a bed, the only step you need beyond garden bed preparation is waiting until the soil is 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  Once that temperature has been reached, the next step is to prepare the soil for planting.  For the Black-Eyed Susan, this should be done between March and May.  Once the soil is prepared, sprinkle the seeds on the soil surface, slightly cover, and gently water in.  Keep the soil evenly moist until you begin to see little green dots.  This will be an indication that your seeds have germinated and can take between 7 to 30 days.

Once the seeds have germinated, keep the soil evenly moist but after the seedlings have developed their first set of true leaves you should begin to back off on the watering.

The second way to start your Black-Eyed Susan is through division.  This type of propagation technique should only be done every 3 to 4 years and begins with digging up an existing Black-Eyed Susan.  Once the plant has been dug up, take a sharp knife and begin to cut the root ball.  Cut the ball in at least two pieces and replant.  How many plants can you get from a division?  Well, the answer is not cut and dry.  It really depends on the size of the root ball but the key is to make sure that each division has roots.

Once you have your plant material divided, replant the original in its hole and prepare the soil for the remaining divisions.

The last type of propagation is through stem cuttings.  While this approach will give you the least plants, it is an approach to use.  To begin this process, you will need to gather a few supplies, which includes the Black-Eyed Susan plant, pruning shears or knife, potting mix, rooting hormone, and small containers for the cuttings. 

Now that you have your supplies together, begin the process by cleaning and sterilizing the containers.  This is easily done by washing the pots in soapy water and then rinse in clear water that has a capful of bleach added to it.  Remove from the water and allow to dry in the sun.

Next, take the potting soil medium and moisten it with water.  Once that is done and the containers have dried, fill the containers with the moistened planting medium.

After that is done, you are now ready to start the cutting process.  You want to select healthy stems to take cutting from.  Your cutting should be between 3 to 6 inches in length and the cut itself should be at an angle.  Once the cutting has been made with a sharp knife, remove all the leaves along the stem except the top three.  Dip the freshly cut stem into a rooting hormone and push into the moistened soil.  Repeat the process with the remaining cuttings.  Once you have all the cutting processed, the next step is to protect the cuttings by placing them in a clear, plastic bag and tying off.

Why do you want to place your cuttings in a bag?  Well, it helps to keep the humidity up, which is a very important factor when it comes to utilizing this technique.

At this point, you will need to be patient.  It can take between 1 and 2 months before roots develop on your cuttings.  Once you see roots, you are ready to plant. 

Once established, this plant can pretty much take care of itself and can even move on through natural seed propagation.  As easy as this plant is to grow, it does have a few problems.  This includes powdery mildew, slugs, and aphids.

Powdery mildew is easily identified by a white powdery appearance on the leaves that looks like flour.  This problem is brought on by the lack of air circulation and wet foliage.  The best approach is to prevent the problem by not watering from above and making sure there is space between the plants.

The next problem is with slugs.  While slugs can devour a plant in no time, they are easy to control if found early.  If there are just a few slugs hanging around, simply pick off by hand.  If they are more abundant, consider placing a few “beer” traps around the garden space.  The beer will attract the slugs and once inside the trap, they cannot get out and drown.

The last issue is with aphids.  The easiest way to tell if you have an aphid problem is to look for a sticky substance called honeydew.  This is actually a sweet tasting substance produced as a waste by the aphids.  If you find this substance on your Black-Eyed Susan plants then you have an aphid problem.

There are two easy techniques to deal with an aphid problem.  The first technique requires one to hit the plant with a hard spray.  This blast of water is all that is needed to dislodge aphids from the plant material.  The second way is to roll out the welcome mat for beneficial insects.  While any beneficial insect is a plus in your garden space, lady beetles and parasitic wasp are ones that really love aphids. 


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Check Light Availability

Most shrubs can grow in both sun and shade to varying degrees.

Many flowering shrubs, however, tend to need some sun to flower.

Be sure to double check the amount of light you have available to the shrubs you are planning to plant so you are happy with the outcome.

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