As one of the most popular wildflowers grown, the Black-Eyed Susan is recognized by most people, gardeners and non-gardeners alike. Known for their daisy-like appearance, they boast bright yellow, oval-shaped petals surrounding deep, dark centers. A member of the sunflower family, they tend to blanket open fields, adding bursts of color to the summer landscape.
What is it about Black-Eyed Susans that make them so popular? Are they easy to grow and tolerant of a range of conditions? Or are they picky and need lots of tender loving care?
If you have wondered if the beauties you see scattered throughout the wild could successfully be grown in your yard, you’re in luck. The gorgeous bursts of sunshine are highly adaptable and grow as well in gardens as they do along the highway.
Native to eastern and central North America, the Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.) is in the Asteraceae family, along with daisies, sunflowers, coneflowers, and asters. Surprisingly, there are more than forty different types. Some species are annuals, while others are biennial or perennial plants. All of the types prolifically reseed themselves every year if left to go to seed.
Most people envision the flowers with the bold, dark brownish-purple centers and bright yellow petals, but the varieties come in varying shades of yellow, orange, and red. The plants can grow to be over 3 feet tall and typically have leaves 6-inches long. Flowers range from 2 to 3 inches, up to 9-inches in diameter, depending upon the species.
You can find Black-eyed Susans growing in the wild in USDA zones 3 through 9. Plants are tolerant of heat and drought and are often found growing in soils that are rocky or infertile.
Seedlings are sensitive to cold temperatures, so it’s essential to hold off planting until the soil temperatures are over 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This is typically March, April, or May. If you want to get a jump start on growing plants, start seeds indoors about 6 weeks before your local frost-free date and transplant outside when temperatures allow.
Another great thing about Black-Eyed Susans is the soil bed doesn’t need much prep work before planting. If it’s heavy clay and doesn’t drain well, add in some organic matter. Sow seeds 12 to 18-inches apart, loosely covering them or barely pressing them into the soil. The seeds should be no more than ¼” deep.
Homeowners love Black-eyed Susan plants for many reasons, one of them being they are very easy-going, low-maintenance plants. You can find them growing wild out in fallow fields, along the sides of the interstate, and throughout meadows. The plants are tolerant of poor conditions and handle lots of sun, heat, and drought.
Plants will handle as much light as they can receive and prefer full sun locations. Give them a home in your flowerbed or garden where they get a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of sun every day. Because of their heat tolerance, they will thrive in areas that may be too harsh for other plants.
Inherently tolerant of heat and drought, Black-Eyed Susans make great plants in arid locations or quick-draining soils because of their low moisture needs. Make sure to water new seedlings often until they develop their roots. Once the root system is established, water thoroughly when the top couple of inches of the soil dry out.
Black-Eyed Susan plants are not particular about soil quality or fertility, which is why they grow so well along roadsides and ditch banks. With a tolerance for poor conditions, there isn’t a need to fertilize flowers. To give them a boost, you can apply a low dose of slow-release fertilizer at the beginning of the season.
Keeping weeds under control when plants are small is crucial. Pull any weeds that germinate around the base of the plants by hand, avoiding chemical herbicides to prevent accidental damage. When the Black-Eyed Susans grow into larger clumps, they will naturally shade out weeds, negating the need to remove pesky competitors manually.
Black-Eyed Susan plants are perfectly content to be left alone to their own devices once seeds germinate and start to grow. They happily do their thing even if they are neglected or overlooked. While they will grow with little or no attention from you, they will flourish if you follow some of these tips.
- Divide perennial clumps every 3 to 4 years to prevent overcrowding.
- Deadhead spent flowers to prolong blooming.
- You can cut back plants after flowering to promote a second round of blooms.
- Grow plants in containers if you wish to keep them from spreading throughout the garden.
- Plant near lavender, sage, or rosemary. These plants will act as natural repellents and keep deer and rabbits from grazing on the flower heads.
- Cut stalks back to about 4” high in the fall to keep flower beds tidy through the winter.
- Plant with echinacea for a gorgeous wildflower mix of purple and yellow.