Companion Plant for Yellow Coneflower?

Along with perusing garden catalogs, now is the time for obsessing over where to move old plants or add new plants for spring.

Yellow Coneflower
Yellow Coneflower in our garden last August.

For example, I love my Yellow Coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata), so in the last couple of years I’ve planted a bunch of them. Next year the younger ones should really come into their own, creating a nice drift.

Yellow Coneflower
Yellow Coneflower with Joe Pye Weed. The younger plants are hiding in the undergrowth.

But will need some companions to fill in the space to their west, facing the afternoon sun. I want these companions to have blue flowers timed to contrast with the Yellow Coneflowers’ charmingly droopy yellow daisies (and the cone that looks like a clown’s nose). And they need to have the height and habit that won’t block too much sun. My Yellow Coneflowers tend to grow about 4-5′.

Right now I’m considering 3 potential botanical mates.

Russian Sage
Russian Sage ‘Little Spire’. Photo from

1) Russian Sage ‘Little Spire’ (Perovskia atriplicifolia). In an act of random gardening, I bought one of these last summer and planted it in a really dumb place. No, I won’t tell you where. However, it occurs to me I could transplant it to the sunny side of the Yellow Coneflowers, though I’d have to buy a second plant to fill in the area I have in mind.

‘Little Spire’ is a compact variety that is supposed to start blooming earlier in summer and grow to only about 2′. I also like that it has a nice open habit with a bit of a see-through effect.

Anise Hyssop Golden Jubilee
Anise Hyssop ‘Golden Jubilee’. Photo from

2) Anise Hyssop ‘Golden Jubilee’ (Agastache foeniculum). I already have lots of the straight species Anise Hyssop. However, even with cutting back it easily grows to 4′, too tall for my purposes here. However, ‘Golden Jubilee’ is supposed to grow just 1-3′, though it has a more dense bushy habit. The foliage is chartreuse.

Anise Hyssop
Straight species Anise Hyssop (with Yellow Coneflower and Joe Pye Weed in the back).

What appeals to me about this choice is that it I think it will harmonize with the taller straight species, creating a more unified look. Also, the ripe seed heads make a fuzzy spike that should go well with the Ratibida seed heads.

Balloon Flower
Balloon Flower. Photo from

3) Balloon Flower (Platycodon grandiflorus). This would mean adding an entirely new plant to this border, which I’m a little reluctant to do. But I like the idea of the bell-shaped blue flowers contrasting with the droopy yellow ones. It’s got the right height and bloom period.

Time for another poll! What do you think would make the best companion for my Yellow Coneflowers?

Please vote, then explain your thinking in a comment.


52 Comments on “Companion Plant for Yellow Coneflower?”

  1. My vote is for the Golden Jubilee Agastache. All the balloon flowers that I’ve grown have not gotten tall enough, don’t flower long enough, and they flop. It may be my climate, but Russian sage is just not robust for me. It never produces more than a couple of spindly tips. My Golden Jubilee is gorgeous and robust, flowers a long time and even after the flowers fade, the seedheads are still impressive. My two largest clumps are about 3 feet tall, the shortest and smallest is probably about one foot. It self-sows modestly.

  2. I think the Russian Sage would go really well, both from growth habit and flower. The blue is delicate and complimentary, and the grey/silver foliage would look lovely standing next to the coneflower seedheads when they have both finished flowering.

  3. I think your ground is probably too wet for the Perovskia and may be too shaded by the other plants to do really well. I would suggest Teucrium hyrcanicum, it has a different form to its flowers (its common name is cat’s tails, it flowers for a long period which the Platycodon grandiflorus certainly doesn’t and its seed heads also add interest through autumn and winter until you cut them back, it will self-seed but not in a problematic way.

  4. I like the Russian sage, because I think the blue is soft enough to enhance the coneflowers and the Joe-Pye weed, but not compete with them. The foliage repeats the form but contrasts in color, and the flowers offer a subtle contrast in shape. I would think the chartreuse foliage of the agastache and the bright blue balloon flowers would draw attention away from the coneflowers.

    I’ll look forward to seeing what you choose!

  5. I voted for the perovskia too – I have had about 6-8 of them bordering my front walk-way for over twenty years now, and they are invaluable in so many ways, besides being the perfect complement for your coneflowers, as the other commenters have already described so well.
    They do give a very extended season of gentle and contrasting color, especially in August-September when it’s needed. The form is perfect – the “scrim plant” function is great in gardens needing more variety of leaves and blossoms, while providing depth to the whole. They are a terrific anchor, backdrop, and presence, too, for so many other perennials and shrubs. And they are great in flower arrangements, too.
    A comment about culture – I first planted mine while a relative beginner, and not knowing enough to amend my soil, and so inadvertently provided them with the very sandy, lean, sun-drenched conditions which they so love to thrive in.

  6. Jason, the picture of the supposed ‘Little Spire’ is the straight species which is more rangey in its growth habit. The ‘Little Spires’ has been too compact and seems to me out of flavor with your penchant for natives. I have not seen it really grown well anywhere and over a couple years it seems to disappear. I also seem to think it typically suffers from lots of pest problems leaving little brown spots and holes on its foliage.

    I’ve had great fun growing the agastache, but when growing Golden Jubilee in the ground versus in a pot, it has dwindled away to nothing. It is just not a goer.

    The balloon flower is fun but a later bloomer for me than I think you are looking for and the flowers last a day or two each so it requires continual deadheading, which I sense is not your way. I think you might be disappointed with any of these choices.

    I have seen the straight specie of Russian sage grown to wonderful effect in hot sites with sufficient moisture. A hot, unshaded site is mandatory.

    I wish I had a better blue suggestion for you. I struggle with this too!

  7. What would you say to something completely different. I would suggest a large hosta that can take the sun, like Sagae. I would put it not right in front but slightly to one side. It would grow about half as tall as the coneflowers and would create a nice contrast of horizontal lines against the vertical coneflowers.

  8. I have Russian sage – now I will have to go sniff it this summer – never knew it was fragrant – but it tends to lean over, at least where I planted it. I voted for the ‘Golden Jubilee’ – I have that too and it will fill in the area nicely (but I think it is an aggressive reseeder?) I know nothing about balloon flowers.

  9. The Russian sage has a cool, silvery blue that sparkles in a way that will really offset the warm more saturated colors of the coneflower. And the loose, wispy look will contrast with the sturdiness of the coneflower. Many reasons why they go well together (I have them planted as companions, & can vouch that they were made to go together!)

  10. Perovskia ‘Little Spire’ will bloom at the right time most likely. It gets higher than 2 feet in my own garden and will add structure to the coneflower to prevent drooping. The Russian Sage will have to mature itself though to avoid drooping. Balloon Flower blooms too early here and if cut back blooms sparsely. Hyssop is too tall and will push out the coneflower eventually. Your growing conditions are similar to here.

  11. I chose the Agastache on the basis that the only Russian Sage I’ve saw is the taller one and I wasn’t too keen on it’s growing habit. I grow Veronicastrum Apollo which is a nice blue colour too but wouldn’t know when it would flower for you over there but more than likely the wrong time for your coneflowers.

  12. While I would love to recommend the Perovskia…I’ve never grown one that didn’t flop…which is a pity, as I love them otherwise. Agastache ‘Golden Jubilee’ is a beautiful plant…although mine seem to fade a bit by late summer…the main bloom is in July…at least for me. Strangely, the foliage on mine scorches later in summer…but I’ve seen it in other gardens and it’s still beautiful and lush all season…must be my conditions. I’m not sure if it’s hardy there…but Agastache ‘Purple Haze’ is another fabulous contender…and it really does bloom from early summer unit frost. The blooms are not as intense a blue as other…they are more of a smoky purple…but it’s beautiful 🙂 Alternately, Agastache ‘Blue Boa’ blooms all summer for me…but it might be too short for your needs…it really does top out at around 18″ or so.

      • ‘Blue Boa’ looks interesting (check out info at Terra Nova Nurseries). I haven’t liked ‘Sunny Border Blue’, pests target it, short (12″-14″), short bloom, although in all honesty if I was happier with it I would take the time to deadhead for possible rebloom. I think you should check out some of the blue veronicas like ‘Crater Lake Blue’ or ‘Blue Fox’ (‘Blaufuchs’).

      • I thought of Sunny Border Blue because Bluestone said it was 2′ tall. According to their catalog, Crater Lake Blue is 18″. The main thing I’m looking at is sufficient height to stand tall enough to contrast with the Ratibida (though not as tall).

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