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The Best Long-Lived Black-Eyed Susans

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Gardeners across the world love the North American–native black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta, Zones 3–8), also called gloriosa daisy. This straight species is particularly useful in cottage gardens, meadow landscapes, or pollinator gardens. Its native distribution is vast, stretching from North Florida into Canada. It’s often found in open landscapes with full sun. A high-summer bloomer in the southeastern United States, black-eyed Susan is tough and drought resistant. It can even find a way to survive in the cracks of a sidewalk. However, in our region, black-eyed Susans are unpredictably short-lived and for most of us should be treated like an annual. But even with their short-lived nature, they are still a joy to have in the garden.

The wild native species of black-eyed Susan has smaller flowers and a more open habit than many cultivars. However, it works wonderfully in a naturalized setting. Photo: Andy Pulte

Black-eyed Susan reseeds to create new hybrids

Plant breeders have been busy with this plant over the last 20 years, and many cultivars are exceedingly valuable to gardeners. For home gardeners, one of the best attributes of this plant is its ability to reseed in the garden. It’s not the kind of reseeder that takes over; it seems to produce just the right number of seedlings. Planting several cultivars results in a vast array of differently colored hybrids. Various intermediate seedlings will display a variety of colors and patterns different from their parents. And many cultivars and hybrids have the ability to flower from seed their first year.

hybrid black-eyed Susan
When multiple varieties of black-eyed Susan are planted together, they can create interesting new offspring, such as the hybrid pictured above. Photo: Andy Pulte

Favorite black-eyed Susan cultivars

Below are several commonly available cultivars. I always advocate for planting several different selections together. With just an ounce of luck, you’ll be enjoying these plants for years to come.

Prairie Sun black-eyed susan
‘Prairie Sun’ has creamy-looking petals and green instead of black centers. Photo: Andy Pulte

‘Prairie Sun’ black-eyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Prairie Sun’, Zones 3–8

‘Prairie Sun’, which was a 2003 All-America Selections winner and Fleuroselect Gold Medal winner, was bred by international seed company Benary. This plant has green central eyes and is exceedingly showy.

 

Cherokee Sunset black-eyed Susan
‘Cherokee Sunset’ has fully double flowers with a ruffled appearance and dark mahogany centers. Photo: Andy Pulte

‘Cherokee Sunset’ black-eyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Cherokee Sunset’, Zones 3–8

An early hybrid cultivar of this plant that was developed after 10 years of research by Thompson & Morgan, ‘Cherokee Sunset’ has a mahogany-and-bronze coloration. Individual flowers mature to semi- or fully double inflorescences. This cultivar received awards from All-America Selections.

 

Cherry Brandy black-eyed Susan
‘Cherry Brandy’ is unique for its purple-red coloring and would add excellent contrast to a yellow-petaled cultivar. Photo: Andy Pulte

‘Cherry Brandy’ black-eyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Cherry Brandy’, Zones 3–8

‘Cherry Brandy’ brings novel color to this group of plants. Red petals combined with darker mahogany centers make it a departure from more traditional color combinations. This plant has sturdy stems and makes a wonderful cut flower. While it’s perhaps not as vigorous as other cultivars, its unique color makes it stand out.

 

Goldilocks black-eyed Susan
‘Goldilocks’ has that classic black-eyed Susan look but with double and semi-double flowers. Photo: Andy Pulte

‘Goldilocks’ black-eyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Goldilocks’, Zones 3–8

‘Goldilocks’ is a very interesting double-flowering variety. The original selection of this plant was bred in 1972 by Ralph Gould, a longtime plant breeder. Individual plants produce masses of double and semi-double flowers in rich shades of golden yellow.

 

Indian Summer black-eyed Susan
‘Indian Summer’ has large flowers that are more orange toward the centers and yellow toward the petal tips. Photo: courtesy of Jason Reeves

‘Indian Summer’ black-eyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Indian Summer’, Zones 3–8

‘Indian Summer’ has extralarge flowers and is one of the most reliable of cultivars for the Southeast. Strong stems make it a great cut flower. An inner ring of gold encircles each flower’s “black eye.”

 

Rustic Colors black-eyed Susan
‘Rustic Colors’ produces a mix of differently colored flowers that may come in deep shades of orange and brown. Photo: Andy Pulte

‘Rustic Colors’ black-eyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Rustic Colors’, Zones 3–8

‘Rustic Colors’ is a seed strain that produces a variety of different plants displaying a mix of yellows, oranges, and browns. Plants continue to reseed with the same variety of colors year after year.

 

Plant black-eyed Susans next to colorful annuals to provide interest after flowers fade

In the Southeast, underplanting black-eyed Susan with other plants is important. Plants are not particularly good looking after flowers fade. A low-growing, ground-cover-type petunia or an adjacent sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas cvs., Zones 9–11) with burgundy foliage would be nice to cover space late in the season. Keep seed heads up in the garden, or collect seeds and scatter them about in fall. This will keep plants returning year after year. Overall, black-eyed Susan is one of the easiest plants you can grow in your full-sun garden.

For more high summer-blooming plants, check out:

And for more Southeast regional reports, click here.

—Andy Pulte is a faculty member in the plant sciences department at the University of Tennessee.



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