While they begin blooming in late July Rudbeckia, or Black-Eyed Susan, really reaches its peak of performance in September and October. Their golden-yellow daisy blooms and black centres shout out that autumn has arrived. Languishing in the heat of summer, they seem invigorated by the cool nights and more moderate fall daytime temperatures, pumping out a steady supply of buds and blooms until the hard frosts arrive. When that killing frost happens the black seedheads become food for birds, especially finches.
Although they are commonly listed as being drought-tolerant my experience with Rudbeckia is that they are among the first to flag when it’s hot and dry. They actually prefer average to good soil with regular moisture. Full sun is essential. The standard perennial cultivar “Goldsturm” grows to .75 metre tall, but there are shorter varieties that are less than .5 metre at maturity. Rudbeckia should be divided in spring every few years to keep the plants looking good and flowering strongly.
Landscape architects Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden started a revolution back in the early 1980’s when the advocated the planting of large swaths of ornamental grasses with, among other plants, Rudbeckia. It’s a classic combination; the gracefully flowing foliage of the grasses backing against the stiff stems of the daisies. Rudbeckia also pairs up well with fall-blooming asters, Russian sage and taller Sedums like “Autumn Joy.” The species Rudbeckia hirta produces large blooms in some fabulous autumn tomes, ranging from orange to red to bronze and all shades in between. These are ideal candidates for colour in fall containers. They’re not as hardy as “Goldsturm” but they’ll reseed if left alone after hard frost-if the birds don’t eat all the seeds first!

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