Black Eyed Susan: A Complete Guide To Growing

monarch butterfly on Black Eyed Susan flower

Black eyed Susan flowers, also known as rudbeckia, are a thankfully easy plant to grow. Beyond some confusion over the name and a vulnerability to slugs and snails, the daisy-like flower doesn’t require much fuss. Black eyed Susans are a great candidate for any garden, and anyone who needs a bouquet for the house won’t go wrong with these cheerful flowers.

This guide will cover the ins and outs of growing back eyed Susan, including these topics:

  • General characteristics of black eyed Susan
  • Uses for flowers
  • Starting from seed
  • Variety recommendations

Black eyed Susan basics

Black eyed Susan is a prairie flower native to the central United States. It’s a sturdy flower that produces long stems holding daisy-like blooms with golden yellow petals. Easy to start from seed, long-blooming, and attractive to pollinators and birds are just three of the many qualities of black eyed Susan.

Botanical nameRudbeckia hirta, fulgida, triloba, etc.
When to start seeds6-8 weeks before last spring frost
When to transplant/direct sowAfter risk of spring frost is gone
Mature plant height12-60 inches depending on the variety
Sunlight requirementsFull to partial sun
Water requirementsRegular water until established
Can be drought tolerant once established
Soil requirementsAny well-draining soil
Blooming periodSummer until fall frost
AppearanceSingle or double blooms, brown or green center
Petals in yellow, gold, orange, rust, bronze
Fuzzy, oblong leaves, or lobed leaves
Pests & diseasesSlugs and snails when young
Powdery mildew in humidity or poor airflow

the difference between black eyed Susan and rudbeckia

If you’ve spent any time at all looking at flower seeds, chances are you’ve seen photos and listings that use both black eyed Susan and rudbeckia to describe the same flower, which of course, would make you wonder if they’re the same or different flower.

Black eyed Susan is the common, everyday name for rudbeckia. Both names refer to the same plant, and both are correct to use. Rudbeckia is also known as brown eyed Susan and gloriosa daisy, which also refer to the same species of flowers. There are many different varieties, or cultivars, of black eyed Susan.

If you’re interested in learning more about the different types of rudbeckia all commonly referred to as black eyed Susan, I did some research to sort it all out: Is Black Eyed Susan The Same As Rudbeckia? (Plus other lookalikes)

Annual or perennial growth habits of black eyed Susan

This is one of the most common questions about black eyed Susan, since the answer isn’t quite as straightforward as you would expect.

Black eyed Susans come in either biennial or perennial varieties, meaning they live for either two or more years. Many biennial varieties are grown as annuals and started from seed early in the spring. Even perennial varieties can be grown as annuals in cold climates. All types of black eyed Susan will readily self-sow, returning each year from seed.

Biennial

The most common biennial species is Rudbeckia hirta, which includes the popular variety Indian Summer, which is probably the first flower that pops into your head when you think of black eyed Susans. The blooms are huge, up to nine inches across, with solid golden-yellow petals.

Indian summer Black Eyed Susan
Indian Summer black eyed Susan. Photo courtesy of Johnny’s Seeds.

This variety, among others, is started indoors 6-8 weeks before planting them in the garden to give the plants a long enough growing season to bloom the first year.

The mature flowers will drop seeds in the garden that will sprout and keep black eyed Susan growing in your garden year after year, tricking gardeners into thinking they are perennials. Since new roots form each year, they aren’t technically a perennial, but it sure is nice to have a display of flowers every year.

Perennial

The most common perennial species is Rudbeckia fulgida, with Goldsturm the most popular variety. The flowers are golden yellow, and the petals droop down a bit like a coneflower. Perennial species of black eyed Susan will survive from year to year in zones 4-9.

The plants will die back at the end of each flowering season, and then new growth will return on the same roots in the spring. Perennial black eyed Susans don’t need to be divided very frequently, but when they do, you can break the root clump into a few pieces and expand your flower garden by replanting the roots.

In this article, Are Black Eyed Susans Annual Or Perennial Flowers, I dig deeper into the growing habits of black eyed Suan.

Top variety recommendations

With that black eyed Susan introduction out of the way, let’s look at some of the popular varieties you can find in most online seed catalogs. Some may look familiar, while others might be new to you. I’m still discovering new varieties to try!

If you need a few good seed catalogs to browse, choose one from this list: 10 Best Places To Buy Quality Flower Seeds Online.

Here are some of my favorite black eyed Susan varieties. Photos are from Johnny’s Seeds, one of the best seed suppliers for any gardener.

The varieties listed here are a mix of biennial and perennial varieties, but all can be started from seed. In fact, to make sure you get blooms the first year, jump over to this article, Black Eyed Susan: First Year Blooms And Other Flowering Questions to learn how.

VarietyHeight (inches)Days to maturityAppearance
Amarillo Gold12-1890-105golden yellow petals, green center
Carmel20100-120double and semi-double flowers in copper, pink, and yellow
Cherokee Sunset20-24100-120double flowers in orange, copper, and yellow, brown center
Cherry Brandy20-24100-120single flowers in cherry red, brown center
Chim Chiminee24-30100-120flowers have tubular petals in bronze, orange, yellow, brown center
Indian Summer36-4290-100single flowers with solid golden yellow petals, brown center
Irish Eyes24-3660-90single flowers with yellow and orange petals, green center
Orange Fudge15-2090-105two-tone single flowers in copper and yellow, brown center
Prairie Sun3690-105two-tone single flowers in orange and yellow, green center
Rudbeckia triloba48-6090-100smaller yellow flowers, brown center
Sahara20100-120double and semi-double flowers in rust, rose, and copper

Black eyed Susan is a multipurpose flower

Black eyed Susans pull double and triple duty in the garden, making them a valuable addition to any flower bed.

vase of yellow Black Eyed Susan flowers

Cut flowers: Black eyed Susans make lovely cut flowers with strong stems and long-lasting blooms. The months-long blooming period of summer to fall gives you plenty of time to experiment with creating bouquets to follow the seasons.

In summer, try cutting white cosmos and green basil to partner with your black eyed Susans. In the fall, red amaranth and orange zinnias make a fall-inspired bouquet. Or, still with a single run of just black eyed Susan for a charming jarful of flowers.

Read more about flowers to grow and cut along with black eyed Susan: Companion Plants For Black Eyed Susan: Garden And Bouquet.

Attract pollinators: The large size and flat shape of black eyed Susan flowers make them a favorite for butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects. The large flowers make convenient landing pads, and the rounded center holds pollen and nectar for insects to collect.

When the flowers are planted in large swaths, it makes it very easy for pollinators to notice them from above, enticing them to stop in and have a snack. Developing larget plantings of flowers is easy thanks to the tendency of black eyed Susan to self sow at the end of the season.

Let the seeds sprout and grow in the spring and build your low-maintenance pollinator garden in no time.

Feed birds: The large cones, or centers, of black eyed Susan flowers make excellent food for birds in the fall. The birds can perch right on the flower and pick out the small seeds. The process will also help shake some seeds to the ground to self-sow, so don’t worry that the birds will prevent new flowers from growing next year.

If you can, hold off on cutting back your black eyed Susan plants until the spring so that birds can have a chance to visit the seedheads throughout winter and fall.

How to plant and care for black eyed Susans

No matter which variety you choose to grow, you won’t have to fuss much with the seeds or plants. Just provide well-draining soil and full sun, and it’s off to the races.

start black eyed Susan from seed easily

Black eyed Susan is easily started from seed, even the perennial varieties. Seeds are best sown indoors 6-8 weeks before the last spring frost date. As long as the seeds are kept moist while germinating, sprouts should appear after a week or two.

You can also sow seeds directly in the garden by scattering seeds over clear soil, then tamping the seeds down without covering them. The seeds will still take a week or two to germinate, and the seedbed shouldn’t be allowed to dry out while the seeds are germinating.

Starting black eyed Susan from seed opens the door to many more varieties than the ones that garden centers and nurseries commonly sell. If you buy transplants, chances are you’ll get Indian Summer or Goldsturm, but there are so many more colors, patterns, and bloom types to enjoy (more on other varieties in a moment!).

To get all the details about starting black eyed Susans from seed, including step-by-step instructions, check out this article: Growing Black Eyed Susan From Seed: Q&A and How To Start.

Full or partial sun will work for black eyed Susan

Once your seeds have reached seedling status and you’re ready to plant them out, site a planting area that receives full or partial sun.

Black eyed Susan will grow best in full sun where it receives at least eight hours of sun per day. This will yield the strongest and most productive growth. If you don’t have an area in full sun, then partial sun will work, as long as the plants get at least six hours of direct sun per day.

All varieties will grow well in full sun, and you’ll get the most blooms with this scenario. In partial sun, brown eyed Susan, or rudbeckia triloba will perform well. This perennial variety grows quite tall, up to five feet, and is covered in smaller blooms that can handle a bit of shade.

There are a few other tips you can use to keep your black eyed Susan flowers happy whether they’re grown in full or partial fun. Check them out here in this article, Sun Or Shade For Black Eyed Susans? (Plus tips for success).

Cut back black eyed Susan at key opportunities

Once your black eyed Susans are well under way, they are very low-maintenance plants. Deadheading is a simple task that can prolong the blooming period of your plants, and it’s straightforward to do. As the black eyed Susan flowers begin to fade on the plant, remove them by cutting the stem low on the plant.

Removing the old flower will help keep the plant in flower production, rather than going to seed too early. If you are cutting stems regularly for cut flowers, you might not even need to deadhead.

As the season winds down, try to leave some old flowers on the plant to feed the birds and provide them a perch among the empty garden. There might even be some insects that use the old foliage as winter habitat.

To get answers to any questions you have about deadheading or overwintering black eyed Susans, check out this article, Know When To Cut Back Black Eyed Susans For Optimal Growth.

And that’s it in a nutshell! Black eyed Susan is a fantastic flower for any garden. Give them a try, and don’t forget to pick some stems for the vase.

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