Black-Eyed Susans 101! (NEW Guide for 2022)
Do you want to learn more about Black-eyed Susans?
Well, you are not alone. Black-Eyed Susans are one of the most common and easy to find flowers around. And personally, they are one of my favorite plants because they are beautiful, easy to grow, AND attract lots of wildlife.
This post is organized into the following sections:
Why should you grow Black-Eyed Susans? (4 reasons!)
- 4 fun facts about Black-Eyed Susans
But because they are so common, you may think there isn’t all that much to know about this fantastic native flower, or they’re not that interesting. However, you would be wrong!
So if you are ready to learn something new about Black-Eyed Susans, then keep reading.
What is a Black-eyed Susan?
A Black-Eyed Susan is similar to a sunflower, just smaller. And like a sunflower, Black-eyed Susans are also part of the aster family.
These two flowers also look similar. They both have golden petals that surround a black (or usually dark brown) center and stands between two and three feet tall.
When most people think of a Black-eyed Susan, they visualize a plant thas has deep, yellow flowers. And while that is by far the most common version, there are actually more than 40 different varieties, including some that have orange, pink, brown, or mahogany petals.
The flower’s scientific name is Rudbeckia hirta. Hirta means hairy and accounts for the fact that Black-Eyed Susans have thin hairs covering their leaves and stems. These plants are perennials and typically stand about two to three feet tall.
You may have only heard this flower referred to as Black-Eyed Susan, but it also has some other common names. For example, it’s sometimes called Gloriosa Daisy, Yellow Ox-Eye Daisy, English Bulls-Eye, and Golden Jerusalem.
Why Should You Grow Black-Eyed Susans?
Here are some of my favorite reasons you should include Rudbeckia hirta in your backyard landscaping or flower garden.
1. They Provide a Nearly Endless Supply of Blooms!
There are certain flowers in my backyard, such as daisies that are incredibly beautiful when they are in bloom. But the problem is that these flowers only bloom for a small window of time each summer! It seems that as soon as all the pretty flowers are showing, they start to die off, and you have to wait a whole year to see them again.
One thing that I LOVE about Black-eyed Susans is that they don’t have this problem! Once the flowers arrive in mid-summer, I can generally count on blossoms up until the first frost.
The blooming season for these flowers can last anywhere from eight to twelve weeks.
Seriously, these plants are a great addition to any flower garden, just for the simple fact that you can count on having bright yellow flowers most of the second half of summer!
And if you deadhead (trim back) your flowers, you can sometimes extend that time frame even longer!
2. They are Drought Resistant!
Droughts are something that many of us must contend with from time to time. When rain doesn’t come for a while, I know I am outside constantly, dragging my hose around the yard watering many of my plants.
But luckily, when a dry spell hits, I’m not too worried about my Black-Eyed Susans. 🙂
These drought-hardy flowers require very little water!
Just make sure to water your Black-eyed Susans after planting and establishing themselves. Once these plants take hold, you will not have to worry too much about watering them.
And if you want to preserve moisture, then make sure to add a layer of mulch. I prefer organic material such as wood chips to conserve water and help with weed control.
3. Black-eyed Susans Grow Almost Anywhere!
Black-Eyed Susans are well suited for hardiness zones 3 through 9, which covers an area from Montana and Maine down to Florida and Texas.
So basically, if you live anywhere within the Continental U.S., you can grow Black-Eyed Susans!
Not only that, but this flower thrives in a variety of soil types. It can grow in soil with a pH balance as low as 6.0 or as high as 7.7. However, the ideal range is somewhere between 6.8 and 7.5.
The plant will tolerate full sunlight, but will also do well in partial or filtered shade.
To recap, these flowers grow in almost every U.S. climate zone, can be placed in a variety of soils, and do well in full sun or partial shade. So when I tell you that you can grow Black-Eyed Susans anywhere, I am not kidding!
4. The Bright Blooms Attract Wildlife!
Not only do Black-eyed Susans look beautiful, but they are NATIVE to North America. This is fantastic news because it means these flowers will attract lots of wildlife to your backyard.
First, many species of bees AND butterflies will be attracted to the nectar these flowers provide.
Second, Black-eyed Susans serve as a host plant to a few different types of butterflies. This means that you need to look for Silvery Checkerspot, Gorgone Checkerspot, Bordered Patch caterpillars on your plants!
Lastly, once fall arrives, the flowers on your Black-eyed Susans will wilt and turn into a seed head. Many birds, such as goldfinches, are going to feed on these seeds, which provide them with nutrition through the winter.
Where to Find and How to Grow Black-eyed Susans?
I hope you’re excited after learning all the reasons you should be growing Rudbeckia hirta in your yard! If so, you are probably wondering where to find it and how to go about planting. Well, keep reading because that is what we will be discussing next!
In general, there are THREE ways to obtain Black-eyed Susans:
1. Find Black-Eyed Susans at a Nursery.
Luckily, Black-eyed Susans are typically easy to find at any garden center. Because of their popularity, they are also normally available at many of the large retailers, such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, and even Wal-mart.
When I buy flowers, I usually try to go to a local nursery, mostly to help support a small business. I think they also have the best-looking and most healthy plants.
What else should you do when buying Black-eyed Susan plants?
First, look for healthy, well-established plants that have thick stems and fresh, green leaves. Ensure the soil surrounding your plant is moist to the touch but not overly wet.
After selecting healthy specimens, follow these steps to plant them in the ground.
- Decide where to plant your Black-Eyed Susans. I like to place mine along the borders of my flowerbeds and garden walkways. Remember that these flowers have fibrous root systems that can allow them to spread anywhere from 12 to 18 inches. To prevent overcrowding, ensure your specimens have plenty of room to grow.
- After selecting your spot, dig a hole just deep enough for the root system. Black-Eyed Susans do not have to be planted too deeply. Make your hole roughly twice as wide as the roots.
- Gently remove the plant from its pot, ensuring you keep the root ball intact as much as possible. Squeeze the container, and the root will normally pop right out. Place the plant into your hole and fan the root system out to ensure even coverage.
- Add a bit of plant food to provide micro-nutrients and improve the pH balance of your soil if needed. I find it extremely beneficial to add a layer of mulch surrounding the Blacked-eyed Susans, which helps retain moisture and prevent weeds.
- Water your new plants, ensuring the root ball is thoroughly soaked but not overly saturated. As the Black-eyed Susans are becoming established, make sure to provide plenty of water, especially if you are not receiving much rain at that time.
Now that all the hard work is done, the only thing left to do is sit back and wait for blooms to appear!
2. Start Black-Eyed Susan from Seed.
Growing Black-Eyed Susans from seed will require some extra work on your part but can save you a great deal of money over buying plants from a garden center.
Here’s how to get started:
- Purchase seeds from a nursery or online. Make sure you are getting a variety that is compatible with your hardiness zone. View Prices - Amazon
- Wait until the danger of the last frost has passed before planting your seeds. If you’re not sure, contact your county extension office or consult an almanac.
- Plant seeds in full sunlight and moist, well-drained soil. Even though Rudbeckia hirta can grow in partial shade, the seeds will need at least six to eight hours of sun daily to germinate.
- Cover your seeds with one to two inches of dirt and water lightly. You may notice germination in as little as seven days; however, some varieties may take as long as 30 days.
- To get a head start on the growing season, you may also start your seeds indoors in pots. Start seeds indoors around four to six weeks before the last frost, and you will have fully established plants that are ready to go come spring. Make sure to place the planted seeds near a window that gets lots of sunshine!
3. Transplant Black-eyed Susans from somewhere else!
Because of the popularity of this native flower, they are found in yards of many homes across North America.
One way to obtain some healthy plants FOR FREE would be to transplant them from someone else’s house! Black-eyed Susans spread over time, and if someone has had them growing for many years, they probably have some extra plants that have sprouted they don’t need.
Recommended Black-eyed Susan Varieties:
Because of the popularity of Black-eyed Susans, horticulturists have created dozens of types for all different tastes.
In fact, there are more than 40 different varieties that you can choose!
You don’t have to settle for the typical yellow flower that is characteristic of Black-eyed Susans. The flowers have been cultivated to include colors ranging from orange to purple to red!
There are also different size flowers you can choose. For example, in my flower garden, I have “miniature” Black-eyed Susans, where the flowers don’t get any bigger than about the size of a quarter. For reference, a typical Black-eyed Susan flower is more comparable to the width of a coffee cup.
As we learned above, the typical Black-eyed Susan is a perennial flower, which means it comes back year after year. But there are now annual varieties, while others are biennials or short-lived perennials.
Remember me telling you that Rudbeckia hirta can tolerate different soil types? While that may be true, the fact is that some varieties will do better than others in certain types of soil. So it might be helpful to learn what soil type you have or even have your pH balance tested. Compare your results with the tag you will find on plants at a garden center to ensure it will grow well at your home.
Below are just a few examples of Black-eyed Susan cultivars that you may find:
This variety has layers of petals that make it more closely resemble a chrysanthemum. It also produces blooms in varying shades of mahogany, yellow, bronze, orange, and red.
As the photo above shows, each flower can contain individual petals that have more than one shade. The unique color patterns found in Cherokee Sunset give it an eye-catching appeal that will turn heads no matter where you plant it.
With its yellow-tipped, orange petals and black center, Prairie Glow reminds me of candy corn!
Honestly, I love the fact that this flower provides a taste of autumn all year long. But it’s also a great accompaniment to regular Black-Eyed Susans. The sharp contrast in colors will add some charm to any garden.
Look at the picture above, and you will see it’s possible for a Black-Eyed Susan to have green “eyes’!
This flower has petals in varying shades of yellow and gold surrounding a central green cone. It’s quite an interesting color combination and will add a beautiful, consistent yellow color to your gardens.
If you do want something out of the ordinary, you can’t go wrong with Cherry Brandy. This variety has deep red or purple petals and a maroon or dark chocolate-colored center.
Cherry Brandy is somewhat shorter than other Black-eyed Susans, standing only between 18 and 20 inches tall. Its flowers, on the other hand, are much larger, reaching anywhere from three to four inches in diameter.
Plus, its rich, vibrant color will attract many pollinators, like bees and butterflies!
Common Pests & Diseases That Affect Black-Eyed Susans
What pests or diseases do you need to watch out for? Keep your eye open for the following:
Powdery Mildew is a common disease that affects some plants, including Black-Eyed Susans. This fungal disease is rather easy to recognize. If your plants have powdery Mildew, they’ll look as though they have been dusted with a fine, white powder.
A fungicide is sometimes effective at eliminating Powdery Mildew. But you may also need to thin your flowers to keep the fungus from spreading.
As an added precaution, bag up any discarded plants and ensure that they are properly disposed of in the garbage.
This video shows Powdery Mildew on wheat, but you would identify it on Black-eyed Susans the same way.
Slugs and Snails
Slugs are a type of invertebrate animal that somewhat resembles a worm. Snails, on the other hand, look much like slugs but contain a hard, outer shell.
If you have slugs or nails, you will probably see large holes in the center of your leaves. However, you may notice scalloped edges or missing chunks from the outside of the leaves as well. These pests are especially troublesome for seedlings but can attack mature flowers too.
Slug and snails typically come out at night. Accordingly, you will need to inspect your plants after dark using a flashlight. Both invertebrates prefer moist, wet climates, and are therefore more likely to attack during periods of heavy rain.
So how do you get rid of slugs and snails?
If you discover slugs or snails, lay some cardboard around your flowers. The creatures will attach themselves to the cardboard overnight, so in the morning, you can simply pick it up and relocate the pests.
Another way to get rid of slugs is with a beer trap!
Seriously, this works! If you’re interested, watch the above video for details.
Aster Yellows most often affect coneflowers. However, any plant in the Aster family can contract this illness.
This viral disease is caused by a bacteria-like phytoplasma, which is spread by aster leafhoppers as they roam from plant to plant. When Black-Eyed Susans are infected with Aster Yellows, they may experience stunted growth and smaller-than-normal leaves. Deformed flower petals, leaves, and cones are also common with Aster Yellows.
Unfortunately, there is no remedy for Aster Yellows.
If your flowers develop it, you will have no choice but to remove them.
When you get rid of infected leaves and flowers, make sure to bag them up and place in the garbage or burn them. Don’t put them in a compost pile, because if you do, the infection can spread to other plants.
Verticillium Wilt is a fungal disease that primarily affects a plant’s water-conducting tissues.
Caused by six different species of fungi, the disease begins in the soil, where it attacks your plant’s roots and underground stem. From there, the illness works its way upward into the above-ground stem and leaves.
When Black-eyed Susans are affected, their leaves may turn brown and fall off. Petals may also become discolored and appear wilted.
To eliminate Verticillium Wilt, prune or cut back damaged flowers. If a large number of plants are affected, you may want to thin them out to allow for better airflow. Doing so will reduce the odds of the disease spreading.
FOUR Fun Facts About Black-Eyed Susans
Fact #1: There is a Legend Behind the Name!
Have you ever wondered how the Black-Eyed Susan got its name? According to legend, it’s derived from a popular 1700s Old English poem from famous poet John Gay.
The poem, titled “Black-Eyed Susan”, tells the story of a woman known as Black-Eyed Susan and her true love, William. He was a sailor that she bid a fond farewell to before he headed out to sea.
In Europe, the Sweet William flower is often seen growing alongside the Black-Eyed Susan. This fact seems to add even more credence to the legend.
Fact #2: It’s Named for a Pair of Famous Scientists.
The scientific name of Black-eyed Susans, which is Rudbeckia hirta, is named after a famous duo of father and son scientists, both of whom were named Olof Rudbeck.
Olof (father) was a famous botanist and physician who was well connected with Swedish royals. Olof (son) was also a botanist who served as a teacher and mentor to Carolus Linneaus. Linneaus is the father of our current plant-naming system and is credited with naming the Rudbeckia genus.
Fact #3: It is the State Flower of Maryland!
The Maryland legislature designated the Black-Eyed Susan as its state flower in 1918, and the act was signed into law by then-Governor Emerson Herrington on April 18, 1918.
The following song was popular back then, and helped connect the state of Maryland to the Black-eyed Susan:
My pretty black-eyed Susan,
The fairest flower that grows;
You’re sweeter than sweet violets,
The lily or the rose.
My heart to you is ever true,
To do as you command.
My pretty black-eyed Susan,
The flow’ r of Maryland.
The decision to name the Black-Eyed Susan as the state flower actually began nearly 20 years prior. In 1898, a vote was taken at a meeting at Maryland Agricultural College about what the state flower of Maryland should be. Rudbeckia hirta won hands down. The flower received 42 votes, followed by Goldenrod with 28 votes, with Daisy receiving a single vote.
Fact #4: They Have a Special Place in Horse Racing.
The fact that Rudbeckia hirta is the state flower of Maryland means it has a significant part in the nation’s second-largest horse racing event.
Held on the third Saturday in May each year, the Preakness Stakes takes place in Baltimore and is part of the Triple Crown.
The race is known as the “run for the Black-Eyed Susans” because the winning horse is adorned in a specially-made blanket of these bright yellow flowers.
Fact #5: Black-eyed Susans Have Medicinal Benefits.
For centuries, Native American tribes have used Black-Eyed Susan to treat a variety of illnesses. The flower has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, making it useful in treating colds, cases of flu, and other viral infections.
Rudbeckia hirta is also a mild diuretic. As such, it is often used to counteract the swelling that comes with high blood pressure. And there is even some evidence that the flower is effective in treating the condition itself.
Perhaps the most interesting medicinal use is treating a snakebite. Native Americans would often make a poultice using the root that they would then apply directly to the snakebite.
Please note that I am not recommending you try this at home. It’s essential to seek medical attention anytime you experience a snakebite. 🙂
However, in the rare event that medical help is not available, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to try some Black-Eyed Susan!
As you can see, the Black-Eyed Susan is more than just an ordinary flower. Its natural charm and beauty have made it one of the most-loved floral specimens out there.
Why not add a few (or many) Black-eyed Susans to your garden?
When you do, leave a comment below and let me know what type of Black-Eyed Susan you are growing and where you live.
I look forward to hearing about your experiences with Rudbeckia hirta, and can’t wait to read your comments.