How to Grow Black-Eyed Susan Flowers

Rudbeckia Hirta

I’ve been fortunate to travel across most of the United States from coast to coast. The majority of this traveling has been in line with the “Will Work for Food” variety rather than the five-star hotel kind.

I dig this kind of rough and tumble adventure, partly because so much of it is spent outdoors, leaving me exposed to the elements. Folks who travel this way have their tricks for staying sane and keeping a good spirit.

A close of few of a clump of yellow black-eyed susan flowers in bloom.

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Me? I looked for familiar faces, but not in the people passing by. My eyes were peeled, scanning the roadsides and the fields, the highway medians and the drainage ditches, searching for flowers and plants that I could identify.

The closest companion I had in these journeys was that lovely lady, Black-Eyed Susan.

For so many gardeners and folks who enjoy the outdoors, the sight of Rudbeckia hirta is a familiar and warming one.

Vertical image of yellow black eyed susan flowers in a field.

That bumblebee yellow with its iconic brown or black center is as American as apple pie. It’s the first flower I learned the name of, and I think I share that with many other gardeners.

Let’s take a look at what makes ol’ Rudbeckia the gem that it is, learn about what it takes to grow these beauties (hint: it doesn’t take much), and get some ideas about varieties we should consider adding to our gardens.

Cultivation and History

Lest you think poor R. hirta got in a bar fight and wound up with a contusion to her ocular space, let’s set the record straight:

Black-eyed Susan is named not because of a propensity to fight other plants, but because of her dark central cone that is surrounded by brightly colored, petal-like rays.

A close up vertical image of bright orange Rudbeckia flowers growing in the garden pictured on a soft focus background.

Growing coast to coast in the United States, these perennial flowering plants are known by names like Yellow Ox-Eye Daisy, Brown Betty, Yellow Daisy, and my all-time favorite, Poor Land Daisy.

These short-lived perennials are native to the Central and Eastern regions of North America, and have become naturalized in the Western regions and also in China.

Part of their widespread distribution is due to their eagerness to spring up from seed, but their iconic appeal doesn’t hurt either.

Throw in their willingness to grow just about anywhere there’s sunshine and a checklist of beneficial aspects, and you’ve got a nice plant for any landscape.

With a Nod to Maryland

Like any good gardening feature, a dash of history goes into this article.

The state flower of Maryland, black-eyed Susan has a mounding habit, growing to two to three feet tall, and can be annual, perennial, or biennial, depending on the variety and where it is grown.

Fans of the University of Southern Mississippi will be delighted to know that this flower was the inspiration for their school colors.

A close up vertical image of black-eyed Susans growing in the garden outside a residence pictured on a soft focus background.

Rudbeckia was given its name as a homage to Swiss botanist Olaus Rudbeck.

This guy deserved to at least have a flower named after him; when his home was burning down in 1702, the 71-year-old was standing on the rooftop of a nearby building, shouting orders to the town citizens extinguishing the flames.

The origin of its common name is a trickier subject. Most folks seem to attribute its moniker to a poem by John Gay called “Black-Eyed Susan.” Common names can be an iffy subject, which is why the botanical (Latin) names are always preferred by professionals.

But, just between you and me, I’m a sucker for a bit of mystery and romance, and use common names quite often. I’d rather imagine poetry and folksy tales than strict Latin names any day… but I digress.

Where to Plant and How to Use

The flowers of the black-eyed Susan, which occur singly atop the tall stems, make attractive additions to cut flower arrangements, with a “vase life” of six to 10 days. This earns them a place in any flower garden next to zinnias, gerbera daisies, and stock.

In my home we love fresh herbs and cut flowers, and because many cultivars of each thrive in the same conditions, we like to plant a combined herb and flower garden.

A close up vertical image of a vase with a posy of wildflowers set on a wooden table outside.

It’s a good use of your space, if you’ve got it!

The poor land daisy has also been used medicinally for a long time. The roots have been boiled and strained to aid in treating colds and intestinal worms (yuck), while the dried flowers can be used in much the same way.

The flowers can be used in a tincture (basically high-proof alcohol with herbs soaked in it) to reduce swelling.

Growing for Wildlife

Black-eyed Susan’s stop-you-in-your-tracks, two- to three-inch-wide, daisy-like, yellow flowers are indicative of its place as a member of the Asteraceae family.

Of course, like so many of Mother Nature’s gifts, this species offers other colorful options if yellow isn’t your thing – you’ll find varieties that offer red, orange, and golden petals, as well. All – well, almost all – have the characteristic dark-brown/black centers.

A close up horizontal image of yellow Rudbeckia hirta flowers growing in the garden pictured on a soft focus background.
Photo by Matt Suwak.

The flower has long-lasting appeal and simple style. It blooms during the summer and can stretch its golden foliage into late fall in a good year.

The seed heads make for attractive winter interest – if you don’t mind the flower going to seed, as they love to do.

And just as humans enjoy the beautiful, bold flowers, butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects are also attracted to R. hirta.

The flowers are  giant bullseyes for native pollinators, and this is part of their appeal to wildlife. A tremendous number of flies, bees, wasps, and other critters love to pollinate black-eyed Susans.

The leaves even provide the sole food source for the eggs of the silvery checkerspot butterfly, and can be an emergency food source for other animals.

A close up horizontal image of a silvery checkerspot butterfly feeding on a black-eyed Susan flower pictured on a soft focus background.

Birds like goldfinches swarm over the seed heads and eat up whatever they can. You’ll also spot sparrows, cardinals, nuthatches, and my personal favorite, the chickadee, devouring these seeds.

The poor land daisy is of vital importance to local environments and is an absolute necessity in any pollinator garden.

If stretches of your property that fit the minimal needs of this flower are available for planting, then give it a shot en masse. The plant spreads easily from seed and needs little care, and your local wildlife will appreciate your caring concern for their well-being.

I really do think the black-eyed Susan is a masterpiece in flower design. It’s a tough, attractive, long-lasting bloomer with iconic appeal.

The beneficial role it plays in the local environment is multiplied via its eagerness to grow and spread. It’s worth its weight in gold, far as I’m concerned.


Be aware that this plant can be a tad assertive, self-seeding at will and crowding out other plants. When you’re first establishing plants from seed, roughly rake the soil and liberally sprinkle the area with your soon-to-be-flowers.

Rudbeckia seeds are sensitive to the worst of the cold weather. It’s suggested to wait until well after the cold weather is gone for the season before directly sowing seeds outdoors, ideally when the soil temperature has reached about 70°F.

Scratch the seeds into place and cover them loosely because they require light to germinate.

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I’ve started seeds indoors before, about four to six weeks before the last frost date, and in my experience this is the way to go. The flowers seem to handle transplanting well enough, and tend to bloom stronger and healthier than directly-sown seeds.

Just like with direct sowing, ensure the seeds aren’t covered too heavily with soil. Again, they need the light to germinate. Keep seeds and seeding moist, but not soggy.

The planting window for most of North America is March to May for flowering in June to September. Germination can be as little as seven days but may take a full month.

A few coworkers have told me that their own directly sown seeds take a year before they bloom, and they are trustworthy folks. I wouldn’t know because I can be a tad impatient and tend to sow my seeds a bit earlier than I’m supposed to… but I can certainly attest to Rubeckia’s aversion to frost and cold!

How to Grow Black-Eyed Susan Flowers

The only major requirement for growing a brown betty is that it has plenty of sunlight. Some species can tolerate a few hours of shade, but these flowers are at their happiest and healthiest when they’re in full-sun conditions.

A close up horizontal image of Rudbeckia flowers growing in the garden.
Photo by Matt Suwak.

Take note that these flowers don’t do well in containers. A thriving root system typically reaches depths of six feet or more, and they are far happier when in the ground than in almost any container.

Tolerant of many soil types as well, the only time the poor land daisy might suffer is in very poor soil. They thrive in areas with more organic material, in conditions that are moist and well-drained but they can take on some drought as they mature.

When you consider the native habitat of a meadow, it’s easy easy to understand their desire for plenty of organic material and a lack of wet feet.

A close up vertical image of black-eyed Susan flowers growing in the garden pictured on a soft focus background.

Rudbeckia can even tolerate some clay-heavy soils, but prefer a neutral pH level. They can survive for several weeks in a dry spell but will ultimately need to drink up as soon as they are able to.

Many gardeners find this plant to be quite resilient and able to be grown in most any condition, including salty soils, making them a good addition to coastal landscapes.

I’ve seen these flowers planted in many soil conditions in gardens and borders. They seem to do their best when they’re left alone and not fussed over too much.

I favor the properties where the seeds are free to go wild, but not every homeowner sees an informally planted swath of black-eyed Susans as desirable.

Care and Maintenance

What if you’re thinking to yourself, “But I like a neat garden”?

It’s still possible to enjoy this plant, and curb it to your liking, if you must.

In this case, gardeners will want to remove the seed heads before the flowers dry completely in late summer or fall. This removes a food source for birds, but some folks really like a tidy garden.

Likewise, for the longer-living perennial varieties, a root division every three to five years is recommended.

Close up of a  cluster of yellow black eyed susan blossoms growing in the garden.

For a more compact, bushier plant, pinch back about five or six inches of growth when the plant reaches a height of one foot. The plant will be a bit more restrained in its height as a result. I find this to be unnecessary, and really enjoy watching the full height flowers dancing in the wind.

I tend to leave my perennials standing over the winter for a variety of reasons, and black-eyed Susans respond well to this kind of treatment. Besides, the birds really do appreciate the seeds and I like seeing the snow-capped seed heads!

Companion Planting

Companion plants for this garden favorite are almost too many to list, but a few ready and reliable choices include zinnias, globe thistle, sedum, perennial hibiscus, echinacea, joe-pye weed, and ornamental grasses.

The yellow and golden colors look nice near shrubs with darker foliage, like smokebush and elderberry.

A vertical image of a large stand of black-eyed Susan flowers growing in a summer garden pictured in bright sunshine.
Photo by Matt Suwak.

Black-eyed Susans look great mixed in freely with other flowers, too. That’s why they’re a major component in most wildflower seed mixtures.

Don’t worry about placing them perfectly when they’re happy to be tossed out randomly and mixed in with other flowers.

Managing Pests and Disease

Highly resistant to most pests and diseases, Rudbeckia is susceptible to leaf spot fungus. Infected plants will have small brown spots on their leaves that grow in size.

Remove the infected foliage if it’s showing signs of this disease.

Most deer and rabbits will ignore the plant entirely, but anything is on the menu when they’re hungry enough.

I’ve seen slugs bother the base of the flowers and have even witnessed powdery mildew a few times, but that’s only in very wet conditions where black-eyed Susan doesn’t enjoy being in the first place.

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Black-eyed Susans benefit from a handful of basic remedies to their minor ailments. Neem oil is helpful in stopping problem insects from eating treated plants.

An aid in treating fungal problems that Rudbeckia can become afflicted by is this ready-to-use spray from Safer Brand. It can be used on other plants as well.

Cultivars to Select

Several heirloom varieties do exist, and there are numerous hybrid cultivars available as well.

Unless otherwise noted, all species of Rudbeckia will have the same blooming window, typically June through September or October.


An open-pollinated, heirloom variety is available from True Leaf Market. These seeds produce plants that are the iconic field and roadside black-eyed Susan that we know and love.

A close up of a black-eyed Susan flower growing in the garden.

Black-Eyed Susan Seeds

The seed quantities in these packages are massive, and better suited to direct sowing.

Your run-of-the-mill seed packets purchased at garden centers and home improvement stores are ideal for starting a smaller batch of flowers.

Expect them to reach somewhere between one and three feet in height.

These are also great for harvesting and saving your own seeds.

Autumn Forest

‘Autumn Forest’ features flowers with red and yellow petals. It’s a departure from the classic appearance of R. hirta but is appealing in its own right.

A close up square image of red and yellow 'Autumn Forest' flowers growing in the garden.

‘Autumn Forest’

They’ll reach a height of about two feet. You can find seeds available at Eden Brothers.

Green Eyes

‘Green Eyes’ has got a snazzy little green center and reaches a height of about two feet. It certainly stands apart from its cousins and goes well with globe thistle.

A close up of a single 'Green Eyes' flower pictured on a soft focus background.

‘Green Eyes’

This plant’s flowers show off olive green centers, rather than the traditional dark brown to black.

Find seeds available at Eden Brothers.


If you’re more of a classicist like myself, check out R. fulgida ‘Goldsturm’.

It’s a more dense plant that’s more prone to mounding and growing to a restrained height, with smaller flowers that are still very much like the parent R. hirta.

A close up square image of a potted black-eyed Susan plant next to a swimming pool.

R. fulgida ‘Goldsturm‘

This variety also tolerates wetter soil than its counterparts and blooms June through September. Plants are available from Nature Hills.

Want More Options?

Be sure to find the perfect cultivar(s) for your yard and garden in our follow up guide, “17 of the Best Black-Eyed Susan Varieties.”

You can also buy potted plants at greenhouses and garden centers in the growing season. I’ve seen black-eyed Susans sold in two-gallon pots more often than any other size.

Shop the clearance racks at the high point of summer (after July 4th) and when mums and fall flowers start to arrive (usually September) to find discounted flowers like Rudbeckia in need of a home!

Quick Reference Growing Chart

Plant Type:Short-lived flowering perennial, often grown as annualFlower / Foliage Color:Yellow, orange, red
Native to:North America, naturalized in ChinaMaintenance:Low
Hardiness (USDA Zone):3-9Tolerance:Drought, rocky soils, deer
Bloom Time / Season:June to SeptemberSoil Type:Rich and fertile
Exposure:Full sunSoil pH:Prefers 6.8-7.7
Time to Maturity:60 daysSoil Drainage:Well-draining
Spacing:18” apart as seedlingsCompanion Planting:Zinnias, globe thistle, sedum, perennial hibiscus, echinacea, joe pye weed, and ornamental grasses
Planting Depth:Pressed or scratched in; do not coverUses:Cut flowers, mass plantings, meadows, and bird and wildlife attraction
Height:2-3 feetAttracts:Birds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators
Spread:12-18 inchesFamily:Asteraceae
Growth Rate:FastGenus:Rudbeckia
Water Needs:Moist but not soggy (especially for seedlings)Species:hirta
Common Pests:Aphids, Japanese beetles, fleahoppers, fourlined plant bugs, rose beetles, saw flies, stalk borers, spider mites, white fliesCommon Disease:Downy mildew, leaf spots, powdery mildew, rust, stem rot, wilt, aster yellows

Joyful Allure

With its cheerful, daisy-like face and eager spreading habit, the black-eyed Susan is a lover, not a fighter. And it just might make a happy addition to your garden.

As for me, you can bet your bottom dollar you’re going to see this flower in any garden I grow. It’s one of the few flowers that can follow you almost anywhere you go across the United States.

If you move around a fair bit like I do, having a trustworthy flowering friend that can follow you almost anywhere is the next best thing to keeping a permanent garden.

A close up horizontal image of black-eyed Susan flowers growing in the garden.

Have you ever grown R. hirta? Tell us what worked for this plant in the comments section below.

We’ve also got some great pairings to go with your poor land daisy. Try the stunning African daisy, a great annual with a variety of colors to choose from, and don’t forget about the awesome landscape grasses that are a match made in heaven for black-eyed Susans.

And for more flower guides, check out some of these next:

Photo of author


Matt Suwak was reared by the bear and the bobcat and the coyote of rural Pennsylvania. This upbringing keeps him permanently affixed to the outdoors where most of his personal time is invested in gardening, bird watching, and hiking. He presently resides in Philadelphia and works under the sun as a landscaper and gardener, and by moonlight as a writer. An incessant questioning of “Why?” affords him countless opportunities to ponder the (in)significance of the great and the small. He considers folksy adages priceless treasures and is fueled almost entirely by beer and hot sauce.

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Jennifer (@guest_2065)
5 years ago

Hi Matt, great article. You mentioned planting flowers and herbs together. Are there any herbs in particular you would recommend planting with black eyed susans? Thanks!

karen blom
karen blom (@guest_4298)
5 years ago

Hi, a friend gave me seeds for black eyes susans over 15 yrs ago. I don’t know which kind, they were very tall with both black and red centers. I LOVED them. They bloomed every yr until 2 yrs ago, they started dying off. I noticed aphids and the leaves looked sick then turned black then died. This yr only 1 plant came up and it is wilting about to die. I would like to replant some (I did last yr but they died right away) but I think there is something wrong with my soil. I sprayed the aphids… Read more »

Chuck Rogge
Chuck Rogge (@guest_4376)
5 years ago

I have a perennial that I think is a Black-eyed Susan but it propagates by roots , very intrusive. Flowers look like susans.

Stephanie (@guest_4399)
5 years ago

Hi Matt. Thank you for the wonderful article of this amazing creation. A local gardener gifted me a one gallon pot and I put it in the ground near my water spigot just below my deck where it is shielded from burning sun. I put it there bc I had nowhere else to plant since my perennial masterpiece was just in the beginning phase. I did not know what the plant was. Up to date, the plant is taller than me only the second summer of its life.

Denise Brigadoi
Denise Brigadoi (@guest_5222)
4 years ago

Have blackeyed Susans in my bed around my deck. What do I need to do with them in winter? Do I cut them down to the bed or leave the plant. I do dead head them.

Rose Kennedy
Rose Kennedy(@rosekennedy)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Denise Brigadoi
3 years ago

Hello Denise! This is just another advantage of growing the bright, cheery, seemingly indestructible black-eyed Susan: You can leave the seed-heads right on the stems all winter. They’ll provide food for the birds, particularly cardinals and finches, in my experience. And the dry stalks add a certain interest to the garden landscape when all the other flowering plants have withered and dropped. Also, no need to mulch them in preparation for winter. As long as they are a plant choice that generally does well in your area, that mulch would only encourage fungus and soil-borne diseases. But you should keep… Read more »

Michael Kohler
Michael Kohler (@guest_13031)
3 years ago

My name is Mike planted the packet of seeds black-eyed Susans they are 4 feet plus and beautiful little to no maintenance just watered well and it must love to soil it’s planted in

Rose Kennedy
Rose Kennedy(@rosekennedy)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Michael Kohler
2 years ago

Hello Michael Kohler. So glad you’re having a great experience with these beauties! Thanks for sharing.

Cal (@guest_14370)
2 years ago

Thank you for the info. It has been very helpful. I discovered some black-eyed Susan growing wild in a huge lot behind my house – what a pleasant surprise! 🙂

Thank you!

Rose Kennedy
Rose Kennedy(@rosekennedy)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Cal
2 years ago

Hello Cal. Thanks for reading, and especially thanks for sharing your find.

Here in Tennessee, one of my favorite sights is when the goldfinches turn to their summer plumage and feed on the blooming black-eyed Susans in my native planting. So many beautiful shades of yellow. Enjoy!

Carol (@guest_14415)
2 years ago

My yard has a hill that was hard to cut so last summer I bought a bunch of black-eyed Susans on clearance. They looked dead but are beautiful this year.

Rose Kennedy
Rose Kennedy(@rosekennedy)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Carol
2 years ago

Hello Carol, that’s great news! I also love a bargain on perennials, and imagine the birds will be just as happy about these black-eyed Susans as we are. Thanks for sharing.

Gae V Seal
Gae V Seal (@guest_21210)
1 year ago

My Rudbeckia grew one vigorous plant from seed which is still thriving and blooming in November in north Texas where it came in a package of wildflower seeds. The plant is healthy but this variety has such droopy petals it always looks like it’s suffering! What am I doing wrong?

Last edited 1 year ago by Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu(@allison-sidhu)
Reply to  Gae V Seal
1 year ago

If just the petals are drooping and the plants appear to be in good health otherwise, it may simply be like you said- that this variety naturally has petals that droop! These flowers also tend to lose strength in their petals as the flowers fade and they may also suffer damage in heavy rains. You can wait to let them die back and turn brown, to collect the seed heads after the petals fall off, or you can trim them back to the next node on the stems to deadhead. Feel free to share a picture if you like- we… Read more »