The Plant Native

Black-Eyed Susan

Highlights

Black-eyed Susans are resilient native flowers that bloom at the end of summer into the fall. They thrive in full sun, part sun, and drought. After they flower, their seedheads become food for birds. They will come back year after year if perennial or via reseeding itself. Put the unfortunate common name aside (why does Susan have black eyes?!) and celebrate this native plant for its resilience and beauty. 

Full Sun – Part Sun
2′-5′ tall, depending on species
Flowers in the summer-fall
Rudbeckia
genus

Black-eyed Susans are super easy to grow

Dig Deeper

Explore the history, types, and where to plant Black-Eyed Susan

table of contents

What are the benefits of planting Black-Eyed Susans?

Planting native plants makes our yards and spaces gorgeous while helping the birds, butterflies, and animals (and helping save us time!) Here are three reasons why planting Black-Eyed Susans are worth it:

  1. Without native plants like this flower, iconic animals like Monarch butterflies and songbirds won’t have the food or homes needed to survive
  2. Native plants save time and money: after the first year of getting established, native plants are happy with rain
  3. Black-Eyed Susans are DEER-RESISTANT! 
  4. Native Black-Eyed Susans are gorgeous! They are a perfect example of how beautiful and resilient native plants are—they are always the best choice for our gardens.

Where did the name Black-Eyed Susan come from?

As you probably guessed with an eye roll: the common name comes from a man writing about a sad lady. (It’s just as cheesy as you think it is.) According to Texas Park & Wildlife, “the flower’s name likely comes from a popular ballad penned by English poet John Gay (1685-1732). Black-Eyed Susan told the sad story of a crying, lovelorn woman who boards a ship to bid her sailor farewell.” Womp womp.

What a bummer that such a stellar, bright, resilient plant got named by a weepy European dude. What a true disservice to a plant that does not have a black center (it’s actually dark brown) and thrives in some tough-as-nails situations. (Sometimes it does go by the less-cringey names ‘brown-eyed susan’ ”brown betty’ or ‘yellow daisy.’) But common names can change! Let’s see if we can change this one’s common name in our lifetimes. Maybe we can change its common name to ‘Resilient Susan‘?

Sadly, its Latin name is also dude-heavy

This native plant’s Latin name is Rudbeckia hirta. Again, according to Texas Park & Wildlife, “Caroleus Linnaeus, the ‘father of modern botany,’ named the flower’s genus for his esteemed professor, Swedish botanist Olaf Rudbeck.” Sigh… More plants named after actual living women, please.

And they look this bright FOR MONTHS!

How to grow Black-eyed Susans

Black-eyed Susans are an incredibly easy plant to grow and enjoy. Black-eyed susans like lots of different sun situations—from full, blazing sun to part-sun. They also are happy in a range of water situations, from super-dry to sometimes-wet. 

Grow Black-eyed Susans from seed

Growing Black-eyed Susans from seed is easy if you’re patient: plants started from seed will not flower until the next year. This is because in the first year, the plant puts all its energy into growing its root system, which is also what makes the plant drought-tolerant. To grow from seed, you can either start in small pots in early spring and then replant in the garden, or you can directly sow the seeds.

Black-eyed Susan seeds taken from another garden will need to be cold for ~1-3 months before they will grow. The need to be cold before growing is called stratification. Stratification is a part of many seeds that grow in places that experience frosts. A seed knows to stay dormant after it’s cold for a period of time before it sprouts.

You can trick seeds into breaking their dormancy by using a refrigerator or by putting them in a cold, dry place (like a basement or garage). Simply place seeds in a water-tight container and put them in this cold storage for 1-3 months. Take them out and they’ll be ready for growing.

Don’t worry about seeds you buy from a nursery or mail-order: these seeds have already been refrigerated and are ready to go.

Black-Eyed Susan seeds can be started indoors in the spring and then planted out in the garden in the late spring/early summer. This is a cheap way to grow lots of plants; a $5 packet of seeds (or a single seedhead from someone’s garden) can grow dozens of plants.

There are lots of ways to start seeds inside, whether using plastic trays and heating mats or simply using washed-out yogurt containers on windowsills. (Native plants literally plant themselves in nature—they don’t need fancy equipment!)

  • Pick an airy soil mixture to help the seeds find light and air
  • Plant each Black-Eyed Susan seed 1/4″ beneath the soil
  • Keep the soil moist but not too wet; a spray bottle can help at the beginning
  • Sprouts will emerge after a week of planting
  • Transplant when there are at least two rows of leaves on the plant and the nighttime temperatures average 60 degrees.

Growing Black-Eyed Susans by seed in the fall is an easy planting trick. Seeds planted in the fall will not sprout and grow until the spring, but planting in the fall will ensure the plants sprout and grow naturally based on the soil and air temperatures. You can literally sprinkle the seeds in the fall and forget about it until spring, then enjoy plants in the summer.

  • Clear an area of leaves, mulch, or rocks using a rake
  • Get a packet of seeds or a seedhead from another’s garden
  • Sprinkle the seeds on top of the cleared ground; it’s ok to sprinkle quite a few—some seeds will be eaten by birds
  • Lightly cover the seeds with soil
  • Wait until the spring!

Plant Black-eyed Susans from plants

There are three tried-and-true ways to find (or buy) Black-eyed Susan plants for your garden:

  1. Buy from a local plant nursery. Your local nursery will have Black-eyed Susan plants to buy, especially at the end of spring / early summer. Whenever possible, buy native plants from local nurseries. Home Depot and Lowes cannot beat the plant selection at local nurseries.
  2. Find a local plant swap. Black-eyed Susans are easy to dig up and give away. Search local gardening groups on Facebook to find local gardeners who often give away plants during the spring and fall.
  3. Visit local plant sales. Almost all local gardening organizations host plant sales in the spring and fall. These plant sales often include plants that are not available at conventional nurseries. Check your local garden websites for dates.
Even if you get them small...
Most Black-Eyed Susans will get tall!

Added bonus: Black-Eyed Susan is deer-proof

Deer do NOT eat Black-Eyed Susans! If you’re worried about deer nibbling your garden, these are a perfect native plant. 

What pairs well with Black-eyed Susans?

Coneflowers + Black-eyed Susans are a perfect pair

Black-eyed Susans have lots of plant friends that thrive in similar light/water and look amazing alongside them. A great way to pick flowers is to ensure you’ve got blooms throughout the season, from spring to fall. Here are some options:

Native flowers for the spring

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False Blue Indigo

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Golden Alexander

other native flowers for the summer

Native flowers for the fall

In conclusion, the Black-Eyed Susan is a must-have addition to any garden. With its bright, sunny blooms, super-easy care, and benefits to wildlife, it’s no wonder that this native North American plant is a favorite among gardeners. Whether you’re looking to add some color to your landscape, attract pollinators, or simply enjoy its sunny nature, the Black-Eyed Susan is a top choice. So why not give it a try in your own garden and see for yourself?

UPDATED —
03/30/2024
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