How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Brown-Eyed Susans

You may have heard of the black-eyed susan, also known as Rudbeckia. But have you heard of its close relative, the brown-eyed susan? This flower is also in the Rudbeckia family and is just as stunning! Once established, it is low-maintenance, drought-tolerant, and attracts a plethora of pollinators. Gardening expert Kelli Klein walks you through how to plant, grow, and care for this perennial flower.

Close-up of blooming brown eyed susans which feature hairy, branching stems that support coarse, toothed leaves with three distinct lobes, while their vibrant yellow petals encircle a prominent dark brown cone center.


Brown-eyed Susan grows as a multi-branched, tall wildflower perfect for a cut flower garden. Regular deadheading will encourage even more blooms. These flowers will also attract beneficial insects to your garden. Rudbeckia triloba is the host plant to the silvery checkerspot butterfly and the wavy-lined emerald moth. 

These yellow daisy-like flowers are about one half inch to one inch in diameter and sit atop stems that can reach a height of five feet. The flowers will begin to bloom in late summer and bloom all through the fall. This makes them a great late-bloomer to add to your garden to ensure that something is blooming at all points throughout the growing season. 


Close-up of flowering Rudbeckia triloba plants characterized by their sturdy, hairy stems, feature alternate lance-shaped leaves with serrated edges, and bright yellow daisy-like flowers boasting prominent dark brown centers.
Plant Type Perennial (short-lived)
Family Asteraceae
Genus Rudbeckia
Species Rudbeckia triloba
Native Area Central and Eastern United States
Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Height 2-5 feet
Watering Requirements Drought-tolerant
Pests & Diseases Slugs, powdery mildew
Maintenance Low
Soil Type Sandy to loamy
Soil pH Acidic, neutral

What Are Brown-Eyed Susans?

Close-up of flowering Rudbeckia triloba plants showing slender, branching stems adorned with hairy, triangular leaves, and produces clusters of small, golden-yellow flowers with dark centers.
Add wildflower charm to your garden with Brown Eyed Susan.

Brown-eyed Susan, botanically Rudbeckia triloba, are closely related to black-eyed Susan or Rudbeckia hirta. Brown-eyed Susan is taller, with more flowers, and a wildflower appearance.

They have the same daisy-like yellow flowers as black-eyed Susan, but the flowers are smaller, and the centers are lighter in color. Since each plant produces many branches, sturdy stems, and abundant flowers, this makes it a great addition to a cut flower garden. 


Rudbeckia triloba in bloom at the sunny garden forming branched thin stems with hairy, triangular leaves and clusters of small, golden-yellow flowers with dark centers.
Discover the versatile charm of Rudbeckia triloba in your garden.

Rudbeckia triloba has a history of medicinal and culinary uses, including dried flower petals used for tea or ground to flavor soups. The pharmacological properties of Rudbeckia triloba are still being studied today. Nowadays, this native flower is most commonly prized for its ornamental qualities and low-maintenance status in the cut flower garden. 

Native Area

Close-up of flowering Rudbeckia triloba plants in their natural environment, producing finely branched, hairy stems bearing daisy-like yellow flowers with dark brown cone-shaped centers.
Embrace the native beauty flourishing from New York to Texas.

This flower is native to the central and eastern United States from New York to Minnesota and south to Utah and Texas. They can be found in disturbed areas like woodland borders, rocky slopes, and along roadsides. In their native area, they can be found growing in a variety of soil types and are very adaptable as long as they receive enough sunlight. 


Rudbeckia triloba presents slender, branching stems bearing deeply lobed leaves and clusters of vibrant yellow flowers with dark centers, resembling miniature sunflowers.
Celebrate sunny blooms with the charming, branched coneflower varieties.

Due to its appearance, it is also known as branched coneflower, thin-leaved coneflower, and three-lobed coneflower. It grows in an upright habit and produces many branches from a single main stem.

These branches, in turn, produce many flower heads on long, sturdy stems that sway in the wind. The brown-eyed Susan flowers themselves are smaller in size than their counterparts, the black-eyed Susan, but just as stunning and sunny yellow. 


Close-up of Rudbeckia triloba plant which showcases robust, branching stems adorned with deeply lobed, coarse-textured leaves, and it produces abundant clusters of vibrant yellow flowers with prominent dark centers.
Invite beneficial wildlife with vibrant flowers.

These beautiful flowers are used as an ornamental in wildflower gardens and the cut flower garden. They act as a pollinator attractant and will bring many beneficial bugs and bees into your garden.

Brown-eyed Susan is also the host plant to the silvery checkerspot butterfly and the wavy-lined emerald moth. Both of these insects are found in the same native range as this plant. Brown-eyed Susan can also commonly be found in prairie and wildflower seed mixes. 

Where To Buy Brown-Eyed Susan

Close-up of Rudbeckia seedlings with delicate, slender stems adorned with pairs of small, oval-shaped leaves in a plastic pot on a white windowsill with a packet of seed on a blurred background.
Bring vibrant blooms to your garden with easily sourced seeds.

Brown-eyed Susan seeds are readily available at many online retailers. They can also be found in wildflower mixes like this prairie splendor seed mix and this grandmother’s cut flower garden seed mix. When starting from seed, it’s good to remember that this plant does not produce flowers until its second year. So, you will need to wait a full growing season to enjoy its blooms. 

For this reason, you may opt to purchase a starter plant. Though they are less widely available than black-eyed Susan, they can still be found at some online retailers. If you have a friend with established plants or have them growing in the wild locally, then you may opt to save seeds from these plants. One thing is for sure: once you plant one brown-eyed Susan, you will have plenty of seeds to supply the neighborhood! 


Close-up of a flower bed with young seedlings of Rudbeckia mulched with a thick layer of fallen leaves.
Grow Rudbeckia from seed with ease, indoors or outdoors.

Rudbeckia seeds do best when exposed to a period of cold stratification, although this isn’t completely necessary. If you want to take the route that mimics nature, then you can crush the dried seed heads at the end of the growing season, sprinkle the seeds around the surface of the soil, and let the snow and spring rains take care of the rest. Or, direct sow seeds three to four weeks before your average last frost date. 

If you want your plants to be placed around your garden more controlled, you can start seeds indoors six to eight weeks before your average last frost date. These seeds require light to germinate, so it’s best to sow them lightly on the surface of the soil. Mist them with a spray bottle and keep them evenly moist until they’ve germinated. 

Your seedlings can be transplanted outside once all threat of frost has passed. While it’s true that established plants will survive over winter in very cold conditions, newly started plants and seedlings will need to be acclimated to the outdoors first. Tender young seedlings can’t handle frost at this stage. You’ll need to harden them off by slowly bringing them outdoors for longer and longer periods over a week or two. 

Once your plants have hardened off, you can transplant them. Dig a hole the same depth as your seedling’s original container and at least twice the width. Backfill it with soil and water it in well. Keep seedlings well watered until they show signs of new growth, which would indicate that they’ve been established. The benefit of direct sowing in spring or fall is that you can skip right over the hardening-off and transplanting steps! 

How to Grow

Brown-eyed Susan is very low-maintenance once established. Once you plant it, you may never need to plant it again and it will happily spread throughout your garden. 


Close-up of blooming three-leaved coneflowers that boast slender stems adorned with three distinct, lance-shaped leaves arranged in whorls, culminating in vibrant yellow daisy-like flowers with prominent, cone-shaped centers illuminated by sunlight.
Thriving in sun or shade, they bloom beautifully either way.

For the best blooms, these flowers prefer full sun, but they will tolerate light shade. Full sun equates to six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. In extremely hot climates, they will benefit from afternoon shade.

The required six to eight hours of sunlight does not need to be consecutive. For example, it can be three hours of morning sun, afternoon shade, and then three hours of late afternoon sun. This can benefit plants with very hot summers. 


A cluster of yellow flowers shine with water droplets on a shady morning.
Keep soil consistently moist for successful germination.

Brown-eyed Susan seeds require consistent moisture to germinate. When starting from seed, it’s best to use a spray bottle or mister to keep the surface of the soil wet. Seedlings and transplants have moderate water requirements. You want to provide new transplants with regular water while they become established. 

These plants are quite drought-tolerant once established, especially in their second year of growth. They will generally survive on whatever rainfall you receive without supplemental irrigation as long as they receive water about every two weeks. They don’t mind drying out between waterings. Overwatering can cause fungal issues, so you may need to provide supplemental water during periods of extreme drought.  


Close-up of a young Rudbeckia plant with small, lance-shaped leaves with serrated edges, arranged alternately along the stems.
Thriving in diverse soils, they prefer well-draining, slightly acidic conditions.

These tough flowers can survive in a variety of soils ranging from sandy to loamy. They do prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH of 5.5-7. They can even survive in rocky and lean soils. The most important soil condition is that it is well-draining.

Brown-eyed Susan does not do well in soggy soils or standing water. For this reason, avoid planting in a low-lying area in your garden or other areas where water may collect after it rains.  

Temperature and Humidity

Close-up shot of Brown Eyed Susan flowers with many thin branched stems bearing small daisy-like flowers with yellow petals and brown conical centers.
This cheerful flower thrives in hardiness zones 4-8.

Brown-eyed Susans can be grown in USDA zones four through eight. Their Ideal temperatures during the growing season fall between 65-85 degrees Fahrenheit (18-29 degrees Celsius). They prefer things on the dry side and do best in low-humidity environments.  


Close-up of flowering Rudbeckia triloba plants, featuring slender stems adorned with small daisy-like yellow flowers with prominent black cone-shaped centers, set against a blurred green background.
Thriving without fertilizer, they bloom beautifully on their own.

As mentioned above, these tough perennials can survive in a wide range of soil conditions, including lean soils. For this reason, fertilizing is optional, not necessary. Fertilizers can have the opposite of the desired effect.

Fertilizers too high in nitrogen can cause tall and lanky growth that results in floppy stems and droopy plants. These plants bloom profusely without the use of additional fertilizer, so it isn’t necessary at all. 


Close-up of blooming and faded flowers of Rudbeckia trilobata, showing bright yellow daisy-like flowers with distinct black centers, which, once faded, transform into dry seedheads, maintaining their characteristic cone shape.
Encourage blooms and control seeding with regular deadheading.

Regular deadheading will encourage more blooms as well as prevent self-seeding. If you want this plant to self-seed then leave the last flower heads of the season in place until the seed heads fully dry.

Then, crush them with your hands and spread the seeds. Nature will take care of the rest! Additionally, you can leave the dried seed heads standing over the winter to help feed the birds and provide structure in your winter garden. Cut them back in the spring right as new growth appears. 

Growing In Containers

Close-up of a Rudbeckia plant, featuring vibrant yellow daisy-like flowers adorned with prominent black cone-shaped centers, thriving in a large ceramic pot.
Grow in large containers to accommodate their tall growth habit.

Yes, this flower can be grown in containers. However, with their tall and lanky growth habit, they will require a large pot. Start with a container size of at least a gallon and size up as they grow.

Since they are short-lived perennials, you will only need to pot them up a few times in their first year of growth until they reach their mature size. Remember, they need full sun and can reach a height of five feet tall. This is important to consider when you choose a location for your pot.  

Common Problems

Brown-eyed Susan is relatively trouble-free, although a few issues can occur. Here are the signs, symptoms, and solutions for common problems. 

Lack of Flowers

Close-up of Brown Eyed Susan flowers that boast golden-yellow petals surrounding a dark brown center.
Ensure vibrant blooms by relocating plants to sunnier spots when needed.

If you notice a lack of flowers, then this is a sign that your plants are not receiving enough sunlight. As mentioned above, these plants prefer full sun, which equates to six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. The hours of sunlight do not need to be consecutive, but at least a total of six hours of sunlight per day. These plants can tolerate light shade and may even benefit from it in extremely hot climates, but the general rule of thumb is to provide them with a full sun planting location. 

To remedy this common problem, you will need to move your plants to a location that receives more sun. If your plants are in containers, this is very easy to accomplish. If you’ve planted these flowers directly in the ground, then you will need to dig them up and transplant them into a new spot.  


Close-up of a large slug on green grass which features a slimy, elongated body with a mottled brown coloration.
Maintain healthy plants by deterring slugs with beer traps.

There are not many pests that cause damage to brown-eyed Susan. However, in overly wet conditions, they can become plagued by slugs. You will notice ragged marks in the leaves that seem to appear overnight, with no known pests visible during the day. This is because slugs prefer to come out at night. 

You can use beer traps to catch slugs in the act. Simply bury a cup of beer at the soil level. The slugs are attracted to the beer. They will fall in with no way to get out. A good preventative measure is to increase airflow around your plants by keeping them clear and allowing the soil to dry out between waterings. Slugs like overly wet conditions!


Close-up of oval, three-lobed leaves affected by powdery mildew, which forms a powdery gray-white coating on the surface of the leaves.
Ensure good airflow to prevent powdery mildew in your plants.

As mentioned above, poor air circulation and overly wet and humid conditions cause problems for these plants. These are also the perfect conditions for powdery mildew. It will appear as white spots of powder, generally on the undersides of the leaves. Affected foliage will eventually turn yellow and die.

If enough leaves die, then this can result in the overall plant death. There are no reliable treatments for powdery mildew, but you can prevent its spread by removing affected leaves as soon as they appear. Increase airflow around your plants and avoid overhead watering to ensure that you are not creating the perfect conditions for powdery mildew. 

Final Thoughts

Black-eyed Susan seems to get all the love, but for the same level of maintenance and care, you can quadruple the blooms when you grow brown-eyed Susan. Not to mention, you will attract beneficial bugs and provide a host plant for butterflies and moths. It makes a great addition to a cut flower or wildflower garden, and once you plant it, it will self-seed in your garden for years to come. 

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