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Aster – A Premier Bloomer for Fall

Starting in August and going strong through September and October, your flower borders and gardens should be alive with color. You can thank phlox, sedums, solidago, some late blooming daylilies, and asters; with the last one mentioned being the one that makes the others even more spectacular.

Asters in tones of deep rose, pink, and purple are the premier bloomers in my fall borders even when the summers are long, hot and humid. (Which is almost every year.)

Plan to Help them Look Their Best

It took me years of growing aster to realize that it’s the backbone of the late summer and fall garden. I always loved its flowers, but was always disenchanted by the lower leaves of it’s woody stems drying up when the plant was in full bloom.

Over the years I learned that’s normal for asters and you can use them in a manner that their bare legs are hardly noticeable.

  • They’re wonderful paired with tall ornamental grasses

(I recommend only Yaku-Jima Japanese Silver Grass ) and/or short (I recommend only penstemon hamlin.)

Aster with ornamental grasses and sedum. Mum foliage in front. (This tall grass is NOT Yaku Jima.  We had to remove it, because it became too invasive as most tall ornamental grasses can.)

  • Hide their bare stems with the foliage of mums if you like.
  • Nestle them in behind sedums.
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Back side border with aster, sedum and some giant rudbeckia still in bloom.

  • Or use them in your back borders and let their bare legs show.
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Late blooming daylilies and aster.  Back Border. I didn’t cut this aster back in the spring and it’s well over 5 feet tall.

When soil becomes increasingly rich in organic matter (as it will over the years as you continue to return plant residues to the soil), some asters can make a bush about 4 feet around and just as tall. Most of the time the “bush” opens as the stems fall, but the flowering shoots grow up from all along the stems and it look great anyway. This will especially be true if you have it paired with other plants to lend support physically and visually.

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Asters, solidago, and sedums.  Back border.

Keeping Asters Bushy and Shorter

In the spring when aster foliage is about two feet tall and looking great, cut it to the ground. (See my post: Cutting Back Various Perennials.) When it grows back, take out the thinnest stalks.

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Fence border. Looking toward the road.  Giant rudbeckia, sedums and aster.

Invasive?

Asters have never reseeded for me over the 25 years or more that I’ve grown them, although I hear they do. (It’s my understanding that cultivars don’t grow true from seed very often when they do seed.)

Want to Propagate?

If you want to multiply your plants, propagation is done easily by stem cuttings in the spring or by division in the spring or fall. Older root balls can be heavy and compact. Don’t hesitate to use an axe to chop them apart. They’ll do fine.

Even if you don’t want new divisions, cut away some of the root ball every couple of years as the center of the plant begins to die out.

Looking the other way in my fence border. Asters, solidago, sedum, and giant rudbeckia.

Looking the other way in my fence border. Asters, solidago, sedum, and giant rudbeckia.

Source of Nectar for Butterflies and Beneficial Insects

Asters are a great source of nectar for all kinds of butterflies and beneficial insects. My plants are usually covered with an assortment of pollinators.

The folks who know say asters are critical to help prepare the Monarch butterfly for its long migration to Mexico.

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Solidago and purple dome aster. (Purple dome is a shorter variety.  Only gets about 2 to 3 feet tall.)

What Variety to Buy

Look for the genus and species Latin names when you buy to make sure you’re getting the right variety.

If you want ones like mine get Aster novae-angliae. Although many sources still show this name, the classification of asters has been changed to to Symphyotricchum. So you’ll be looking for either the Latin name Aster Novae Angliae (the old name) or Symphyotricchum novae-angliae (the new name.) Whichever of the two names you see – you’ll have the right aster.

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Aster blooms are about 1 inch across.  Shown here with a reblooming daylily.

Trying A New Variety

The manager of plant evaluation at the Chicago Botanic Garden, Richard Hawke, has recently done an evaluation of asters. Although Chicago is a different growing zone than my zone 7, his good reviews of the aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, formerly Aster oblongifolius) made me want to try it.

The flowers are sky blue on 1 to 3 foot stems and according to his review it blooms into November. He mentioned two cultivars being available: October Skies and Raydon’s Favorite. I was able to find October Skies and plan order it for either fall or spring planting.

 Final Thoughts

Asters can look great in any border, small or large. Great for butterfly gardens and native plant gardens too.
They’re easy. They love full sun, but will tolerate a little shade. They like well drained soil.

Theme variations are endless. All you have to do is do a little planning, plant, and sit back and enjoy the show each year.

If you don’t have this premier fall bloomer in your garden or borders, you’re missing out on a chance to have a truly spectacular show of color in late summer and fall.

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Sedum matrona, fuchsia and purple aster, and late blooming daylilies in my fence border.

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7 comments to Aster – A Premier Bloomer for Fall

  • Sandra

    Just dreamy pictures. I’m totally inspired because none of these are fussy plants, and together they are spectacular. I could sit and gaze at these photos for a long time. I also appreciate your spelling out the details of how to place asters – helps a lot to know to tuck them behind to hide their bare nether regions. VERY HELPFUL

  • Theresa

    Thanks for this comment Sandra.
    Took me more than a month to get this post up because I felt that the pictures were just as important as the written information. They show some of the things that can be done, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
    Glad you found the details and pictures helpful.
    Theresa

  • Toni

    Absolutely gorgeous! Thank you for showing what can be done with relative ease. It is just a matter of knowing what to plant with what. I always seem to pick the wrong ornamental grasses.

  • Theresa

    Stick to the grass I recommend Toni. You’ll never be sorry.
    Theresa

  • Jane

    These seem perfect for my planting needs. Is the foliage evergreen (in Louisiana)? I’m trying to avoid everything dying back in winter and looking bleak. I have evergreen shrubs and evergreen non-flowering ground cover, but I have some open spaces I’d like to fill with evergreen foliage that has the bonus of fall flowers.
    Thanks.

  • Theresa

    Jane, I don’t know if aster foliage would be evergreen in Louisiana or not.
    When the plant blooms the foliage starts to die and when it’s finished you just have dead stalks. The new growth comes from the base to start the cycle again.
    Theresa

  • Jane

    Thanks for the info!

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