Get the scoop on one of fall’s most beautiful bloomers.
Give your yard an injection of fall color, courtesy of aster flowers. Asters are a native wildflower that stage a spectacular flower show from late summer through autumn. Aster flowers offer a variety of petal hues, including blue, purple, pink and white—all usually surrounding yellow centers. This perennial native boasts an easy-care personality that makes growing aster plants a snap.
Many seasonal divas in the perennial garden can be tricky to tend—not so the native asters. This group of bloomers infuses low-maintenance beauty into scenery. Asters have good winter hardiness, reliably surviving winters in Zones 4 to 8. As with most perennials, winter survival hinges on having aster plants in the right type of soil.
Tuck asters into soil that’s fertile and well-drained. Soil that stays wet and drains poorly in winter can kill aster plants. Improve drainage in heavy soils by adding organic matter to planting beds. Use material like homegrown or bagged compost, leaf mold or composted manures. Regional organic matter sources offer an inexpensive alternative when amending soil. Types of regional organic matter include sugar cane waste (South Florida), cotton burr compost (Texas), fine forest mulch (West Coast), seaweed and composted fish waste (Maine) and mushroom compost (Pacific Northwest).
Choose a spot with full sun for highest aster flower numbers. If you only have shady garden spots, try growing wood aster (Aster divaricatus or Eurybia divaricata). Sun-loving asters, like New England aster (Symphyotrichon novae-angliae) or New York aster (Aster novi-belgii or Symphyotrichon novi-belgii) can grow in part shade, but plants will need staking and flower numbers will decrease.
Aster flowers make the perfect addition to wildlife gardens. The timing of aster flowers’ appearance in the landscape provides a needed late-season food source for all kinds of pollinators, including butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Aster plants are also a natural fit for cutting gardens. Asters vary in height from two to six feet tall. Longer stemmed types need staking, but provide wonderful stems for vases. In a bouquet, aster flower meaning includes patience and love.
To increase the number of flowers and to ensure aster plants won’t flop open as flowers appear, give plants a light pruning in early summer. Trim aster stems back by one-half to one-third. Pruning shortens an aster plant’s natural height at flowering, makes plants bushier and increases flower numbers. Pruning also delays flowering slightly. To increase the flowering season, only trim half of your aster plants. You might need to stake unpruned stems—half-hoop stakes work well with asters.
Aster plants include a host of botanical genus names. While they all used to known as “Aster”, these days you’ll see a variety of words on plant tags, including Eurybia, Symphyotrichon, Ionactis and Doellingeria. If the plant has blooms resembling aster flowers, trust that it is. Botanists have been reclassifying asters as better technology has allowed them to uncover genetic differences between the plants.