Go native with the frilly flowers of Stokes aster.
Discover an aster that makes the summer garden sing. Stokes aster (Stokesia laevis) opens its pretty flowers from spring through summer, depending on how far north the garden is. In regions with cooler summers, flowers continue to open all summer long, while in warmer areas like the Southeast and Florida, Stokes aster flowering may occur from April through June.
Flowers on Stokes aster occur in a variety of hues, including deep blue, rose pink, silver and yellow. This is a native wildflower, and in the native state, blossoms are a lavender blue shade. Petals are fringed at the edges, giving flowers a frilly look. Usually Stokes aster blooms measure up to 4 inches across. They make great cut flowers, lasting in a vase for at least seven days.
To incorporate Stokes asters into a cutting garden, place them near garden edges. Plants typically grow six to eight inches tall. Flowers form atop stems 12 to 24 inches tall. One Stokes aster variety, ‘Omega Skyrocket’ (Stokesia laevis ‘Omega Skyrocket’), grows three to four feet tall, serving extra-long stems for cutting. Other varieties include ‘Wyoming’ with deep blue flowers, ‘Mary Gregory’ with yellow blooms and ‘Silvery Moon’ with bigger, silver-white blossoms.
Butterflies mob Stokesia aster flowers, and other pollinators visit blooms, too. You can extend the flowering window by faithfully removing faded blossoms. At the end of the growing season, let a few flowers set seed. Scatter seed throughout the garden if you want Stokes asters to naturalize. Or use winter sowing techniques to germinate seeds outdoors over winter for spring planting.
Plants are hardy in Zones 5 to 10. In Zones 5 and 6, it’s wise to mulch plants in late fall after the ground freezes to protect plant crowns. Tuck Stokesia aster into soil that’s slightly acidic. This wildflower’s native range is the Southeast, so it’s well-adapted to high heat and humidity, acid soils and the heavy, sticky clay typical of the region. This native plant is also versatile and is a common choice in xeriscape gardens for its low water-use attributes. Stokes aster grows in full sun to part shade.
Like most asters, Stokes aster plants should be divided every three to four years. Divide sooner if plant clumps are dying in the middle. The best time of year to divide plants is in very early fall. In mild regions, consider dividing in late winter if plants are evergreen. Be sure to water new divisions until plants are well established, especially if you’re dividing in fall in areas that don’t have an autumn rainy season.
There’s only one plant in the Stokesia plant genus: Stokes aster (Stokesia laevis). The plant’s namesake is an English physician and botanist, Jonathan Stokes. He was a friend of the son of the famous Swedish botanist Carl Linneaus, who developed the botanical plant naming system.