Asters in Abundance

Few hardy perennials offer such a lavish display of flowers as asters. Their beauty ranges from the small, spring-blooming rock asters to the almost overwhelming show of the tall, fall-flowering kinds. And they are some of the easiest perennials to grow.

Asters are typical members of the daisy family, but flower color in this group ranges from white to pink to purple and almost to blue. Heights vary from the 8-inch tall rock garden species to the 4-foot tall fall asters.

One of the first asters to bloom is the Alpine aster. Its 2-inch wide violet-blue flowers open from April to mid-May. Like many Alpine plants it thrives in well-drained, infertile soil in cool air. They need partial shade in our area.

Another low-growing aster is named ‘Wartburg Star.’ Its 2-inch lavender flowers have a beautiful golden center. Flowers almost cover the 1 to 2-foot plants in May and June.

As summer comes on, the asters seem to get larger. One of the finest of all asters is Aster frikartii. This 2- to 3-foot plant bears fragrant flowers of the most beautiful lavender-blue over a long season from July into October. The clear blue flowers seem to blend with almost any other color in the garden.

Asters really come into their own in the fall. The best known is the Michaelmas daisy, so named because it blooms at the time of the feast of St. Michael, the Archangel on September 29.

Michaelmas daisies grow from 2 to 4 feet tall and bear clusters of flowers ranging in color from powder blue to violet-blue to carmine pink and dark red.

A very fine native California aster is named ‘Point St. George.’ Lavender daisy flowers with large yellow centers bloom from late summer into fall on 8-inch plants. They provide an excellent nectar source for butterflies and seeds for birds. Though plants are quite drought tolerant, they can spread aggressively in well-watered gardens.

Asters grow best in soil that is rich in organic matter. Don’t allow the soil to become overly dry, and fertilize very little if at all. Tall asters should be pinched early in the spring when plants are 6 inches tall, and again a month later. This will make the stems strong and give an abundance of flowers.

Perennial asters grow as spreading clumps which tend to die out in the center. To keep them at their best, divide clumps every three years. Early bloomers can be divided in the fall, and summer bloomers should be divided the next spring. Replant some of the outer, vigorous pieces.

Low-growing asters combine nicely with ornamental grasses. The taller ones look great with pink petunias, low-growing roses, or almost anything pink. Their billowy habit and masses of blooms are mainstays of the perennial garden.

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