In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
This lovely 'Purple Dome' aster is a bright addition to the fall landscape.
Keep the Fall in Bloom With Perennial Asters
Although I'm usually happy to see the first autumn frost, releasing me from most garden duties (except the clean-up, that is), I always feel a little wistful since it means the bright flowers we all enjoy so much are gone until next year. I have learned, however, how easy it is to extend the season with perennial asters -- plants that require nothing of us in autumn, except to enjoy the bright blooms.
The roadsides of the Midwest are filled with New England asters (Aster novae-angliae) and New York asters (Aster novi-belgii) in all hues of white, purple, and blue. Garden breeders have brought many cultivars of these and other asters into the landscape trade, and now it's possible to select the brightest blues, the hottest pinks, and the clearest whites for the home garden. Since native asters tend to be tall and lanky, one of the best breeding successes has been to shorten the plants to form dense mounds that require no staking.
In the wild, asters grow in almost any condition, from desert to prairie to woodland, indicating just how tough and adaptable these plants are. Although they certainly appreciate a moist, well-drained sunny spot in the garden, they will tolerate some shade and poorer soils as well. They need good mulch, watering only in dry times, and fertilizing only once every two or three years.
Perennial asters are tidy companions to sedums, rudbeckias, and purple coneflowers, and will need to be divided every three or four years to keep them robust. This can be done in early spring or late fall after they finish blooming, whichever your gardening schedule allows.
One essential task to keep asters looking good is pinching. If you pinch back the top 4 to 6 inches of the shoots at least once before July 1, the plants will be cleaner, fuller, and more prolifically covered with blossoms. You can even do this with hedge shears!
When placing asters, be sure to give them plenty of room for good air circulation to prevent mildew. About 18 inches should be adequate for most varieties. You can fill the gaps between the plants with bulbs and early summer-blooming flowers.
Although there are many, many cultivars available, some of my favorites are:
* 'Wonder of Stafa' (A. x frikartii) - soft lavender blue flowers, 30 inches
* 'Monch' (A. x frikartii) - deep blue flowers, 2 to 3 feet
* Dwarf 'Alma Potschke' (Aster novae-angliae) - hot pink, about 18 inches
* 'Purple Dome' (Aster novae-angliae) - royal purple, double flowers with yellow centers, 18 inches
* 'Professor Kippenberg' (Aster novi-belgii) - lavender blue, 15 inches
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