In the Garden:
A fall classic. Pink asters light up an autumn garden with color from September until frost.
There is no flower more "New England" than asters. After all, the two main groups of asters are New England aster (Aster novae anglias) and New York aster (A. nova belgii). It's our hometown flower and a fall standard in any perennial border! I recently returned from a trip to Newport, Rhode Island, where they were in full bloom in almost every garden I visited.
The Fall Standard
This hardy perennial (most are hardy to USDA Zone 4) consistently blooms from late summer until frost. Depending on the variety, the clusters of daisylike flowers come in colors ranging from white to pink to purple. Many have yellow centers, providing an interesting color contrast. Some species, such as A. alpinus, reach only 6 to 8 inches tall, while A. tataricus in our backyard border reaches 6 to 7 feet tall by September. It looks more like a shrub than a herbacious perennial.
New England vs. New York
New England asters are native to the Northeast and feature powdery-mildew resistant plants that range from 18 inches to 4 feet tall, depending on the variety. The bright salmon-colored 'Alma Potschke' is one variety I particularly enjoy.
New York asters' claim to fame is the number of varieties bred in England that are similar in growth habit to the New England asters but offer many more choices. 'Professor Kippenburg' features violet-blue flowers on 12- to 18-inch plants and is a nice variety to try.
Another species that's worth mentioning is A. frikartii. These multistemmed Himalayan asters feature 2- to 3-foot plants and long-blooming lavender-blue flowers and are particularly resistant to late summer heat. The 'Wonder of Staffa' is an excellent variety.
Asters are my kind of perennial. You plant them in spring and forget about them. When located in a full-sun site in well-drained soil, they will grow so vigorously that most will need to be divided after only a year or two of growth.
Asters grow best when given enough space for air to circulate freely, so powdery mildew disease will not easily form on their leaves in late summer. If this disease is a problem on other perennials in your garden, look for disease-resistant varieties of asters to plant.
After planting, shear back the asters in early summer before the flower buds form. This will make for a denser bush with more flowers in the fall and will shorten tall varieties. After a frost has killed the flowers, cut the whole perennial back to 6 inches above the soil line and compost the tops.
Next year the asters will be back, happy as ever, gearing up for another fall flower show.
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