Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Perennials

Best Perennial Asters

by Lynn Ocone

Insects depend on late bloomers like this New England aster for sustenance in autumn.

It's hard to imagine a fall garden without asters. When little else is blooming, their cheery flowers of lavender, blue, pink, purple and white brighten the garden like colorful constellations against the tawny yellows and browns of autumn. Indeed, aster, the Latin word for star, aptly describes the starry flower heads.

Asters are easy to grow and are versatile, with sizes and growth forms ranging from the six-inch-high Aster alpinus to the towering seven-foot A. tataricus. Small, compact varieties are attractive massed, while large asters punctuate borders with intense color. One Maryland nurseryman says that when the New England asters (A. novae-angliae) are blooming, customers often think they are shrubs because each one produces such a huge mound of color.

Top Garden Asters

Here are a few of the best fall-blooming asters. The USDA hardiness zone ratings are not absolute, but rather a guide, since many factors besides temperature affect hardiness. The exact bloom time will vary by region, and flower color may vary with soil type.

New England asters (A. novae-angliae) are native through much of the country, from Vermont to Alabama, and west in North Dakota, Wyoming and New Mexico. They prefer moist soil and sun.

'Purple Dome', a recent introduction by the Mt. Cuba Center for the Study of Piedmont Flora, in Greenville, Delaware, is especially noteworthy. The plant has an outstanding compact habit to 18 inches tall and 36 inches wide. In late summer and autumn it is covered by semidouble purple blossoms. The flowers obscure the lower foliage, hiding any leaf damage caused by insects or disease. Easily mixed in borders and beds, 'Purple Dome' combines beautifully with Sedum 'Autumn Joy' or with the low-growing goldenrod, Solidago sphacelata 'Golden Fleece'. Zones 3 to 8.

'Alma Potschke' has brilliant rose-red flowers on stiff stems to three feet. It blooms September through October.

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