Thursday, September 29, 2011

Asters! What's Not to Love?

Before I get to the point of this post, I want to say, "No Wonder!"  No wonder I've been confused while looking online for descriptions and the botanical names of the asters I have!!  According to my new October 2011 Garden Gate magazine (my most favorite magazine in the world!!), the genus Aster is being split into different genera.  Here are the new names:   Symphyotrichum, lonactis, Eurybia, Seriocarpus, Doellingeria, Ampelaster, Oclemena

How in the world does one discriminate the different types??  Oh, well . . .

I've admired asters for a few years, but hadn't tried growing any until I purchased 'Alert' a couple of years ago.  What a beauty!!  Last year, I purchased 'Wood's Blue,' and a white variety that I shared with my Aunt MEA.  This year, she shared a portion with me.  Wish I remembered the name . . .  :-)

The following photos were taken last night in the golden light of the sunset.

Aster 'Alert'

Aster ‘Woods Blue’

And, for now, "Unnamed."
If I had more space, I'd add a few more asters.  They truly are pretty, and they are butterfly magnets.    They really like full sun (though they'll tolerate 6 hours of sun with some shade),
'Alert' is the tallest, so far.  It reaches at least 18" or so in height.  'Wood's Blue' is a compact little plant.  It is only about 12" or so in height.  The "White" has only recent joined the gardens here.  It is not more than 18" tall this year.

Garden Gate tells me I don't need to feed asters.  An annual 1" layer of compost is plenty.  Fertilizer helps the plants produce more foliage than flowers.

Crowded asters are susceptible to powdery mildew and rust, so plant them to allow for space at maturity.  There are cultivars that are disease-resistant these days.

Garden Gate recommends the following asters that are most successful for looking good all season:  #1. Smooth aster - Aster laevis (Symphyotrichum laeve) 'Blue Bird':  Blue-violet flowers mid-summer to fall; 3-4 feet tall, 2-3 feet wide; cold-hardy in USDA zones 3-8 and heat tolerant in AHS zones 8-1;
 (photo taken from on-line source)

#2. White wood aster - Aster divaricatus (Eurybia divaricata) 'Eastern Star' (also known as 'Raiche'): White flowers summer to fall; 12-30 inches tall, 18-30 inches wide, cold-hardy in USDA zones 3-8, heat-tolerant in AHS zones 8-1;   
(photo taken from on-line source)

#3. Aster - Aster novi-belgii (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii) 'Wood's Purple': Lavender flowers in fall; 12-18 inches tall and wide; cold-hardy in USDA zones 4-8, heat-tolerant in AHS zones 8-1.
 (photo taken from on-line source)

I've noticed 'Alert' can get tall (18-20") and somewhat spindly.  Garden Gate has just enlightened me with regard to this problem!  I can stake the plant early in the season by placing upright branches around and over the plant.  It will grow through these branches and stay upright,  OR  you might want to keep the plants compact by cutting them back in early summer.  To cut them back, wait until the plants are about 12" tall and cut them back to 6" in height.  If, in a month's time, you feel they are still too tall, you can cut them back again by a quarter.  Co not cut-back later than mid-July, as that's when the plants begin setting buds.

If, after a few years, your aster has fewer flowers (and perhaps the center has died), you will need to divide the plant. (It's suggested every two or three years.)  The most successful season for dividing seems to be Spring.  The clump may even fall apart as you lift it out of the hole.  The size of the pieces doesn't matter as long as each root has green growth on the top.  Plant each section at the same level they were growing previously.  (Or pot them and share them with friends!)

One more piece of information . . . I'm led to understand that one can grow asters easily from seed.

Sow Aster seeds early in the season, and cover lightly with soil. Water thoroughly once. They germinate easily and will grow quickly, producing their first of a continual display of blooms by mid-summer.

Aster does not do well in wet soils. They do, however, like moist soil.  Once established, they will withstand dry periods, needing water during extended droughts.   (A good thing, as these flowers are blooming nicely and WE'VE had Drought conditions this summer!)

Nothing "shady" here...
just me! ha. 


Monica the Garden Faerie said...

Garden Gate is right, esp. if you have native asters. They do not need (nor want) fertilizer. Native plants (and, generally, cultivars made from natives) like poor soils and can't process the extra nitrogen of fertilizers. The native asters can get a little leggy when mixed in with other plants (instead of in a large stand by themselves), so I cut them back on July 4 like I do mums.

troutbirder said...

I'm a big fan of asters too. I scatter seeds I've collected in my native wildflowers gardens. As to all the Latin names its a mystery to me. :)

Corner Gardener Sue said...

Thanks for the informative post. I've read on blogs that the names have changed, but they will always be asters to me. I don't know the names of most of mine, either, but I planted several this year that I need to document while I still have the tags for them.

I try to keep up buying Garden Gate magazine. I don't always get all of the articles read, but attempt to. It's the only garden magazine I buy.

Randy Emmitt said...


I like aster, but these types you noted seem to disappear on me. This is a really good post!
We have a 6 foot tall one Meg brought from her garden, awesome plant but I have no idea which it is. Will post about it soon.

Grace said...

Normally I don't mind a little re-classification done by the ever-vigilant taxonomists but this is ridiculous. To go from saying Aster to ... something that will take me months to figure out how to pronounce is annoying. I wish they would have left the genus alone and just fine tuned the species names. But who am I? Great photos!

Patrick's Garden said...

I want to know who are on this reclassification committees. With decisions like this, they need to get more and get a life. Those are just more names I'll mispronounce.
Love the pictures of your asters. Nice post.

Nutty Gnome said...

I'm in the middle of planning (yep, me - planning something!)the remaking of a tatty border....I'm thinking a swathe of grasses swirling through it like a stream, but with perennials for splashes of colour - looks like it's going to be Asters then! :)

Kathleen said...

I totally agree with Grace. I can't even pronounce the new names. I think I'll just keep calling them all Asters! I've been adding more to my garden too and this year I actually did cut an older one in half (end of June) and it is more compact now. You've made some nice selections.

Shady Gardener said...

Hi All!! Thank you for being patient with me as far as my responses to your comments! True, true... "Asters," then! :-)

Glad you are enjoying these plants, too.

Rosemary said...

Shady thanks for all the info.. asters are a lovely plant at this time of the year.

Rebecca @ In The Garden said...

Asters are terrific! I find them a little hard to find thought, I have a few here and there and would love to have more. Such a great late summer/fall addition to the garden. :)

Jan@Thanks for today. said...

Great info on Asters;-) I have a couple of varieties, but none of those you've shown! It does get confusing with all the name changes!