Answer: 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, gardeners often think they are shrubs because each one produces such a huge mound of color.
Spring is the favored planting time in all regions. Most species grow best with full sun and well-drained, fertile soil.
To minimize mildew, provide good air circulation by spacing plants liberally. Interplant with spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils, or with wildflowers, to fill gaps early in the season before the asters fill out.
To promote dense, compact growth and eliminate the need to stake, pinch back growth tips two or three inches once or twice in spring and early summer before flowers begin to develop. Or shear asters back by half in spring.
The fastest-growing asters require yearly division in spring. Others need dividing every three years or so. After lifting and dividing, replant sections from outside the clump and discard the old center. Propagate by division or by stem cuttings in spring or early summer.
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