In the Garden:
In the woods or in your garden, fall asters are welcome company.
It sure has been hard to stay inside the last few weeks. The woods demanded hours of wandering, watching golden leaves flutter to the ground in the company of those amazing fall-blooming perennials, asters. The aster show intensifies when I return to the garden, because asters are one of the finest native perennials to grow in a garden as well as admire in the wild.
Asters Worth the Wait
The fall-blooming asters in the woods include New England aster (Aster novae-angliae), New York aster (A. novi-belgi), and perhaps a dozen other species. But you don't need to learn Latin to love asters. Some of the most beautiful cultivated varieties, such as 'Catherine', have bloodlines that are long forgotten, and wildflower nurseries often propagate cuttings taken from plants that thrive in local gardens.
Aster varieties come in sizes from dwarf (2 feet tall) to rangy (5+ feet tall) and colors from white to pink to purple. I prefer the shorter varieties with their compact flowering habit.
Starting asters from seed is slow and unsure because of a low germination rate. The easiest way to adopt an aster is to buy a container-grown plant at a local nursery or through the mail, which you can set out now or first thing in spring. If a friend or neighbor already has an established plant you crave, ask for a small division in April, when new green shoots start to show. Using a sharp knife or trowel, cut out a 3-inch-square chunk of soil and roots with a stem or two attached and replant it right away.
For maximum bloom, plant fall asters where they will get a half day of sun and water them occasionally in early summer. They're accustomed to droughts, as the plants in the woods confirm. And, while a little fertilizer in early spring won't hurt, feeding plants after summer starts can make them grow huge and bushy but with few flowers.
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