An Astonishing Variety of (Mostly) Wild Asters

Now that I have the taxonomy issue out of my system (see last post), I can write about the asters in my garden. (As hillwards points out, “They may not be Asters any more, but they will always be asters …”). All the asters I grow except for one are Midwest USA natives and straight species. They represent a small slice of the hundreds of species and cultivars available.

I love asters because they flower freely, provide lots of fall color, and are extremely tough and easy to grow. They vary widely in the kind of environments to which they are adapted.

New England Aster with Purple Flowers

New England Aster (Sympohtrichum novae-angliae). This is a tall aster that likes moist soils and sun. Mine grow to 6′ and require staking even after I cut them back in late May. Next year I plan to cut them back at least twice and see where that gets me. The wild species is variable in color, and mine bloom in both a rich purple and pink. In my garden this plant gradually expands to form large clumps. New England Aster is a good flower for monarchs and other fall butterflies, and goldfinches eat the seeds.

New England Aster with Pink Flowers

A common dwarf variety of New England Aster is ‘Purple Dome‘, which I have growing in my back yard. In my garden it stays under 2’ tall. For me it blooms later than the species.

‘Purple Dome’ just starting to open

Short’s Aster (Symphotrichum shortii). This aster is less common in gardens, but I find it to have many virtues. Short’s Aster blooms profusely, covering itself with sky blue flowers in fall. It grows well in part shade or sun, and is generally adaptable. It can grow quite large and bushy (up to 4′), and I usually cut it back once in late May. It will self sow – if you hate pulling out seedlings you might want to cut it back before the seeds ripen.

Short’s Aster
Short’s Aster with Bluestem Goldenrod

Aromatic Aster (Symphotrichum oblongifolium). Aromatic aster is well adapted to drier, sunny spots. It also stays more compact  than many wild asters and self-sows infrequently. The light blue flowers have golden centers. One of my favorites.

Aromatic Aster with Anise-Scented Goldenrod
Aromatic Aster

White Woodland Aster (Eurybia divariticus). I’ve read that this aster spreads aggressively, but that has not been my experience. In fact, I planted it years ago in a moist, shady spot and it gradually disappeared. I’ve got it growing now in dry shade, and we’ll see how it does. A low-growing aster with white flowers.

White Woodland Aster

Calico Aster (Symphotrichum lateriflorum). Do not plant this aster in fertile soil and full sun. It will become a monster, more a shrub than a perennial, and self-sow aggressively. However, I have found it to be well-behaved in shade. Many tiny white flowers with maroon and yellow centers grow along horizontal stems. I like the way it looks, but I gave one to a friend of mine and she thought it was quite weedy. Especially loved by bees and other pollinators.

Calico Aster

Crooked-Stem Aster (Symphotrichum prenanthoides). Crooked-Stem Aster likes moist soil and does well in shade. It creates an airy cloud of white to light-blue flowers.

Crooked-Stem Aster

Big Leaf Aster (Symphotrichum macrophyllum). This is another aster with a reputation for thuggish behavior. I have it in dry shade where there is plenty of competition from shrubs, and there it has spread slowly to form a nice groundcover with its large, heart-shaped leaves. Big Leaf Aster blooms earlier than most of the other asters in my garden.

Big Leaf Aster

These asters can be ordered on line from native plant nurseries. Also, most of the above species have cultivars which can be found in garden centers. If you feel your garden needs more fall color, it’s worth taking a look at these plants.

41 Comments on “An Astonishing Variety of (Mostly) Wild Asters”

  1. A lovely selection of asters – and thanks for the quote/link ;). I’m not surprised the aromatic aster is one of your favourites, it looks beautiful. We have a variety of your calico aster called Prince, which I love for its dark foliage and pretty flowers, though these are yet to open this year.

  2. What a nice array of asters you have! I have bookmarked this post so I may refer back to it next spring when I am planning new additions. I used to have asters…one was a little dwarf one that I just loved(no idea of the variety). It came back year after year, but I think it eventually got crowded out. I also had a few others that unfortunately wondered and had to be pulled. Your notes on the different varieties will be very helpful in choosing replacements.

  3. The Ex-asters are some of my favorite fall blooming wildflowers. In Middle Tennessee Short’s Aster (Symphotrichum shortii) is everywhere! it makes a wonderful cloud of blue…Now I must remember to get Purple Dome and to cut my tall asters back twice! gail

  4. Like PlantPostings, I don’t think I’ve appreciated asters enough until this year. In my last garden, they sort of took over and I avoided them afterward. It took a trip through Montana and Idaho to make me wake up to their charms again. With your guidance and information, I may be willing to wade into the deep end again.

  5. I love the maroon and white tiny flowers of little my Calico aster, but it is still fairly new, and hasn’t had time to give me any trouble yet. Every year when I see asters in other gardens, I know I need more, so yesterday I bought a couple of low growing (supposedly) purple ones from the grocery store. They were labeled perennial, but we’ll see. Anxious to see what they will do.

  6. What a joy your post on asters is! I’ve spent the past few weeks out in the field, trying to determine which species is which. When I discovered that at least some of them hybridize freely, I abandoned the field, so to speak. But, it took me into beautiful settings and I found a nice specimen of Rice Button Aster. To me, they will always be asters 🙂

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