Supernova: an Explosion of Asters

The name Aster comes from the Greek word for star. At this time of year, it feels like the Asters are exploding into a sort of floral supernova.

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Aromatic Aster with Bluestem Goldenrod

There are three particular asters that I love at this time in the season. I am a bit of an asterphile; I get excited about distinctions that most people might consider minor in the extreme. This is why I no longer make fun of people who get worked up over Snowdrops.

Anyway, the first of my favorites is Aromatic Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium).

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Aromatic Aster with Bluestem Goldenrod in the Lamppost Bed.

Aromatic Aster stands out because it is relatively compact, and also because the flowers are fuller and a darker shade of blue than you often find in this genus. I grow the straight species, but there are a couple of nice cultivars available commercially.

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New England Aster blooming in the Front Island Bed, with Mexican Sunflower in the background.

A second favorite is New England Aster (S. novae-angiae). This is probably the most common aster found in garden centers, with hundreds of cultivars. The straight species usually has purple flowers, but I sometimes find pink or blue blooms on the same plant.

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Bees and other pollinators love New England Asters.

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The thing that’s a bit annoying about straight species New England Aster is their height and tendency to flop in the garden. I cut most of mine back by 2/3 in late May and they still tend to flop. They’re in full sun so I think the problem is easy living – rich soil and plenty of moisture. I would cut them back a second time but I don’t want to delay the flowers by too much.

Nevertheless, the abundant, richly-colored blooms make up for the time spent staking.

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Short’s Aster in the Left Bank Bed.

Short’s Aster (S. shortii) is a third favorite. This is an extremely low-maintenance plant with profuse, soft blue flowers. You can cut it back if you like, but that is all the attention that this plant needs.

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Short’s Aster with Bluestem Goldenrod

This Aster is rarely found in garden centers, but is available from native plant specialists. It tends to have a dense, bushy habit.

Are you enjoying any Asters these days?

55 Comments on “Supernova: an Explosion of Asters”

  1. All of the wild bits of my place are hosting an exuberant aster and goldenrod party right now. My bee hive looks like an oasis in a sea of wild asters, to the bees’ delight. So, it makes me laugh to think of planting the little lovelies. But, I do need to learn to identify all the different varieties, so thanks for inspiring me to do so.

  2. Like you, I have a profusion of purple and gold right now. Purple New England asters which are covered withs bees and butterflies and goldenrods. Nice combination. I have you to thank for writing about Shorts aster earlier. I found a plant at a local nursery devoted to native plants. It’s compact and such a pretty light blue.

  3. We have soft blue asters that grow well in empty spots in the garden in summer, I really like them as they are so low maintenance, cope with extremes of weather, look cheerful all summer long and bring the bees! However, I had no idea there were so many varieties, so I’ll look out for others. (they look very pretty with the Bluestem Goldenrod)

  4. I have several asters, some of which the rabbits LOVE (talking to you, smooth aster). There are two New England types, one tall and FULL of pollinators, two shorter (‘Purple Dome’?) with nary a pollinator to be found. Hmm. I also have a pink one, ‘Wild Romance’. Today I noticed a volunteer white aster. I would not be sad if they all proliferated.

  5. They are gorgeous, and the mix with goldenrod is especially nice. I have a deep purple aster I planted with some goldenrod in a garden that’s too far away from the house –this year something ate all the asters. But I also have a magenta variety (probably New England? Lord knows they’re leggy and floppy!) near the house. I love the butterflies and bumblebees that cover the asters. That’s a wonderful close-up photo of the bumblebee on yours!

  6. Love your aster + goldenrod combo, Jason.

    I have a nice swath of aromatic aster ‘October Skies’ which has given me some volunteer plants that are now blooming here and there throughout my patio bed.

    I’m also loving a new garden addition, the shade-loving aster Symphyotrichum cordifolium (http://bonap.net/MapGallery/County/Symphyotrichum%20cordifolium.png). I think you’d like that one as well, although it’s a *very* pale lavender (almost white).

    I tried growing New England aster, but it looked like death warmed over with our heat and humidity, so I ripped it out. Well, I *thought* I ripped it out. One came back and is looking quite nice actually, so I’m letting it live (for now) 😉

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