September 20, 2015 lawanda Newspaper Columns

      Scores of mums are shouting from door-side displays at every big box store in town this time of year.  Mums are short-lived, if they survive at all once out of their pots.  The native plant counterpart that provides a much longer lasting splash of fall color than that of mums are the asters. 

      Asters do fine in the worst and best of soils – give them gravel, sand, clay, dry, wet, sun or shade – and they’ll still produce flowers for two or more months.

      Aster color ranges from brilliant white to pink to blue to purple.  The flowers are daisy-like but with finer petals.  They generally grow in a clumpy, bushy form.  Sun loving asters bloom from late August through October while shade-lovers have a shorter bloom period, usually August into September, still much longer than most perennial flowers.

      There are many asters from which to choose.  Plant them alone or mix a few of them for a spectacular fall display.  Mix in some native goldenrod, and you’ll have an award-winning exhibition.

      New England Aster has deep purple flowers that are an important fall source of nectar for monarch and other butterflies.  They grow 3’-6’ tall in medium to moist sand, loam or clay in full to part sun.

      Next is my favorite, the Heath Aster.  It grows 1’-3’ tall in sandy and gravelly soils in a round bushy form and produces hundreds of small bright white flowers, like a ground-level display of sparkling fireworks.

      Smooth aster produces a profusion of deep blue star-like flowers that begin showing in late August and keep blooming into November.  This one truly grows in any soil to a height up to 4’ in full sun.

      Sky Blue Aster gets its name from its brilliant blue blooms that show from late August into October.  It thrives in any soil from dry sand to moist loam in full sun to light shade.  It grows 2’-3’ tall.

      Heart Leaved Aster grows in the shade to semi-shade of woodland areas.  It has bright blue flowers that are held above heart-shaped leaves that cover the woodland floor in a nice carpet.  It provides a nice layer of color in later summer when there isn’t much other than green in the woods.

      White Woodland Aster’s clusters of showy white flowers also brighten the woods in late summer.  It grows 2’-4’ tall and the foliage looks good both before and after bloom.

      Another woodland aster, Big Leaf Aster grows 1’-2’ tall in part sun to shade.  Its spiky white flowers show in August and September and it will grow in any dry soil, either clay or sand.  It spreads by rhizome and forms a groundcover that can be used to stabilize hillsides and slopes.

      Back in the sun, Crooked Stem Aster is one that likes the moist soils of streambanks and wet meadows.  The purple-blue flowers grow on 1’-3’ stems.

      No matter what your soil or light conditions, there’s an aster or two that will be happy there.


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