A Lot has been said about asters and their enduring beauty. But the main attraction about these perennials apart from their hardiness is the amazing variety and hybrids available for every gardener and landscaper. We’re not just talking about asters with different colors. Aster varieties vary widely in terms of size, height, weather tolerance, and bloom time. It’s no wonder they are a staple of urban meadows.
You can grow two aster cultivars and they’d look like they were totally different plants. Nothing puts joy in the heart of a gardener or flower enthusiast than the word variety. So if you’re exploring the possibility of adding asters to your garden and wondering where to start, this article is for you. We put together a list of some of the most diverse asters. As you mix and match your asters, you’ll get to appreciate these wonderful perennials and learn how to integrate them into your landscape designs.
We start with calico. Its scientific name is Symphyotrichum lateriflorum but calico rolls over the tongue much easier. It also goes by many other names including calico aster, and white woodland aster. A native of North America, the calico is one of the giants of the Asteraceae family as it towers over 4 feet high and one foot wide.
The flowers of calico by comparison are rather small. The petals are white with a yellow or pink center. Each flower has about 7 petals in all giving the flower head a whooping half-inch in diameter. But since flowers grow in clusters on top of the same stem, their beauty is the result of the abundance of the flowers on each plant.
The leaves on the other hand are a different story. They’re rough to the touch and offer little ornamental value especially since they’re thinly dispersed alongside the long and slender stems. Be careful when handling the leaves at the bottom of the stem, they are serrated and have sharp edges.
Plant calicos in full sun or partial shade. They are hardy plants that thrive in different types of soil as long as the soil is well-drained. Some organic materials in the soil will give the plants a growth boost. Bloom time is from late summer until the first frost.
Another large plant by aster standards, New England (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) is a native of Eastern North America. The perennial plant grows to about 4 feet high and 3 feet across. But it’s not its spread that catches the eye. It’s the blooms.
New England has stunning purple flowers with each flower containing as many as a hundred florets. In some cases, the flowers bloom in white or pink shades, but bright purple is the dominant color of this specific species.
It’s not the easiest aster to grow mainly because of its peculiar growing conditions. Unlike many other garden plants, this perennial prefers wet soil. It grows mainly along the banks of streams, ponds, and rivulets. So if you want to grow it in your garden, you’ll need to plant it near water sources or spots that remain wet all year round.
The stems of the plant are usually thick and covered with tiny spikes. As for the leaves, they are long and slim and covered with hair. So the plant cuts a handsome figure even without the blooms.
Besides its tolerance to wet soil, this aster grows equally well both under full sun or in partial shade. So all in all, it’s a hardy perennial that loves to get its feet wet and rewards you with bright purple shades throughout the second half of the summer.
A slender aster with a hardy nature, Sky Blue (Symphyotrichum oolentangiense) grows tall rather than wide. While it can average 3 feet tall at most, the plant only covers about 18 inches of space. Some cultivars will only grow to about one and a half feet tall so you can use them for decorations in combination with the two tall asters above.
Since it branches and with no spread to speak of, the tall aster needs staking. Most often, the slender stems cannot carry the weight of the heavy blooms or the leaves so they bend toward the ground. A stake or support will keep them upright.
The dense foliage is one of the striking qualities of the Sky Blue. The leaves are long and slender and taper off toward the top. As for the flowers, they’re something to ponder.
The pastel blue flowers are about one inch in width with a prominent yellow center. The petals are pulled back as is the case with other asters to reveal the disk in the center. The combination of blue, yellow, and green make it ideal for sunny landscapes. Especially since the clusters of flowers are not as dense as with other cultivars which gives each individual flower its place in the limelight.
Delicate is the first word that comes to mind when you look at a blooming Tatarian (Aster tataricus). Despite that, this perennial herbaceous plant has a place in Korean cuisine. That’s right. It’s an edible plant that apparently goes well with soy sauce and kimchi.
Tatarian is also an essential herb in Chinese traditional medicine, so that’s something to consider if you plan on growing it in your garden.
Another thing to consider is space. This is a large member of the family that grows to 6 feet with ease and covers 3 feet wide. Despite that and for all the clusters of flowers a stem carries, the plant doesn’t require staking. The stems are woody and hard even if they appear bright green.
The leaves are sparse and also bright green. They have a slender shape and jagged edges. But they’re soft enough you won’t have to wear gloves to cut the clusters of flowers.
And what a delight, the flowers are. They are lavender with an orange center measuring about one inch in diameter. As with the Blue Sky, the storied blooms are not dense, and you can admire each flower individually. If you want to start your asters gardening with just one plant, this is definitely the one.
Blue Wood (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) gets its name from its pastel blue flowers and reddish-brown stems which look like wood. The highly ornamental perennial throws in some light green leaves for good measure. And although the flowers grow in clusters atop the woody stems, each manages to stand out and demand some of your time.
But it’s not all fun and games with this dancing aster. The stems and despite their name, are not hard enough to support the flowers so they need staking. In addition, the plant tends to get leggy which requires regular pruning just to keep it in shape.
The leaves are usually covered with hair and have toothy edges so precaution is recommended when pruning this plant. The lower leaves tend to be large and heart-shaped while the ones at the top are small and long. This gives the flowers more room to show all their splendor.
As with other asters, it thrives under the full sun as well as partial shade. The soil needs to be loose and well-drained. When using stakes, make sure they’re not taller than the Blue Wood. Keep the stake about one foot shorter than the plant and use transparent ties to bind it gently and loosely to the stems.
Smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) is actually a misnomer. When you consider the ovate leaves with serrated edges, there’s nothing smooth about this aster. Maybe that’s why it’s more commonly known as glaucous aster. As for the smooth-leaved aster alias, it refers to the absence of hair on the leaves.
This is a medium-size aster that averages about 2 feet tall. Sometimes in the right conditions, it might hit the 4-foot mark, but that’s rare.
This is a plant that stands tall and holds its own without the need for support. The tough stems are bluish and carry ovate leaves in alternate patterns. The leaves start large and broad at the bottom and grow smaller as you move to the top of the plant.
As for the flowers, they grow in clusters and bloom in different colors ranging from purple to blue and white. The center of the flower is invariably yellow. The flowers are a little larger than your average aster bloom and measure about one inch and a quarter of an inch in diameter.
Smooth aster has a high tolerance for drought and prefers full sun to fully flourish. The soil needs to be loose and well-drained for the roots of the plant to establish.
Another aster with a duplicitous name. Aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) is a perennial that averages between one to three feet high and the same in width. Despite the name, the flowers of the plant have no fragrance. We’re guessing they were running out of names in Kansas where the plant originates so they gave it this tongue-in-cheek name.
To be fair, the bright green foliage has more appeal than the lack-luster flowers. The flowers have slender petals and are usually pale purple. The center is as always yellow.
But it’s the leaves that get your attention. They are long and slender like lances and covered with tiny hairs. And besides its bushy appearance, the bottom green leaves turn brown in the fall leaving the top looking delightfully green as usual.
There’s one redeeming property about the flowers though. As they age and before they fade in the fall, the center turns red.
Plant the Aromatic aster in all types of soil as long as it’s well-drained. Both full sun and partial shade are also tolerated.
Frost aster (Symphyotrichum pilosum) is a beautiful plant with lively white flowers and yellowish centers. The mature plant averages about two feet, although you can get it to grow to 4 feet in good and rich soil.
With its branching stems, the plant might need staking. That despite the fact that the stems turn woody as they age. As for the leaves, they have the customary lance shape and have plenty of tiny hairs. Don’t let the soil get dry for long as the leaves at the base of the plant are rather sensitive. When the Frost aster is stressed, the leaves fall no matter the season.
The flowers are pure white and the yellow centers tend to turn red as well in the fall. They are less than one inch in diameter and stay in bloom until September.