Asters: Stars of the Fall Garden

August 21, 2017
Asters: Stars of the Fall Garden


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Summer is winding down but the asters are just getting started, adding splashes of lavender, purple, and pink to the fall garden.

A native American plant, the aster got its name from the ancient Greek and Latin words for star, describing its radiant blossom. One of its common names is starwort. As early as 1680, Europeans were importing our native wild asters for use in their Old World gardens. In England today they are called Michaelmas daisies for their habit of blooming around the same time as the Feast of St. Michael on September 29th. They are also the birth flower for September.

The Perfect Fall Perennial

Like many native plants, asters are often overlooked when people plan their flower beds but the reliability of their stunning blossoms during a time of year when other perennials are winding down is something we should be taking advantage of. They not only rescue the fall garden from boredom but also provide nectar for butterflies tanking up before heading south for the winter. They thrive with minimal care and there is a galaxy of starry asters to choose from:

Aster Varieties

New York aster (Aster novi-belgii) grows 2-3 feet tall with violet-blue flowers and narrow leaves. There are cultivars in dark blue, lavender, and pink too. The dwarf form grows only 10-15 inches high and spreads readily.

New England asters (A. nova-angliae) are late bloomers, grow 3-6 feet tall and are well branched with lots of small purple flowers.


‘September Ruby’ is a deep cerise red variety that grows easily from seed. At maturity it will be about 5 feet tall. Hot pink ‘Alma Potschke’ grows 4 feet tall and is perfect for a back of the border accent. ‘Purple Dome’ is the first true dwarf NE aster growing only 18 inches tall. It will be covered with deep purple blossoms for at least a month.

If powdery mildew plagues your garden in fall, Aster dumosus is a low-growing ground cover that is 8-12 inches tall. Try ‘Woods Purple’, ‘Woods Pink’, or ‘Woods Blue’. They all appreciate full sun and are mildew free.

Not to be overlooked is Aster frikatii ‘Monch’ which is long blooming, grows 2-3 feet tall and bears large 2 1/2 inch lavender-blue flowers.

Though most asters require full sun and lots of water there are some varieties that are drought tolerant and thrive in partial shade:

The smooth aster (A. laevis) is mildew resistant and performs well in dry shade. It grows 3-5 feet tall and has fleshy dark green leaves on dark purple stems. The variety ‘Bluebird’ bears clusters of sky-blue flowers atop a vase-shaped plant.


The white wood aster (A. divaricatus) bears a cloud of white blossoms atop dark brown, wiry stems. A woodland plant, it spreads by seeds and underground runners. It will thrive in the dry soil and dappled shade found under tall oaks and maples but can be invasive.

The blue wood aster (A. cordifolius) has heart-shaped leaves and grows up to 6 feet tall in the right location. It tolerates shade well but prefers rich, humusy soil. It will reward you with a dense cloud of small blue flowers from late summer through mid-fall.

Aster Growing Tips

To promote bushier growth, cut your asters back in early spring and again in June. During a dry summer they tend to drop their lower leaves if not kept well watered. To cover their “naked legs”, plant lower understory plants around them. As the plants mature they grow out from the center eventually leaving a dead spot in the middle. The benefit greatly from dividing and replanting in the spring every 3 to 4 years. Feed plants in the spring with a top dressing of compost or well-rotted manure. Tall growing varieties will need staking.

Make some room in your garden for one or more of these stellar performers!

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.


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Reader Comments

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stella d'oro

they quit blooming after several years,I split them but it didn't help.
the sun is the same as before and they look good and grow good.
thank you

I’m guessing from the heading

I’m guessing from the heading that you are talking about daylilies and not asters so here goes.  They do need lots of sun. If they are planted too deeply they will not bloom; a layer of heavy mulch that is too deep has the same adverse effect. They like loose, well-drained soil. Fertilize twice a season - first when they start to emerge in the spring and again in midsummer to sustain reblooming. The roots of nearby trees, shrubs, or even other perennials can rob your daylilies of nutrients and water, also preventing them from blossoming. Newly divided plants, especially if the divisions are small, can take a season or two to recover and begin to bloom again.


I'm having a problem telling new buds from spent seed heads. I'm dead heading the ones I can tell are spent, but there are numerous "buds" all around, making it hard to tell if it is putting out new buds. Help?

disposable aster resurrected

I bought a couple of potted asters last autumn. I fully expected them to die over the winter but put the pots in the garage on the off chance they might make it through (I am Zone 4 in northern Ontario). Surprisingly when I cut back all the dead wood I found one of them had resprouted. It is still in the pot and quite small. Should I leave it in the pot so it can go in the garage over winter, or put it in the ground?

That plant seems determined

That plant seems determined to live! By all means plant it outside so it can make new root growth and get established. It will stand a better chance of surviving the winters and coming back year after year to brighten your garden.

Purple aster

Will my big aster just planted today survive winter in SD?

Probably not. It needs more

Probably not. It needs more time to get roots established before cold weather sets in. Mulch it well after the ground freezes and hope for the best.


I have a strip garden 50' x 10' at the back end of my yard. I pretty much leave it alone, although I have planted swamp milkweed, blue lobelia, a couple of arborvitae and a swamp hibiscus in prior years. The birds have favored me with leaving seeds of missouri primrose, tall goldenrod and short asters, much to my pleasant surprise. This year they have all bloomed very nicely.


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