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Chesapeake Fall Gardens: Astonishing Asters

So many.natives to choose from.

Asters carry Chesapeake gardens through fall, sometimes blooming into November. There are native asters for most situations, sun, shade and in between. They are very easy to grow too. With over fifty asters native to the eastern U.S., the only challenge is choosing those that speak to you. In a 2005 report, the Mt. Cuba Center evaluated 56 native asters over two years. The top five were:

Calico aster 'lovely' (Laterilaflorus 'lovely')

Aromatic aster "October Skies' (Symphyotrichum oblongifolius)

Flat topped aster (Doellingeria umbellata)

Numerous others were also strongly recommended. Your best plan may be to visit a nursery or garden while they are blooming to see which you most like. October is a great time to do that.

I am growing Raydon's favorite aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolia 'Raydon's Favorite') and a pink cultivar of the New England aster (Symphotrichum novae-angliae) in full sun and part shade. In a container, wood's light blue (Aster dumosus) is a shorter aster working well beneath a standard tree,

native wood aster blooming in shade
Wood Aster

For shade, there are wood asters that do well. White wood aster (Eurybia divaricata) is fairly commonly available and lights up when the blooms arrive. I am growing blue wood aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) which also brightens the shade garden.

native asters in part shade border

A friend recently told me she was giving up on asters because they are too rangy and weedy looking during the summer. That is true. Until the stems burst forth with clouds of flowers, the asters aren't much to look at. When those flowers arrive though, it's all worth it!

A couple of ideas for dealing with this. First, all of the tall asters can be 'chelsea chopped' or pruned back by 2/3 in early summer through July to make them more compact. It also helps to plant asters among other perennials to conceal them until the end of summer when they burst forth and do their thing. Last, you might try one of the large leaved or shorter asters. Large leaved asters tend to grow as rosettes and send up spikes of flowers. I am trying big leaf aster (Aster macrophyllus "Twilight' ) for the first time this year and so far they are pretty tidy. There is also purple dome New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae angliae 'purple dome'), a short aster introduced by Mt. Cuba. It reaches only 2 feet in height.

Asters are very easy to grow. The only maintenance really needed is any cut backs you choose to do to curb their height. This is also one of those plants where, when it comes time to purchasing, it helps to check the latin name if you are not shopping at a native plant nursery. Japanese asters look a lot like our natives and at garden centers, are often sold along side native plants. Check out the latin name and google it if you are not sure.

Asters are absolute assets for your native garden in fall. Happy gardening!


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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