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Re: woodland asters

I lost track of who was looking for information on woodland asters.  I wrote
this last fall for the HortResources Newsletter.  All but Aster schreberi
will be available from my spring catalog. Shameless promotion follows the


Asters for the Shade

The calendar says it's time to think about winding down the garden - about
pumpkins and scarlet maple leaves and frost.  It's also time to think about
some of the wonderful perennials that put an extension on to summer.  And
after a growing season which included record rains in June followed by
July's drought, the last thing you want in late summer is a demanding plant.

Happily, there are several native woodland Asters which will get  the job
done with little supervision from management. These aren't the hybrid
garden-center Asters which appear each year in 45 new shades of purple-pink.
Rather, they are species found filling northeastern woodlands with great
sweeps of blooms from August to October.  Their easy nature and long bloom
period provide a pleasing respite from the bustle of activities which
surround the rest of the garden at this time of year.

1.   Aster acuminatus - Whorled Aster   12-30" tall,  1/2" flowers, with
white rays and yellow disk.  Sometimes I'm smart (or lazy) enough to allow
"weeds" to reach the size where I can identify them.  Whorled Aster
volunteered in in a fairly shady area of our nursery, which was all the
reason I needed to let it grow.  The gray-green toothed leaves are broadest
away from the base, tapering sharply to the tip.  Though the leaves actually
alternate along the stem,  they are grouped so closely as to create
pseudowhorls.  The corymbs of flowers are held above the foliage, blooming
from August into September.  Grow in average soil in part to full shade.
Zone 4-8.

2.   Aster cordifolius - Heart-leaved Aster   24-36" tall, 1/2" flowers,
pale blue rays with yellow disk.  If you don't have "Victory Garden" soil,
this is one of the best asters.  It thrives in well drained garden loam to
dry gravelly crud, taking drought in stride.  Medium green toothed,
heart-shaped leaves are largely pest free, giving it a nice foliage effect
through early summer.  The bushy, upright form is crowned by a multitude of
blossoms starting in mid August.  Part to full shade.  Zone 4-9.

3.   Aster divaricatus - White Wood Aster  12-24" tall,  1/2" flowers, white
rays with yellow disk.  Probably the toughest of the woodland Asters, it
will carpet dry woods, laughing at drought and poor soil.  They are best
used at the back of the garden or in open woods, since the dark green,
deeply toothed heart-shaped leaves are prone to holes from insect damage
during early summer.  But this shortcoming is more than rewarded by the long
lasting drift of white that occurs from last August through September,
accented by the dark foliage and purple-black stems.  Grow in part to full
shade.  Zone 4-8.

4.   Aster linariifolius - Bristly Aster   6-24"  tall,  1" flowers, violet
rays with yellow disk.  Not really a woodland Aster, but rather one for the
woodland edge, where it will receive a few hours of direct sun.  A low
grower with stiff, upright stems and whorls of 2" needle-like leaves.  It
will grow in terrible soil, often found colonizing the gravel fill along
sunny roadsides.  Pinching it back in late spring will stimulate a bushier
habit and more numerous blooms, a particular help when it is grown in a
shadier location.  Grow it toward the front of the garden, where its
gorgeous violet blooms won't be lost among taller plants.  Blooms in
September.  Zone 3-8.

5.   Aster macrophyllus - Big-leaved Aster   12-40" tall,  1" flowers, white
to pale lilac with yellow disk.  One of my favorites for the woods, and not
for the flowers!  Large, hand sized pale green basal leaves form a beautiful
ground cover where the Big-leaved Aster is allowed to colonize.  Though the
basal leaves appear every year, the plant doesn't always send up flowering
stems.  When stems do appear, they are topped by a few lovely pale lilac
flowers.  I like to think of them a merely a bonus added to the great ground
cover foliage.  It will grow in stony New England soil, but prefers some
leaf mold to hold moisture during prolonged droughts.  Blooms (when its in
the mood) in late August into September.  Zone 4-8.

6.   Aster novi-belgii - New York Aster   36-54" tall,  1" flowers, violet
with yellow disk.  A popular garden Aster, and a parent of numerous hybrid
varieties.  New York Aster does best in full sun, but will perform well in
part shade.  I have living proof: our current stock is descended from a
seedling which volunteered in a fairly shady bed and blessed us with plenty
of flowers and seed.  Long elliptical to lance shaped leaves grace the
upright stem beneath a cluster of rich violet flowers.  Grow in well drained
soil in as much shade as you dare.  Blooms from September to October.  Zone

7.   Aster schreberi   12-36" tall,  3/4 to 1" flowers, white with yellow
disk.  We have had the plant for only one year and this lack of cultural
experience tempers my enthusiasm somewhat, but I love this plant!  According
to Gleason and Cronquist, it is apparently a naturally occuring hybrid of A.
divaricatus and A. macrophyllus, and to my view, it captures the best
features of each.  From A. macrophyllus, it takes large, pale grren foliage
which is largely pest free.  From A. divaricatus, it gets a burgundy colored
stem numerous white flowers.  So far, it appears to do well in the shade of
dry woods growing leaf litter.  In a year or two, this could be my favorite
Aster.  Blooms from August until October.  Zone 4-8.

8.   Aster spectabilis - Showy Aster   12-30" tall,  1 -2" flowers, violet
with yellow disk.  A beautiful flowering plant for the woodland edge, where
it will receive part shade with some sun.  The lance shaped, smooth edged
leaves are a pleasing grass-green; in a colony, the basal leaves form a nice
open ground cover early in the season.  This Aster is well named, with large
showy flowers whose rich violet hue is almost irridescent.  It thrives in
dry or well drained soil and competes well with roots at the base of trees.
Zone 5-9.

Culural tips:   Asters can be floppy if left on their own.  It is a good
idea to pinch them back in June (or in the case of a large group, attack
them with shears) to stimulate branching growth.  The result is a lower,
bushier form with many more flowers.  All but the Heart-leaved and Bristly
Asters are strong spreaders by creeping rhizomes.  They form wonderful
ground covers in open woods, but may overpower the smaller garden.  All
asters will self seed freely if allowed; dead-head to contain or let them
fill the woods.

Underwood Shade Nursery
PO Box 1386
North Attleboro, MA 02763
fax 508-222-5152
USDA zone 6a

-----Original Message-----
From: James N. Tilton <tilton44@erols.com>
To: perennials@mallorn.com <perennials@mallorn.com>
Date: Saturday, January 16, 1999 14:51
Subject: woodland asters

>Anne Long wrote:
>>, and patches of fall-blooming woodland asters, which do great
>> in dry shade...
>loved your combinations for tulips!  Do you have favorites or
>recommendations for the asters you mentioned?  Good sources?
>(Southeastern PA, where *whooppee!* the ice is melting!)
>To sign-off this list, send email to majordomo@mallorn.com with the

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