Going Native: New England Aster
If you have driven anywhere these days, chances are you have seen some bright purple flowers along the side of the road. New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) may be found in old fields and roadside ditches, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t garden worthy as well. It is a great, easy to grow, showy flower for late season color – blooming in September up until the first frost. The blooms vary from pink to purple with bright orange-yellow centers. Growing up to 6 ft tall, you can cut the plants back in June if you want to keep them shorter or pinch them a few times until mid-July. This often results in more blooms as well as shorter, bushier plants. Or you can try out a cultivar such as ‘Purple Dome’ which stays a compact 18 inches without pruning. But if you go this route, be sure to cut back after flowering to avoid self sowing, as cultivars don’t seed true to form.
Loved by bees and butterflies for their nectar, asters are one of the most important fall nectar plants. New England aster is also a host plant for checkerspot and pearl crescent butterflies. Hardy in zones 3-9, New England Aster is native to much of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. New England Asters like sun to part sun and moist soil. There are many native asters that grow in a variety of habitats available for gardening. If you want fall color but don’t have a sunny spot with moist soil, you might try another one of our native asters. If you have drier soil, try smooth aster. Or if you are looking for fall color for a shady area of your yard, try white wood or heart leaved aster. If it is really wet, purple aster is the answer. Big leaf and New York asters are other nice native asters for sunny, moist sites that are smaller than New England Aster and have lavender/white flowers. And who says you have to pick just one? Try combining a few different asters together to get a beautiful mix of fall colors and shapes in your garden.
Plant your New England asters 2-3 feet apart, and plan on dividing them every few years to keep them growing vigorously. They grow from the center out on all sides, so eventually the middle can start to die. If this happens, just divide your plant and you are back in business. By the time the asters bloom, they have often lost their lower leaves on their stems, giving them a leggy look. This is an easy problem to solve. Just use the asters in the back of your garden and plant some shorter perennials or grasses in front to hide the leafless stems. Asters reseed readily – so if you don’t want to them to spread and naturalize around your garden, cut them back after they flower to prevent them from reseeding.
We grow a number of different asters that are native to New York at the Fiddlehead Creek Farm and Native Plant Nursery in Hartford, NY nursery including all the ones mentioned here. For more info about gardening with native plants, contact me at Emily@fiddleheadcreek.com.