“The aster has not wasted spring and summer because it has not blossomed. It has been all the time preparing for what is to follow, and in autumn it is the glory of the field.” Henry Ward Beecher
For some gardeners in the Great Plains, summer can't end soon enough. Heat and humidity have taken their toll and flowers have begun to fade. But before trees and shrubs take on fall reds and yellows, asters give a last blast of bloom with masses of daisy-like flowers in shades of pink, white, blue, magenta and purple.
The name aster comes from the Greek word astron, meaning “star,” referring to the shape of the flower head. The flowers not only enhance the fall garden, they produce nectar for migrating butterflies and other beneficial insects. Some asters thrive in poor dry soil and others like their feet wet. There is an aster for almost any spot in the garden, from full sun to shade.
Some of the best asters for home landscapes are listed below in order from shortest to tallest. To minimize confusion, all of them are listed by common name as well as with the scientific name of Aster (all of them are in the aster botanical family but some are now in the genus Symphyotrichum). This is only a small sampling; there are many more dependable aster selections worth growing. With such a great variety to choose from, there should be at least one aster in every garden.
The Woods aster series, Aster dumosus, offers dwarf asters in pink, purple and blue that are excellent for the front of the fall border. These compact selections all have mildew- and rust-resistant foliage that remains attractive all season; 1 foot high.
Aster Alert, Aster novi-belgii, has dense clusters of deep purplish-red flowers on bushy stems 12-15 inches high.
Upland or white aster, Aster ptarmicoides, forms bushy plants with creamy white flowers; 1-2 feet high.
Heath aster, Aster ericoides, has an abundance of flowers that are usually white, but infrequently blue or pink. Grows 1-3 feet high.
Fragrant aster, Aster oblongifolium, includes the selections 'October Skies', 'Raydon's Favorite' and 'Dream of Beauty', all highly rated and easy to grow in sunny, well-drained conditions; 1-3 feet high.
Sky blue aster, Aster oolentangiensis, can grow in any well-drained soil; 3 feet high.
Calico aster, Aster lateriflorus 'Lady in Black', has dark purplish foliage and an abundance of small white to pink flowers with rose centers. The fall blossoms are bright and abundant, and the purplish foliage is an attention-getter all summer. Grows 3-4 feet high.
The moisture-loving New England aster, Aster novae-angliae, has a wide variety of cultivars. 'Purple Dome' grows to 2 feet high and is covered in bright purple flowers in early fall. 'Alma Potschke', with bright rosy red flowers, grows 3-4 feet high.
Smooth aster, Aster laevis, has sky blue flowers and the selection 'Bluebird' has clean blue-green foliage that resists lacebug attacks. Grows 4 feet high
Nebraska Statewide Arboretum is a nonprofit that works toward sustainable home and community landscapes through initiatives in education, public gardens and the environment. Plant and landscape resources at http://plantnebraska.org.