Versatile, floriferous, winter hardy and dependable all describe the hardy dwarf asters.
If this perennial is still a stranger in your garden, the reason is probably that you remember the old-fashioned type.
The ones that grew like a shrub sometimes to six feet, lost all its leaves half way up the stems and get so top heavy no stake would hold it.
All these unpleasant memories can now be forgotten and replaced with today’s modern aster flowers.
Dwarf Aster = Compact Bushes
Dwarf type asters make compact little bushes ranging from six to 18 inches, their uses in the landscape are innumerable.
Although the purpose of each plant is to add color to the early fall garden, the deep green of the foliage is an asset to the border all summer long.
Besides being attractive, they also can be made to perform duties toward the appearance of the garden.
A small shoot planted in front of a clump of blooming spring bulbs in no time hides the unsightliness of the bulbs dying foliage.
This is true also of Oriental poppies and the Madonna lily which leave barren spaces after their early summer show.
By planting six inches apart, the dwarfest varieties (six inches) can be used to form dense little hedges around the garden or along walkways, paths and drives.
Thanks to the compactness of their growth, the dwarf aster flower can be effectively used in pots or window boxes.
Potted plants can also be used to fill in bare spots left by June flowering biennials or late in the summer when straggly annuals are pulled up.
When To Transplant Asters
If plants need to be moved or potted, do so done before they get too large. The smaller the plant, the quicker it will re-establish itself.
I have moved plants in bloom, and if given shade and plenty of water for three or four days, they suffered little if any setback.
A plant dug for potting can easily be cared for by carrying pot and all to a shady place for a few days.
Plants moved late in the season are in danger. Time before winter is too short for them to anchor themselves firmly in their new position.
They may very easily be heaved out of the ground during fluctuating weather causing the roots to dry, killing the plant.
Therefore, if you have only one plant of a certain variety, leave it where it is until the following spring when it will give you many plants to experiment with.
One of their most likable characteristics of hardy asters – they need no winter protection.
With dwarf asters there is no worrying whether they will survive or not. They always come through.
The amount of new shoots you will find in spring from a single planting the year before is phenomenal.
Although division can be put off for two or three years, the plant will be taller than the previous year. So, if height is important where they are planted, it is best to divide each spring.
If you have no need for extra plants, simply keep only three or four of the strongest shoots along the outside of the clump and remove the rest.
But if you want as many plants as possible, dig up the plant and pull each shoot free of the clump, discarding the center portion.
Divisions consisting of two or three shoots can be taken for a greater display, but a single division will make a sizable plant large enough for the average space provided for.
If you find you have more plants than you can find spaces for, put the rest in an out of the way place (in the sun), such as the vegetable garden, or around the compost pile.
Better still, acquaint friends with asters by giving them a few divisions. Keep a few handy to move into those late summer vacancies.
No Seedling Trouble
Although fertilizing is not necessary when the divisions go into good garden soil, a handful of 5-1O-5 worked in around the plant twice during the growing season helps boost it to a larger display.
There is no need to worry about unsightly seedlings springing up around each plant in spring as many new asters are almost completely sterile.
However, it is still a good practice to cut down the plants after flowering to within two inches of the ground.
Asters Almost Pest Free
Aster plants are almost entirely pest free. During a rainy, humid spell I’ve found mildew on a few, but quickly cleaned things up with a little fungicide applied once a week early in the morning for two weeks.
Asters Flowering Season
The flowering period for asters ranges from mid-August to the end of October, they can be combined with annuals as well as the late blooming chrysanthemums.
By the end of August, most annual edging plants have that seedy straggly look about them.
Dwarf aster plants could effectively replace the annual border and extend the bloom well into fall.
A planting of tall yellow marigolds bordered by deep blue Asters (about ten inches) would be striking. Or try surrounding a bed of pink and rose zinnias.
Asters are also the perfect foil for drab spots in the chrysanthemum planting and make perfect additions to butterfly gardens.
Late blooming varieties with a large gold center cushion surrounded by shimmering rose-pink petals, would be a welcome sight intermingled with rust and copper toned mums.
White is always a welcome addition to any garden and the dwarf hardy aster has that too.
Neat and compact, Asters come into bloom early in September and is a truly outstanding sight well into October.
Some Old Timers
In welcoming dwarf asters to our modern gardens, let us not entirely abandon the older tall varieties of Grandma’s day.
She used them for a background in her perennial border and for just that purpose they are indispensable for our gardens.
Care must be taken to place them where their height (four to six feet) will not obstruct smaller perennials. However, steps can be taken to keep them in bounds (two and a half to three feet).
Pinching, such as done with chrysanthemums, can do wonders in improving their appearance. When a newly planted shoot reaches six inches, pinch out the top.
Later as side shoots developing below the pinch grow to six or eight inches, pinch out each of their growing tips.
Additional pinching depends on the role which the plant is to play.
Whether you train the plant to a tall narrow shape or to a mound shape. All pinching should be discontinued by the first of July to allow the plant to produce its buds in time for blooming.
The most frequent complaint of the tall aster is its habit of losing leaves on the lower half of the plant.
My remedy for this has been to bring the dwarf types to the rescue by using them to skirt the bare stems.
Whether they are used for this purpose or not, there are innumerable ways to combine the two into pleasing colorful pictures.
One tall variety of asters: flowers serve as backdrop for three deep wine phlox which in turn were bordered by dwarf asters.
Another lovely sight was a deep blue aster flanked by pale lavender delphinium. Bordering this planting was the delightful six-inch dwarf violet aster.
Images: Orange Aster