Autumn into winter – the season of death. In early autumn, with the leaves turning, we may be less likely to notice some of the less beautiful death throes happening in our garden but now, with the leaves all off, well, it’s all lying there: twiggy, black, wizened and mushy. Herbaceous (non-woody) plants tend to die back particularly poorly so it’s always fun to be on the lookout for ones that do manage to go prettily into winter.The photo above shows one plant looking quite nice and another looking a bit like it’s melting. The fine-textured, puffy-looking plant is an aster, I expect it is Aster lateriflorus ‘Lady in Black’ (aka Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) or ‘Prince.’ The melty one is an Agapanthus.
I have rarely grown asters and I’m not sure why. Some definitely tend to flop and get bare, naked bottom parts and some have that regrettable tendency to mildew, but the clear, bright springy Easter egg colors so typical of asters coming in the fall do help one deny a little longer that the gloomy days of winter are coming up. Asters are seldom Scrooge-ish with their flowers and the A. lateriflorus hybrids in particular tend to run amuck with a zillion tiny white flowers with cheerful pink centers. The tiny, dark leaves can make a nice foil for many other types of foliage. The A. laterflorus hybrids seems less prone to flop and mildew than some others.
Asters are prairie plants and that prefer reasonably well-drained soils, sun and some water. Letting them dry out tends to be a recipe for mildew (perhaps explaining why I don’t usually grow them since I am historically an erratic waterer). The tome entitled Perennials A Gardener’s Reference by local garden experts Susan Carter, Carrie Becker and Bob Lilly, has a list of about 50 asters with their key characteristics including if they are notable for their tendency to mildew, flop and run. Their info may be a bit terse at times but it is to the point. Of Aster divaricatus they say, “White wood aster, tolerates shade and dry soil, flops but nicely.”
ASTER LATERIFLORUS FAST FACTS
- sun, well-drained soil best
- some summer water, allowing to dry out can lead to mildew
- ‘Lady in Black’ 3-4.5′H x 1.5′+W; ‘Prince’ 2-3′x1.5′+
- prone to slug and rabbit nibbling, mildew
- needs dividing every few years
- butterflies and bees like asters