How to Grow New England Aster in your garden

New England Aster in Bloom

How to Grow New England Aster – cliff notes

Growing New England Aster in your garden is quite easy!  Since it is a perennial that is native to the Eastern United States, it is adaptable to a wide variety of soil types. The primary concern is how much sun it receives, and that it doesn’t dry out too much.  This article will give you all the information you need, and teach you how to grow New England Aster, from seed to bloom!  The basics of growing and caring for New England Aster can be summed up in these steps

  • New England Aster likes full sun, 6 hours per day or more to reach its full potential
  • This plant is hardy in zones 3-8.  Find your garden zone here.
  • Generally needs watering in times of drought.  You will know this as the lower leaves on the stalk will start to turn brown and wilt
  • Will typically grow 4-6′ (1.5 m-2 m) tall with a spread of 3′ (1m), depending on conditions.
  • Asters often require staking or support from nearby plants.  Or you can trim them in early-mid June to keep them shorter
  • New England Aster will bloom in late summer to early fall.  Generally during the months of September/October
  • I’ve found that they bloom for about 4 weeks, typically

New England Aster Facts and General Description

Monarch Butterfly on New England Aster Symphyotrichum novae-angliae
Monarch Butterflys LOVE New England Aster. It provides them valuable nectar to continue their migration to Mexico in the Fall.

This is a tall, full-figured late blooming plant!  New England Aster is a long lived Native perennial and has stunning purple flowers that are wonderful when dispersed in a border, or clustered in a bed.  New England Aster is a hardy and tough plant that will come back year after year.  I have about 9 of these plants around my property right now.  We have 7 in our backyard micro-prairie.  Pollinators LOVE to visit New England Aster in the late summer / early Autumn.  It is valuable to pollinators since it blooms late in the season.  I find that it is loved by butterflies (particularly where I have about 6 of these clustered).  I can look out my window in late August-September and see 4-10 different butterflies fluttering from bloom to bloom.  It is quite hypnotic, and I love it.

Since New England Aster is a Native Plant, there are some additional benefits your garden will receive.  This plant will be disease and pest resistant since it has evolved in our ecosystem for millennia.  This gives it natural defenses that non-native plants don’t have!  It also is tough and adapted for such a large variety of soil and conditions.  Punching through hard clay soil is no problem for this tough native perennial!

Is New England Aster Edible?

Apparently there is a long history of Native American tribes using tea made from the leaves or root to treat a wide variety of ailments.  Anything from fever, gas or stomach problems.  They would use the flowers in pipes and use the smoke for religious purposes, and to treat headaches and a wide variety of other ailments. [1]  I don’t consume any part of this plant, and recommend that you don’t either.  If it was that good of a medicine, it would be prescribed by a doctor or sold over the counter.

 

General Requirements for How to Grow New England Aster

It prefers full sun, but can take some shade.  During droughts you should water this plant, as like other aster family flowers it can start to have lower leaves die out if there isn’t enough moisture retained by the soil.  Otherwise, it typically doesn’t need extra watering.  Heavy storms can knock it over, especially if it has grown to a large height and is isolated.  I will be adding some little blue stem grasses in between my plants to help give it some support, which is what it typically has in the prairies and meadows where it is native.  But give this plant some room, and lots of sun and you can expect to have a large, beautiful, stunning late blooming flower that is a pollinator magnet!

Detail of Flower for New England Aster, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

Do I need to deadhead New England Aster?

Although deadheading might encourage some more blooming, the most common reason to deadhead is to prevent self seeding.

How and When to Divide New England Aster

Late in the fall after the plant has gone dormant, you can divide New England Aster.  Every 3-5 years depending on how large it becomes.  If you see new shoots forming in the Spring, but none in the center of the plant then that should be an indication that you should consider dividing the plant.  So, replant what you’ve cut off somewhere else or give it to a friend!

Also…

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Don’t forget to review the reference table at the bottom of this post for a handy reference regarding how to grow New England Aster, as well as care for it.

How to Grow New England Aster from Seed

New England Aster is EASY to grow from seed.  Just sprinkle/press some seed into the dirt (pot or ground) and keep moist.  So, I just surface sow the seed.  Officially I have found that you are supposed to plant it about 1/8″ (3 mm) deep up to 5/8″ (15 mm) deep – which is way too much variation for my liking.  I have always found I have the best germination rates when it is on the surface of the soil, or barely covered and kept moist.  I just make sure it is misted thoroughly before I leave for work in the morning, and check it again right when I get home.  It will generally germinate in a couple of weeks. Just make sure you don’t over-water the seedlings, as they can flop over and die if the stalks are constantly moist.

How much water in the pots?

I just pick up the pots in the morning to see if they feel like they have enough water.  If they do, then I do nothing.  But if they are very light, then I water.  If doing this in the Spring or early Summer, while the high temperatures are lower, you don’t need to be as concerned for them drying out if they are in large enough pots.  For germination, I use the larger six-packs (never use the 2.5″ deep ones).  As soon as I feel I can move them into larger pots as individual seedlings, I do it (note picture below).

If the pots you use are larger, you can expect to have a decent sized plant in 4-6 weeks for planting out in the garden.  No stratification required!  I sow mine in the spring, and transplant out about 6 weeks later.  Direct sowing very early in spring could work fine too – as long as the seed doesn’t get washed out by an early storm.  I’ve found that New England Aster can bloom the first year if started/transplanted early enough.

Aster Seedlings Symphyotrichum
Aster seedlings. Not long after germination. This plant is very easy to grow from seed, saving you money.

 

How long does it take New England Aster to bloom if I grow from seed?

If you are early enough, and transplant seedlings by June or even early July, you might get some blooms.  But the plant will not be full sized yet, just a couple of feet tall.  But in general, with any perennial you grow from seed you can expect full blooms the second year.

Saving seeds from New England Aster

New England Aster Seed Head and Seeds
New England Aster Seeds and Seed Head

Saving your own flower seeds to propagate new plants is always a goo idea!  And it is very easy to save seed from New England Asters as long as you don’t mind a bit of feathery chaff.  A few weeks after blooming, the seed heads will form and look like little fuzzy/fluffy balls.  Just cut the seed heads off at this point, and store them in a cool dry place inside something breathable like a paper bag.  Then, I just put them into a zip-lock bag until the following spring to plant more.  You can scatter the seed where you would like to grow more plants too, as this plant will self-seed easily.

Some Ideas for Growing New England Aster in your garden

New England Aster is from the prairie, or in a woodland clearing.  It is a great addition for any kind of meadow garden.  But, a mass planting can be nice, but know that it may require some staking if there are large storms/high winds.  Alternatively you could plant some Little Bluestem or Big  Bluestem grass in between individual plants, to simulate the native habitat.

New England Aster is a larger plant that does need water during drought.  So, if you plan on having New England Aster grow in a prominent place, where the entire plant is exposed, you should make sure you monitor it during drought, and water accordingly. I generally place my New England Aster flowers in the back of a flower bed, where the lower leaves are hidden.

Some nice companion plants for New England Aster

If you are interested in growing New England Aster, maybe consider its smaller cousin, Aromatic Aster.  A more compact Aster, it will bloom later than New England Aster giving you more of those beautiful purple blooms, longer into Autumn!

Tall New England Asters also work nicely with Echinacea and Rudbeckia/Black-eyed Susans to make a jaw-dropping late summer/early Autumn color display!

Thank you for reading this.  If you have enjoyed this article, check out our other Native Plant Profiles and don’t forget to sign up for our news letter!

Detail of flower for New England Aster

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New England Aster Reference Table

Common Name New England Aster
Scientific name Symphyotrichum novae-angliae
USDA Zone 3-8
Bloom Time August/September/October
Bloom Duration 4-6 weeks
Color Purple with yellow centers
Bloom Size ½” diameter (12 mm)
Characteristics Many small blooms on branching stems
Height 3-6’, (1-2 m)
Spacing/Spread 3’ (1m)
Light Requirements Full sun to partial shade
Soil Types Any
Moisture Well drained soil.  Is somewhat drought tolerant, but lower leaves will turn brown during a drought
Maintenance None
Typical Use Tall garden border, Meadow garden, Anywhere you want to have late blooming flowers that are tall
Fauna Associations Bees and butterflies.  Other wildlife will eat the leaves (deer, rabbits, turkey).
Larval Host Checkerspot and Pearl Crescent Butterflies
Sowing Depth Surface
Stratification Not required
Native Range Pretty much East of the Rocky Mountains
Notes This can ‘flop’ over if it gets too tall.  May need staking due to big storms.

 

[1] NRCS−Montana−Technical Note−Plant Materials−MT-108. New England Aster. By Susan R. Winslow, Agronomist, NRCS Plant Materials Center, Bridger, Montana. January 2015.  Natural Resources Conservation Service.  www.nrcs.usda.gov

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