New England Aster 101, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae


If you are looking to add some late-blooming native perennials to your yard, then New England Aster should be on your list! This beautiful pink-to-purple flower will be a late season nectar source for bees and butterflies alike.

New England Aster in Bloom

In this article:

What is New England Aster

New England Aster is a herbaceous perennial flower native to North America that grows 3-6′ tall in full sun and well-draining soil. Scientifically known as Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, this wildflower will bloom beautiful purple-to-pink daisy like flowers for 8 weeks in late Summer/Early fall.

And important species for wildlife, it will attract numerous bees, butterflies, and skippers. Additionally, New England Aster is a larval host for over three dozen species of moth. In addition to insects, the seeds of New England Aster feed turkey and other birds, while various mammals feed on the foliage such as deer and rabbits.

New England Aster Native Range

The native range of New England Aster is primarily East of the Rocky Mountains in North America. It has become established in several areas outside of it’s range, mainly California and the Pacific Northwest United States and British Columbia, Canada.

Native Range of New England Aster. Click on image to enlarge.

New England Aster Reference Table / Facts

Scientific Name / FamilySymphyotrichum novae-angliae / Asteraceae family 
Common Name(s)New England Aster, American Aster
Native Range, USDA ZoneEastern North America, Hardiness Zone 4-8
Bloom TimeLate Summer, Early Fall
Bloom Duration, Color8 weeks, Purple to Pink
Height3′-6′, (1m-2m)
Spacing / Spread2′-3′, (60-90 cm)
Light RequirementsFull Sun to partial shade
Soil TypesSandy loam, loam, clay
MoistureMoist to dry
Fauna Associations / Larval HostsNumerous pollinators, larval host for 40 moths.

Benefits of New England Aster

Beauty

Mass plantings of New England Aster can provide gorgeous shades of dark purple to pink blossoms. Grouped together it can make a powerful late Summer / Early Fall display.

Late season nectar source

By blooming so late in the season New England Aster is a valuable nectar source all manner of pollinators including numerous bees and butterflies. I often see migrating Monarch Butterflies on my plants each Autumn.

Wildlife

A very valuable plant for numerous species of wildlife, New England Aster is used as forage for deer, rabbits browse young foliage. Also, certain species of bird such as wild turkey will eat seed. This is in addition to all the pollinators that visit!

Tough

New England Aster can compete and survive in inhospitable conditions of roadside ditches. The grow and compete right alongside aggressive plants such as Goldenrod without issue.

Medicinal Value

New England Aster was used medicinally by the Cherokee, Iroquois, and several other tribes to treat a variety of ailments. A decoction or root and leaves would be used to reduce fever or treat diarrhea. And a poultice of root was used as a pain reliever, as well as many other uses.

Identification and Characteristics of New England Aster

New England Aster will grow as a multi-stalk plant emerging from a root clump and reaching 3-5′ tall depending on growing conditions. It will be erect in a prairie setting, but may lean or tip-over if it is sheltered from sun/wind from a direction. It also needs support to stay upright sometimes if isolated without other nearby plants/grasses.

Stalk

The stalk of New England Aster will be round and light green to reddish-purple, branching near the top where flowering occurs. The stem usually has small white hairs.

New England Aster stalk

Leaf

Leaves of New England Aster are alternate on the stalk, and have to petiole/stem as they clasp or wrap-around the stalk. And individual leaf is 3-4″ long by 3/4″-1″ wide and are oblong or lanceolate shape. They will have smooth margins, and the overall leaf size gets smaller as it ascends the stalk.

New England Aster leaves

Flower

New England Aster will have clusters of dark-purple to pink daisy like flowers will occur at the end of the upper stalks and at the branching. The flower is about 1″-1.5″ diameter with 30-40 fine petals that produce no noticeable scent or esscence.

New England Aster flower

The blooming period of New England Aster will normally last for 6-10 weeks with a start time of late Summer to Early Fall depending on conditions.

About 4 weeks after blooming seeds will form with small white feathery-tufts attached. These tufts allow the seed to travel far by wind. New England Aster is a prolific self-seeder in that volunteers will pop up many places in a cultivated garden.

In 2020 I had some ‘volunteer’ New England Asters show up. They bloomed a brilliant bright pink color.

Root System

The root system of New England Aster is a strong clump with numerous fibrous roots that make short rhizomes. So, this plant will be clump forming and can be divided every 3-5 years. [1]

Grow and Care for New England Aster

Sunlight Requirements

New England Aster prefers full sun, which is six hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight per day. It can tolerate partial shade though, which is 4-6 hours of direct sun per day. The amount of sunlight will directly influence how large and showy the plant becomes. [1]

Moisture Requirements

Moist to medium-moist soil is the preferred growing condition for New England Aster. It can tolerate drought, but will start to shed it’s lower leaves. A New England Aster plant that has had it’s lower leaves turn brown and fall off is not very attractive.

Soil Requirements

New England Aster can grow in many soil conditions, almost any really. It can grow in loam, clay, and sandy-loam.

Fertilizer

As a native plant, New England Aster doesn’t require any fertilizing to grow tall and healthy. Fertilizing New England Aster can make it taller and leggy, leading it to be more likely to flop over.

I personally add a handful of compost when transplanting New England Aster seedlings, but that is all.

New England Aster leaves turning yellow or brown

If drought conditions occur, it is very common for lower leaves of New England Aster to turn brown or yellow, or even fall off. This can also be interpreted as New England Aster branches dying. If you notice the leaves turning yellow or brown, water the plant. And consider moving it to a more favorable location the following Spring.

Natural Habitat of New England Aster

You can find New England Aster growing in a wide variety of habitats in North America. Everything from roadsides, along railroad tracks, near pond or stream edges to the wide open meadows and prairies. [1]

Does New England Aster spread?

New England Aster will spread via self-seeding aggressively and become invasive in mulched or disturbed environments. Even in more competitive areas like wildflower gardens or ditches it still manages to spread. This is due to the large number of seeds the plant makes.

To prevent New England Aster from spreading, remove blooms after they fade. This will prevent seeds from fully forming or being dispersed. You may have to do this a second time if your ‘pruning’ triggers the plant to create a second round of blooms.

Maintenance of New England Aster

New England Aster flopping over / leaning over

New England Asters are one of those Natives that have a tendency to flop over in certain conditions. It generally happens when it is isolated in mulched gardens (I have first hand experience). This is because the roots can spread wide, and are shallow due to low competition.

To prevent, or reduce the likelihood of New England Aster flopping / leaning, try to make sure it gets sun from all directions, and is in a high competition environment. Aka – a meadow (it’s natural habitat). Planting it next to lots of other plants will force it’s roots to dig deeper, and the plant will better support itself.

Furthermore, when planted in isolation, New England Aster stalks will grow more laterally to reach for the sun. Having lots of competition keeps the plant reaching straight up for the sun.

Three methods to stop an Aster from flopping over

There are 3 simple methods you can employ to keep a flopping Aster standing tall:

  1. Staking
  2. Planting near other tall perennials
  3. Trimming it in early Summer

1) Staking – The first is to do the old tried and true method of staking. Using a couple of bamboo or similar stakes with twine can help keep the plant vertical.

2) Taller Competition – The second is to provide enough supporting vegetation. Having other tall perennials such as Echinacea purpurea, or some ornamental Little Bluestem grass planted right beside New England Aster can help support the plant. But more importantly, the competing roots will force the roots of New England Aster to stay closer to the main stalks, as well as go deeper.

3) Cutting Asters back in Summer – And finally, the third method is that you can cut the plant in half. That’s right! You just trim the plant back by about 1/2 it’s height in early July. The stalks will immediately start branching, and the overall height will be lowered. This will make it easier for New England Aster to stand up tall and erect when it blooms in the Fall.

Cutting Back in Fall

After blooming, New England Aster can be cut back to ground in Autumn. Alternatively you can leave the plant up until Spring, when any hibernating insects would emerge from the stalk.

But New England Aster will go completely dormant in late Autumn. Only to return with vigor the following Spring.

new england aster emerging in spring
New England Aster emerging in Spring. A perfect time to divide your Aster.

Pull unwanted seedlings

Throughout the Spring, you should take 15 minutes to spot any Aster seedlings and pull any that you don’t want. You can do this throughout the growing season, as the leaf/stalk of Aster are very easy to identify.

How to divide and transplant Aster

Since New England Aster is a clump forming perennial with fibrous roots, we can propagate it by division every few years. This is one of the easiest plants to divide up in my experience. You can be very rough with it and it will pretty much always survive.

The best time to divide Asters is in early Spring when the plant is just emerging, or in late Fall when it goes dormant. It should be divided every 3 to 5 years, as it is a clump forming plant. Once the clump gets too large, the center of the clump will die out, leaving a void in the center.

Materials

To divide New England Aster, you will need a shovel/spade to dig out the plant. You can also use the spade to chop up the plant. But if you don’t want to use the spade, a pruning saw or gardening knife also work great for dividing perennials. Also, if you don’t want to replant the divisions immediately, you can pot them up in a container.

Tools useful for dividing Asters

Process to divide and transplant New England Aster

  1. Locate the Aster emerging in Spring
  2. Dig out the clump by placing your spade about 2″ outside of the emerging clump and angling it at 45 degrees down
  3. Lever out the entire clump.
  4. Using a spade, pruning saw, or garden knife, cut the Aster into several sections
  5. Transplant the Aster sections in new locations quickly. Or, you can pot them up in appropriately sized containers before transplanting to their final locations.

How to Grow New England Aster from Seed

New England Aster is one of the easier plants to grow from seed, as the seeds do not require any form of per-treatment. But, research has shown improvement in germination rates when winter-sowed, or stratified for 30 days. [2] But if you sow heavily enough, it is not necessary.

Process to grow and germinate New England Aster seeds

  1. Fill a container with moist potting soil, leaving 1/2″ gap at the top
  2. Sprinkle some New England Aster seeds on top of the soil. Press the seeds into the soil with your thumb, leaving them exposed.
    • Germination rates are typically 5-10%. [3]
  3. Lightly sprinkle a small handful of potting soil on top, not covering the whole pot.
  4. Place the container in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade
  5. Keep the soil moist by misting it in the morning using a spray bottle or pump sprayer, taking care not to wash the seeds out.
  6. Seeds typically germinate within two weeks
New England Aster Seedling
New England Aster seedlings / Sprouts

How fast to establish

If protected from rabbits and deer, New England Aster can grow to a height of 3′ it’s first year and even bloom. New England Aster can reach a mature 5′ height by it’s second year.

Where to buy seeds

We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)

How to Save New England Aster seeds

About four weeks after blooming has finished, the flower heads of New England Aster have now become seed heads. When they look like fuzzy balls, similar to dandelions, you can collect the seed. Just clip the stems a few inches below the seed head, and then pinch off the seed using your fingers.

Fuzzy seed heads of New England Aster. Only when it looks fuzzy should you collect seed.

Place the seed in a cool dry place for a week or two to fully dry it out. You can store fully dried seed for 1-2 years in a baggy, envelope, or sealed plastic container (in a cool dry place).

New England Aster Seed Head and Seeds

I’ve personally noticed that the germination rate of seed drops precipitously after two years. [2]

Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with New England Aster

Bees

Long-tongue bees are the primary pollinators of New England Aster. These include leaf-cutters, bumblebees, honeybees, and miner bees. Short-tongue bees and various flies will also collect pollen from the flowers.

Butterflies

Numerous species of butterflies and skippers visit the flowers. I’ve noticed everything from small skippers, cloudless sulfurs to large Monarchs [4] and Swallowtail butterflies visit.

Monarch Butterfly on New England Aster

Other insects

New England Aster hosts several moth larvae and other insects. Larvae of the Chrysanthemum Lace Bug, Four-lined Plant Pug, Potato Aphid and Tarnished Plant Bug all feed on the foliage.

Deer and Rabbits

Rabbits will feed on young plants and seedlings, sometimes mowing it off at it’s base. If this occurs several times it can be fatal to the plant. Additionally, deer will brows the foliage of larger New England Aster plants. Many of my plants never grow much taller than 3′ because of deer feeding.

So, if you are interested in establishing New England Aster from seed, or maintaining the maximum height, I strongly recommend you use Liquid Fence to protect the plants. Or, grow enough plants so that any deer browsing will not be noticeable.

Birds

Certain birds and Turkey will eat the seeds of New England Aster.

Dogs and Cats

New England Aster is safe for pets. Per the ASPCA, New England Aster is not toxic to dogs. [5]

Diseases

New England Aster can be susceptible to Powdery Mildew. It primarily will occur later in the season, and should only be cosmetic. If you landscape wisely with this plant, and intermix it with other, taller plants it won’t be noticeable. Alternatively if you have it out in the open, in full sun, it will be less likely to contract the fungus.

Where you can buy New England Aster

New England Aster is one of the more popular native perennials, and is often available (in some form) at most nurseries and garden centers. I’ve even seen it sold at big box stores such as Home Depot.

Additionally, seeds are readily available. You can find a link to a company I really like at our recommended products page.

Uses of New England Aster

Garden Uses

In the right conditions of full sun and moist soil, New England Aster can make an attractive specimen and a powerful display. Although it will benefit from having ornamental grasses or other perennials to support it.

New England Aster being supported by Purple Top grass and Little Bluestem grasses

But New England Aster is perfect for a wildflower or border garden, intermixed with other species of taller plants. Mass-plantings can yield a wall of purple in late summer that will be filled bees, butterflies, and other wildlife. Several New England Asters bracketed

I have about 10 specimens (and more volunteers) in our backyard microprairie. It really looks great in September when the blooms start opening up.

Growing New England Aster close to house

Due to it’s height and propensity to flop over if not given sun from all directions, New England Aster generally isn’t the best choice of flower to grow right alongside a house. By placing it near a house wall, you effectively block the sun from one or more directions, which will encourage it to lean down.

If you do wish to grow it next to a house, I recommend you trim it back substantially in early July. Reducing the overall height makes less of a ‘torque’ on the stem, and will keep the plant more upright and attractive.

Companion Plants

There are numerous companion plants that can work well with New England Aster. In addition to other Asters, there are a large number of plants that can provide beautiful contrasting colors that blend nicely. Some companion plants that bloom concurrently with New England Aster are:

Goldenrod and New England Aster look beautiful together.

For some other plants that can help provide support that bloom before New England Aster, try

Growing New England Aster in containers

New England Aster can be grown in a pot or container as it has fibrous roots. However, it will usually get leggy or tall, as that is the plants nature. To keep it looking good, you should plant on trimming it down to a 2′ height in early July.

Edible

The leaves and flowers of New England Aster are non-toxic and edible. Both the blossoms and leaves can be eaten raw and added to salads.

Medicinal Uses

There are 11 different medicinal uses of New England Aster by 7 different Native American tribes. [6] Roots were used to make infusions and decotion to treat fever, diarrhea, and as an analgesic as well as a respiratory aid. Fumes from burning the plant was also used as a stimulant or to revive a patient.

Many herbalists use to use New England Aster to treat allergies caused by ragweed and other allergy inducing plants. The flowers themselves have been sniffed, or burnt, while the roots would be used to help with sinuses.

Find more native plants here!

References:

[1] – J. G. Chmielewski and J. C. Semple. The biology of Canadian weeds. 125. Symphyotrichum ericoides (L.) Nesom (Aster ericoides L.) and S. novae-angliae (L.) Nesom (A. novae-angliae L.). Canadian Journal of Plant Science. 83(4): 1017-1037. https://doi.org/10.4141/P01-179

[2] – Greene, H. C., and J. T. Curtis. “Germination Studies of Wisconsin Prairie Plants.” The American Midland Naturalist, vol. 43, no. 1, 1950, pp. 186–194. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2421891. Accessed 30 July 2021.

[3] – Corsello, Rachel. “Increasing Germination Rates and Population Growth of Native Plant Gardens on College Campuses.” Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Wittenberg University, 2020. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center. 30 Jul 2021.

[4] – Brouillet, L., et al. Flora of North America. Vol. 20. 2006. Page 487 Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

[5] – Plants poisonous to dogs. ASPCA. Accessed 29MAR2021. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/dogs-plant-list

[6] – North American Ethnobotany Database. Retrieved 30JUL2021. http://naeb.brit.org/uses/species/3872/

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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