ASTERS: CHOOSE BETWEEN ANNUALS OR PERENNIALS
VARIETY OF BRIGHT COLORS
Asters are as diversified as they are beautiful. There are two distinct types of Asters, annuals called China Asters, and perennials known as Michaelmas daisies. Both are highly regarded, and flowers highly related to the many colors of fall. The perennial Asters, which are very hardy, and multiply rapidly, are useful in hardy borders, especially with chrysanthemums, while the China Asters tend to be popular with florists and home gardeners as extra fine cut flowers.
The showy annuals are described using many names, some of which are ostrich feather, peony flowered, pompon, and chrysanthemum flowered. These names describe the variety of shapes of asters, which are many. China asters grow up to 3 feet high, and bloom between July and October. Some hardy asters are low enough to be grown in rock gardens, but many are big bushy plants for mixed borders. They grow in full sun, but the taller plants will take part shade. They require average garden soil, and while some types are not recommended for cutting, they all bloom very freely. They will reach their height around September and October.
China asters have been popular for so long that a great many types and strains have been developed, including many shades of blue, lavender, pink, crimson, rose and peach. The earliest to bloom are the Queen of the Market, with medium-sized flowers about 20 inches tall. Super Giants and the older Giants of California bear 4 1/2 inch flowers with long curly petals from late summer to frost. Other favorites are Crego with large, shaggy petaled blooms on 2 1/2 feet plants, Early Beauty, American Branching, Royal, and American Beauty. Princess asters are a newer kind with a high crested center surrounded by several rows of petals. Blooming in late august, they are lovely for cutting. Another new type is Bouquet, with quilled flowers on an upright, 2 feet tall plant. They come very early, and a plant in bloom gives the appearance of a whole bouquet. Powderpuffs, of the Bouquet type, comes in a variety of color ranges. Single asters like California Sunshine lend still further diversity to this fine family. Duchesse has pure yellow, globe-shaped flowers like a chryanthemum.
If you are looking for a garden hardy aster, among the most popular are Michaelmas daisies, Lilac Time, Pink Bouquet, or White Niobe, about 12 inches tall. Violet-blue Eventide, rosy lavender Peach, and Harrington's Pink are also sturdy growers that reach a height of up to 4 feet. Mt. Everest and Mt. Rainer (both white) are also tall growers, as the names imply. Again, the name lavender-blue Skylands Queen also implies a tall grower. Frikarti or Wonder of Staefa bears lavender blue flowers from July through October, which are excellent for cutting. In the north, it requires protection in winter.
HOW AND WHEN TO PLANT
Seed of China asters is sown indoors n April or outdoors in May. Tall-growing varieties need to be spaced 15 inches apart in the row, but lower kinds do well with less room. Nurseries and garden stores sell the plants, too. These asters need rich sandy soil, and it is recommended that you do not plant them two years in a row in the same place. See that they have plenty of water always, especially during dry spells. Hardy aster plants are best set out in the spring about 2 feet apart, and the tallest require more room than that.
CARE AND PROTECTION
Always buy seed of China asters that have been bred for wilt resistance. You might need to dust or spray these plants with an insecticide (preferably one that has green (environmentally friendly) qualities. Hardy asters may also require a fungicide during their growing season. The taller varieties will be bushier and stronger stemmed if pinched back several times from late spring to early summer. Every spring, or not quite that often, the clumps should be divided and replanted.
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