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Diggin' It

Asters are a joy, even if they don't bloom long enough

Asters bloom for just a short time, but they're colorful signs of fall.

By Donna Williamson / October 27, 2009

October Skies asters.

Photo courtesy of Donna Williamson.

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The asters are blooming. They always make me smile. The color is gorgeous in the last days of summer and on into autumn when so many other plants are tired. They are host to myriad beneficial insects. And they remind me of what a fraud I am.

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My classes in gardening and garden design take place in the winter months. One of my stock comments is, “That’s a five-minute plant.” I’m referring to using a plant that has only a few days of beauty in a location where better performance is required.

Typically these are old-fashioned favorites such as lilac. Planting a lilac close to a house or pathway so you can enjoy the wonderful fragrance is something I discourage since in my part of Virginia and southward, it blooms for what seems like five minutes.

Then, the rest of the summer (usually dry), its leaves are covered by greasy gray mildew. So I recommend that if you have to have one, you place it where you'll have a nice walk to the lilac in April or May, and it will fade into the background the rest of the time.

In my opinion, daylilies tend to be five-minute plants. After blooming – each bloom lasts but a day – the plants develop limp, yellow, mottled foliage and dried, flowerless stems (scapes). The best maintenance approach is then to cut the foliage/scape down to the ground and let new foliage emerge.

And then there are asters. Weedy looking at best, asters take up a lot of space if they are healthy and then wait until late August, September, or October to bloom.

Absolutely no doubt – they're a five-minute plant. They are easy to propagate and have a tendency to propagate themselves around as well.

Still, pink and blue asters work very well for me. Honeysong Pink (see photo No. 3 above) is a delight, and so are October Skies (photo No. 1 above), Raydon’s Favorite (photo at right), Bluebird, and Alma Potschke.

Five minutes of glory. Maybe six minutes. But when I see them, I smile and know that fall is here.

Donna Williamson is a master gardener, garden designer, and garden coach. She has taught gardening and design classes at the State Arboretum of Virginia, Oatlands in Leesburg, and Shenandoah University. She’s also the founder and editor of Grandiflora Mid-Atlantic Gardening magazine, and the author of “The Virginia Gardener’s Companion: An Insider’s Guide to Low Maintenance Gardening in Virginia.”  She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Editor’s note: To read more by Donna, check our blog archive. For other Monitor gardening content, see our main gardening page and our RSS feed.

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