By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider
When most people think of fall, they think of mums. There is another fall bloomer that you may want to add to your flowerbeds. If you want color in the fall, this is a great addition. Although green throughout most of the year, dense purple mounds of flowers proclaim that fall is here and summer is gone. Fall Asters come in shades of pink, purple, lavender and blue and begin blooming about the same time as mums. The conspicuous flowers seem to be alive with butterflies and other pollinators.
Asters grow to different heights so check the labels to be sure they match the spot you plan to plant. About 12” to 18” is average. They grow in a mounded shape, reaching about 3’ wide. Plant in the spring for fall blooms.
They need at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. If you plant in too much shade they will get leggy and fall over. To plant dig a hole twice as wide as the size of the pot and plant at the same depth that the plant is in inside the pot. Adding some compost when backfilling will help the plant thrive. Water well when planting and continue occasional watering until established. Every other day should be fine. Check how wet the soil is because Asters do not like wet feet.
When the plant is about 10” tall, clip off the tips of the stems which allows you to get many more flowers in the fall. Repeat this another two times before fall which encourages them to be bushier and guarantees many more flowers.
After the first freeze, they will die back to the ground. Leave the plant through the winter as a shelter for birds and other wildlife. Cut back in late January or early February. You may be tempted to give up on this plant in the spring and yank it up. They return from the ground up and are slow to appear – usually in May.
Fall aster can be with you year-round if you use the flower stalks to make a wreath. When dry the flowers will retain their color and the leaves and the flowers will smell faintly of vanilla.
Aster is deer resistant.
For more information, call the AgriLife office at 498-4071 in Odessa or at 686-4700 in Midland or visit aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu or westtexasgardening.org.