Mum's forgotten cousin bursts with fall color

  • Published: Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017
Your Show-Me Garden: MU Extension brings you gardening tips from experts around the state.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The fall beauty, aster, gets its name from the ancient Greek word for star. And a bright and shining star it is, said University of Missouri Extension horticulturist David Trinklein.

Asters’ petite, daisy-like flowers burst with bloom when other flowers fade. It comes in rare true blue, coveted by gardeners, as well as vibrant pinks and lavenders, muted raspberry, and pastel colors.

Its cousin, the hardy mum, steals the show in fall gardens. While its dance card may not be as full as the mum’s, the aster can cut an attention-grabbing rug that will not disappoint.

Garden aster goes by the common name of Michaelmas daisy because it blooms around St. Michaelmas Day, the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, on Sept. 29. Multitudes of star-shaped flowers reward gardeners who choose asters.

Their needs are similar to those of mums. They grow upright with full sun exposure in a well-drained soil of average fertility. Well-decomposed organic matter loosens tight soil. Pinch them back weekly for more compact plants. Without pinching, asters grow upright to 3-5 feet.

Blooming asters purchased in containers only need to be watered. Established perennial garden asters should receive only modest amounts of fertilizer during the growing season since excess fertilizer causes the plants to become tall and floppy. They overwinter well, with little need for mulch except a light covering of leaves.

Garden asters are relatively pest-free, but they do suffer from powdery mildew and other diseases. Several new cultivars tolerate mildew better.

Trinklein said the following are some of the more popular cultivars of garden aster:

• “Alma Potschke.” Bright, rose-pink flowers on vigorous, 36-inch plants. Requires staking.

• “Celeste.” Striking, dark lavender-blue flowers with yellow centers. Medium vigor, 24 inches tall.

• “Freda Ballard.” Medium-sized, deep raspberry flowers. Medium vigor, 24 inches tall.

• “Patricia Ballard.” Large, double lavender-pink flowers. Medium vigor, 36 inches tall.

• “Prof. Kippenberg.” Large, purple-blue flowers. Compact growth, 15 inches tall.

• “Purple Dome.” Purple flowers profusely borne. Forms 18-inch purple mound in bloom.

• “Winston Churchill.” Large, bright raspberry flowers with yellow centers. Medium vigor, 24 inches tall.

Writer: Linda Geist

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David Trinklein

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