Asters: Easy, Good for Cut Flowers and for Pollinators, Too!
Aster species include Monch's (Frikart's), New England aster, New York (Michaelmas) aster, and Raydon's Favorite Aromatic aster
Asters are care-free perennial cutting flowers that bloom in mid-summer to fall.
Their delicate little cool pale purple daisies make a delightful bouquet filler for hot-colored late summer flowers. While most are a pale purple, two species, New England and New York asters, have many other colors available as well.
They work very well in the landscape in a perennial border because they’re deer resistant.
Asters are very easy a to grow plant, spreading to form bigger and bigger clumps over time.
Their classic yellow daisy center attracts many pollinators including native bees (they’re not dangerous!) and butterflies (including migrating Monarchs), plus our necessary beneficial insects, too, that keep garden pests in check. See more in the Special Info section below.
Since they bloom later in the season, they’re a good source of nectar and pollen when the other flowers are finishing their season.
There are three species that are most commonly used plants for cutting flowers, two of which have a variety of colors available. And a fourth that has aromatic foliage.
This page is about the perennial asters, not China Asters, which are very nice cut flowers. too, but they’re annual flowers.
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What Aster Flowers are Like
They’re daisy-like with fine petals surrounding a flat yellow center borne on sprays of long stems. Some flowers are semi doubles meaning that they have an extra row of petals, most are singles.
Most asters are pale purple, but there are many varieties bred to have other colors like pink, white, and almost reds.
Here are the best asters for cutting flowers:
Frikart’s, also called Monch’s aster (Aster x frikartii) is a pale purple aster that blooms earlier in the summer than the others.
New England aster (A. novae-angilae) flowers are naturally pale purple, have been bred to have a wider array of colors from white to pinks to almost reds.
New York, or Michaelmas asters (A. novi-belgii) include the same colors as above.
Raydon’s Favorite Aromatic aster (A. oblongifolius) has fragrant flowers and foliage!
What the Plants are Like
They’re deciduous perennials; the foliage and stems die back each winter. They spread, not aggressively, by underground stolons. That means you can expect your plants to get larger—with more flowers!—each year. And you can divide and plant them in other spots, too! Do that every 2-3 years.
The plants form mounding plants of stems with flowers. Leaves are lanceolate, meaning that they are long and narrow with a pointed tip. Stems of the taller asters can reach 4 ft. and even 6 ft. depending on the variety.
Asters are said to be rabbit and deer resistant—though I’ve kept mine fenced in my heavy deer area.
How to Grow Asters for Cut Flowers
Frikart’s aster: full sun, though it will grow, but bloom less, if it gets less than 6 hrs. of sun
Zones 5-9 for this one; grows to 24-36 in. tall x 18-24 in. wide.
New England Aster: full sun to part shade; zones 3-8; grows 48-72 in.. tall, 24–36 in. wide.
New England and Michaelmas asters: full sun to part shade; zones 3-8;sizes vary.
Raydon’s Favorite Aromatic Aster: full sun; zones 3-8; grows to 24-36” tall, 12-24” wide.
Plant in fall or spring, or any time the soil is workable and you have a plant. They need an average soil, not too enriched. Add an organic fertilizer and a little soil amendment in the soil at planting. Apply a little organic fertilizer and soil amendment as a top dressing in fall to maintain soil health.
Asters have fairly low water needs, so keep them in a drier area of your garden. But the New England asters can tolerate wet soils as well.
Some growers recommend pinching the plants for a strong display of flowers. But pinching will give you a good display in the garden. It’s done to produce more flowers on the stem, yielding a dome of flowers effect in a garden bed. If you don’t pinch you’ll have an airier appearance (which I find more attractive).
For cutting flowers a longer flower stem is usually more desirable. But pruning the stems back when they’re less than half their final height will give you more stems overall. Do it only once. The stems will be shorter for cutting and this will delay their bloom. But you may want to try it.
How to Harvest Aster Flowers
Harvest when the petals are open but the anthers are still closed up. Asters will give you a good vase-life of 7-10 days or more, and harvesting before the pollen-bearing anthers start to open will give you the best vase life. Cut stems at the base.
My Favorite Varieties of Asters for Cut Flowers
I like the Frikart Monch asters for cutting flowers. I like to stick with their cool color.
But if I were to landscape with asters I’d choose the New England or the New York varieties to use as pollinator and beneficial insect supporters, for low-water carefree flowers, as well as for cutting.
Special Info on Aster Flowers
As I mentioned above, the flowers are food to many pollinators and beneficial insects. That includes the Monarch butterfly. In late summer the Monarchs start their journey south and they need flowers for energy. Late blooming flowers are essential for them to make the journey.
Asters provide the perfect landing pad for butterflies to sip nectar for energy. The New York and New England native asters have long been a valuable source for butterflies and moths in late summer to fall. And they’re vital for the Monarch’s migration. So you can help them by growing these easy flowers in your garden.
To add to all that, they’re good butterfly and moth host plants where their caterpillars fatten up on the foliage in spring (so don’t worry if you see holes).
For more on butterfly gardening, starting with asters, check out this site on butterfly gardening.
Sources for Aster Plants
First check with your local nursery to see if and when they will get them in. Since they’re late-summer blooming, they’re more likely to be blooming in the nursery trade a bit earlier, in mid-summer, and be available for sale then.
Otherwise, you can buy them online at earlier stages and you may get a better selection to choose from. Here are a few excellent online nurseries to buy from:
Bluestone Perennials: The have a large selection
High Country Gardens: Thy have a great selection, too, plus they have Raydon’s Favorite Aromatic Aster
American Meadows: They are a great source of wildflower seeds, grass seeds, perennial plants, and more