September plant of the month - New England aster

There's a last wave of colour as summer turns to autumn – and one of the best groups of plants to enjoy through this time are the New England asters

These North American daisies were formerly part of the genus Aster but were separated when it was discovered that they are more closely related to other American daisies. So these days they rejoice in the tongue-twisting name of Symphyotrichum novae-angliae.

Happy in sun or partial shade, New England asters make ideal garden perennials for any type of border. With heights up to 1.5m (5ft), we use them in the middle of the Herbaceous Borders here at Hyde Hall. You can also find them in the Queen Mother’s Garden and the Hilltop Garden.

These clump-forming perennials have short rhizomes and strong, stout stems covered with lance-shaped, mid-green leaves giving the borders that fresh spring-like look again before the flowers appear.
 

Favourites

One of my favourites is ‘Andenken an Alma Pӧtschke’ (see photo). This lovely plant produces sprays of bright, salmon-pink flowers with yellow centres, and is a real jewel. In comparison, the large white flowerheads of ‘Herbstchnee’ give a tranquil feel to a border; while ‘Septemberrubin’ with its vibrant rose-pink flowerheads adds great colour to planting schemes. On a sunny day these plants become a magnet for pollinating insects, making them a fascinating spectacle.

Planted in front of the New England asters, other perennials such as purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), Japanese anemones (for example Anemone × hybrida 'Whirlwind'), Phlox paniculata and Thalictrum delavayi make ideal planting partners.
 

How to grow New England asters

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae is best planted in fertile, moist, well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. It will welcome a good mulch after cutting back in autumn and being a tall plant it is best to stake it before the growth becomes too vigorous. It’ll also benefit from being divided every three years to promote vigour and healthy flowers. Look out for damage from slugs, snails and sometimes grey mould – but otherwise enjoy these good value plants which will last well into autumn.
 

See also

Where to buy

10 award-winning autumn grasses

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