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Gardening From Southern California

...annual asters
by Gerald Burke
by Gerald Burke


Gerald Burke is a freelance travel and horticultural writer. He spent 35 years in the seed business, 30 of them with Burpee, and is a member of the Garden Writers Association and the North American Travel Journalists Association

March 18, 2007

Annual asters make very showy bouquets, maybe some of the best of our summer flowers. But if you want to start from seed you need to plant this month, since asters take a long time to grow and bloom, whereas started plants from the nursery will cut that time considerably.

There’s good reason to start from seed. You may find a dwarf aster in the nursery, and you might possibly find one of the tall ones, but catalogs list several and even the seed rack may have two or three. The tall asters you’ll find in the nursery will be old, tried and true varieties, maybe Crego Mixed, or just labeled as tall aster. But from seed you can find asters that have incurved flowers, quilled flowers, pompon type blooms, and some that have spider-like blooms. You may even see some that have bicolored blooms, ribbon type blooms and some that are base branching, providing many more blooms through the summer.

The tall annual asters are botanically Callistephus chinensis, or China asters, and may even be labeled that way. However they’re labeled, good variety names to look for are Totem Pole Mixture, Matsumoto, Seastar Mix, Milady Mix, Florette Champagne, Pompon Splendid Mix, and Duchess Mix.

Thompson and Morgan’s catalog lists the largest number of tall asters, Park Seed Co. lists three or four and Burpee lists two. These are, however, all very good aster varieties, much better than you’ll usually find in the nursery or garden center as started plants, and will give you some delightfully different kinds of asters for cutting as well as in the garden.

Most of the tall asters range from 15 to 28 inches, and most have strong stems making them good cut flowers. Aster colors include pink, lavender, purple, white, salmon, deep rose, scarlet, and there are several bicolors, some with a stripe of a contrasting color in the petals. Park Seed Co. lists an odd one called Hulk that’s said to be 21 inches tall with big five inch flowers in green and yellow.

Aster seed isn’t tiny, and is easy to start if you use a good seed starting medium and keep the seed bed moist while germination is taking place. Once the plants are about three to four inches tall they can be transplanted, and will need good watering to get started then kept a little on the dry side. Aster plants should be placed far enough apart so that they get good air circulation, since they’re susceptible to many viral infections, some from the air some from the soil, and asters should not be planted in the same place again next year.

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