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Everyday Gardeners

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The plants that ate my flowerbed

Asters are among the best autumn performers. The color of the blooms is intense, the plants are rugged and carefree, butterflies love them. So why don’t I love them anymore? Well, I do still, actually. But not quite as much as before. Asters are not like hardy mums, which might last a couple years, then fade away. These suckers get a lot bigger every year, and also reseed pretty aggressively, so before too long, you notice that you suddenly have a bed full of asters threatening to push everything else out. So, I’m pulling most of mine out.

Vibrant Dome aster — better manners than its unruly relatives from New England.

I didn’t specify before, but the offending plants in my beds are mainly New England asters—like many natives, they’re rugged and robust, but sometimes overpowering. There are some nice, more-domesticated asters around that don’t take over, but still offer some of the most fabulous fall color of any perennial bloomer. The Dome series is one example. Purple Dome was the trendsetter. Vibrant Dome, shown in photo, is one of the later in the series. White Flower Farm is one source. They stay nice and contained, a foot and a half tall, if that. And even have better individual blossoms, if not the sheer mass of color, compared to New England aster.

The big asters have their place. But most residential gardens are too small for them. They’re like a Great Dane in a  studio apartment.  Stick to the smaller asters. If you shop for asters this fall, be sure to read the label and choose the more diminutive sorts.

One other thing, while I’m on the topic: Pinch asters back (the way you would mums) at least twice during the summer; I usually do so in June and again in July. It just takes a few minutes and it needn’t be a delicate operation. Just grab as big a handful of stems as you can and cut off the ends with a pruner.

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