The Plant Native

Highlights

Just when you think the garden is going to sleep, native asters put out hundreds of blooms. Native asters play a crucial role for pollinators thanks to their fall flowers. Beginner-friendly, asters thrive in various sun conditions (some even like shade.) There are 100+ asters native to North America, in colors from white to blue to purple. Every garden deserves at least three different types. Scroll below to find your favorites.

Sun depends on species
3′-6′ tall, depending on species
Blooms in the late summer – fall
Symptotrichum genus

A single aster can have HUNDREDS of flowers

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What are the benefits of planting native asters?

Asters are very important flowers because they bloom at the end of summer and into the fall when many other flowers have gone to seed.

Their flowers are crucial food for pollinators, including monarchs on their migration back to Mexico. Planting asters ensures that bees, butterflies, and other pollinators have food before their migration or hibernation. If you are planting a pollinator garden, make sure to include native asters.

Other benefits of planting native asters include:

  • Depending on the type, they can be shade or part-shade lovers
  • Fall flower-ers: every fall, they cover themselves in hundreds of flowers
  • Low maintenance: no fertilizer or special needs are required for native aster to thrive
  • Perennials: they will come back year after year. Once you plant them and they are happily established, you can enjoy them in your yard for years to come.
  • Time savers: native asters save time and money compared to lawncare. Once native asters are established, all they need is rain to thrive.

Native asters are the host plants for many butterflies

New England and New York Asters are host plants to Pearly Crescentspot, Crescentspot, and Silvery Crescentspot butterflies. Simply put, without these native asters, these butterflies would not exist! If you’re looking for other host plants for your garden, read our quick host plant/butterfly round-up.

No pesticides or herbicides

Avoid using pesticides or herbicides near aster plants, as they can harm the butterflies and pollinators that visit the flowers.

Where does the name “Aster” come from?

Asters get their name from the Greek word for star, which is a wonderful tribute to their small star-like flowers. 

A single White Wood Aster has hundreds of blooms on a rainy day (and grows in shade!)

What is the difference between mums and asters?

You might be looking at asters thinking…these are mums, right? Or perhaps they are reminding you of daisies? But native asters are their own species of plant.

Native asters, daisies, AND mums are all in the Asteraceae plant family, which is one of the largest plant families in the world. (In case you’re wondering, the largest plant family is Orchidaceae—the orchid family.) The aster family Asteraceae includes a whopping 32,000 species (including daises, mums, and sunflowers) alongside 120 asters that are native to North America.

Daisies vs. Mums vs. Asters

All of these flowers are in the Asteraceae family, but only one of them is native to North America:

Daisies

Normally when we think of Daisies, we’re thinking of the Shasta Daisy, which has a yellow center and white flowers. Shasta Daises are native to Asia and Europe.

‘Mums’

‘Mum’ is short for Chrysanthemum; these flowers are native to Asia and Europe. In the fall, you’ll see bright tubs of mums outside grocery stores and plant nurseries. 

Asters

Asters have delicate daisy-like flowers in the fall. There are 120 varieties of Asters native to North America. Scroll below to find different types, colors, and even a shade-loving variety.

Types of native aster

100+ asters are native to North America. Here are some easily found at local plant nurseries:

Blue Wood Aster

Symphyotrichum cordifolium

Blue Wood Asters (sometimes also called Heart-leafed Aster) are named after its heart-shaped leaves. (If you like heart-shaped leaves, make sure to also plant Redbud and Southern Catalpa!) Its flowers are a very pale blueish-purple. Blue Wood Asters prefer partial-sun but can also grow in shade or full sun (perfect for beginner gardeners!)

New England Aster

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

New England Asters are important food for migrating Monarch butterflies. New England Asters cover themselves in purple flowers in the late summer/fall. A single plant can have hundreds of small purple flowers, which the pollinators dive into. New England Asters are super easy to grow: they like full sun to light shade. New England Asters can get tall (5 feet at times); cut them in July to keep them smaller or stake them if they need support. 

New York Aster

Symphyotrichum Novae-belgii

New York Asters offer piles of blue-purple flowers in the late-summer/fall. Whether you’re planting in New York, or anywhere in New England or the Midwest, these will happily bloom. New York Asters are perfect for wetter gardens: they like moist to wet soil.

Parasol Aster

Symphyotrichum umbellatus

Parasol Asters place their flowers in clumps atop tall stems (hence their common name). Parasol Asters like a wide range of sun—full sun to part shade is fine!

Smooth American Aster

Symphyotrichum laeve

Uli Lorimer, director of the Native Plant Trust, introduces this plant beautifully: “this aster belongs in every pollinator garden, butterfly garden, or meadow planting. I have seen the flowers covered in monarch butterflies, skippers, and clouded sulfurs, to name just a few.” (from Northeast Native Plant Primer.) Full sun to part sun. 

White Wood Aster

Eurybia divaricata

Do you have a shady spot? White Wood Asters are for you. They are not woody—their name comes from their native habitat in woodland forests. White Wood Asters like dry, shady places.

Where should I plant native asters?

No matter where you live, there is a spot for native asters. Try and find at least three different aster types that you love, and plant them in their preferred location.

What are the best asters for shade?

White Wood Aster is great for shade.

What are the best asters for wet areas?

New York Aster thrives in wetter gardens.

Should I cut native asters?

Some native asters can grow quite tall—3-6 feet!—and sometimes tumble over themselves or crowd out other plants when covered in blooms.

To keep larger species smaller, cut the top of the plant off in mid-summer—right around July 4th—before they bloom. Don’t worry about the severe haircut: the plant will then spend its time making flowers instead of stems, and keep the size much more manageable.

If you forget to give them a July 4th trim, don’t worry! Just grab some stakes and give them something to lean on if they get too tall in the fall.

What pairs well with native asters?

Asters look great alongside other plants that flower at different times, so pollinators always have something to eat.

For a stellar fall garden, plant asters alongside other fall-blooming flowers with yellows, oranges, and reds. As Stephanie Cohen writes for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s blog: “[Asters] primarily blue-violet flower tones work in cool, subtle contrast to the fiery fall landscape at large.” Some ideas include:

Other native flowers for the fall

black-eyed-susans-native-flower-garden

Black-Eyed Susan

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Blue Mistflower

goldenrod-flowers-in-the-garden

Goldenrod

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Ironweed

Native flowers for the spring

Native flowers for the summer

To sum it up: native asters are necessary and gorgeous additions to any Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, or Southern garden. They offer pollinators food at the end of the summer and help give gardens a pop of color as we head into fall. Native asters are exceptionally easy to plant and come back year after year. Plant a few today to give pollinators something to snack on alongside something bright in the fall. Happy planting!

UPDATED —
02/19/2024
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