Fall blooming plants such as goldenrods and asters are great additions to almost any garden. Most of them like to grow in full sun. There are, however, exceptions. Let’s look at two of these that are very similar, the Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) and Short’s Aster (Symphyotrichum shortii).
Let me get this out right now, these are NOT nicely behaved, neat plants.
These are wild species that will not be denied a good time. They are loose growing, variable in height, wild growing and not your typical “landscapy” plant. These Asters have larger flowers than a lot of the woodland asters and therefore look less weedy in my mind. They have a delightful bluish flower color that creates a nice effect in mass.
One little secret of theirs, they love to have sex under the oak tree and will happily grow a large family.
It is for that fact, that these are best used in informal wild plantings. You know the kind that you can plant and don’t have to get all uptight about if one plant decides to move to the other side of the bed.
Coming from my background in Japanese Gardens where micromanagement of every plant is more the rule than the exception, I have come to appreciate these wilder plantings more and more.
Short’s Aster (Symphyotrichum shortii)
Short’s Aster grows 2–3½’ tall and branches occasionally in the upper half of its stem. It is more or less upright and erect, although the weight of the flowers often causes the entire plant to lean sideways. It is easy to grow from seed and does like to seed about so it will find open soil if you don’t have plants covering the ground.
This is a great plant to use as an accent growing out of earlier blooming lower plants like foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) or wild geranium (Geranium maculatum). It also combines well with shade loving, autumn-blooming goldenrods such as zig-zag goldenrod and blue-stem goldenrod (as shown below).
Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)
This Aster grows between 1-3′ tall, and like Short’s Aster it branches occasionally in the upper half. Blue Wood Aster has smaller flowerheads than Short’s Aster and is also a shorter plant although it’s height varies a bit more.
There is a cultivated variety, Symphyotrichum cordifolium ‘Avondale’ that produces more abundant blooms that the species and may be worth looking for. Here is a picture of that one I took in October.
Here is the same planting two months later. A nice early winter scene especially if backlit with the winter sun.
These two Aster’s wildness is appreciated very much by pollinators. Both of these species are absolute terrific late-season pollinator plants. They are also the host plant to several insects (bird food). All around they add some good wildlife value to any yard.
If you forced me to choose between the two, I would grow Short’s Aster due to it’s larger flowerhead. But why choose just one?
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