September 2011

Aster oolentangiensis / sky-blue aster in full bloom just now

We’ve reached the point in the year where you can sense the days growing shorter and the brief high of summer waning. Same goes for color in the landscape now: it is waning. There are, however, some fantastic plants you can plant to offer a shot of glowing color to counteract the sometimes-gloom of knowing what’s ahead (starts with a W). Aster oolentangiensis, or sky-blue aster, is one such plant. It grows tall (5’+) and offers a swath of glowing blue-purple that seems to hover above the other plants slowly heading back into winter slumber. Step up a bit closer to it and you will see pollinators-o-plenty taking advantage of this fantastic late-summer nectar source.

Now, before we make the mistake of extolling too many of the virtues of this plant, we will say this: it comes up early, grows fast, and the foliage looks weedy. To screen its weediness a bit, we like to plant it behind other plants that we know also come up early, grow tall, or that leaf out early. Some good ones for screening are the ever-reliable Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ / Karl Foerster feather reed grass, and Cornus alba aurea / prairie fire dogwood. Do this, and you won’t notice the plant much until late August, when the flower heads begin to emerge and just start to offer a glimmer of what is to come mid-September. So, with a little strategic placement, you’ll have a great, reliable addition to your pollinator-friendly-but-still-pretty-tidy landscape.

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