Aster flowers derive their name from a Greek word meaning 'star', this is attributed to their shape, but to me, it is really a star, a star found in most gardens, as they prepare for the fall flower show. Its varieties include over 600 species, not to mention the countless number of hybrids and cultivars developed. With some dedicated care routine, you can have a wide range of rich colors blooming happily in the garden.
One of the most amazing facts about this flower is that a single aster is not really a single flower! It is actually a cluster of about 100 tiny yellow-orange tubular flowers, surrounded by colorful petals. The tubular ones are known as disks, and the long petals as rays. You will never come across a bright yellow aster (rays are never yellow), as it would just merge with the disks. They come in a variety of colors; white, cream, red, pink, blue, lavender, purple, etc. Pollination takes place between the bisexual tubular flowers, as they contain both; a pistil and stamens, while the rays are mostly sterile. They mostly grow as flowering shrubs, with coarse looking leafy stemmed plants, slightly more woody at the base. The leaves are dark green, alternate, simple, long, narrow, and pointed. Most are perennials, but a few cultivars are annuals and biennials.
How to Grow Aster
Asters can be grown from both; seeds as well as division of roots. Annuals and biennials are usually started from seeds, while perennials through divisions, every three to four years. Sow the seeds indoors in pots or containers, about 15-20 days before the last frost. The seeds are big enough to be sown directly in the intended location, which can be done after the soil begins to warm in the spring. Sow them in light soil, cover them lightly and water just enough to moisten the soil. If it's division you plan to use for propagation, then dig up the plants and separate into 3 to 4 clumps, and plant them immediately. Water them well, and regularly until well established. Plant your aster in soil that is well drained and mixed with plenty of organic compost for a healthier bloom. Make sure they get full sun. In a flower bed, space them four to six inches apart, this will give them enough space to spread.
Caring for Aster Flowers
Once transplanted, give them time to establish themselves by regularly watering them. Caring for them includes watering, fertilizing, pruning, and keeping an eye out for pest and diseases. Pinch off the main stem to make way for lateral shoots, to give it a more compact and bushier look. For established plants, prune off tall gawky stems, before it is time for the buds to appear. Feed them with some water soluble fertilizer when you see the buds appearing. If you want large but few flowers, pinch off excess growth, else let all buds bloom. Remove all deadheads after the flowering season is over. As far as insects and diseases are concerned, they are quite resistant. It is mostly the foliage that gets infected with rust and powdery mildew, which can be taken care of with a spray of germicide. Winter care is essential, reduce watering, and give the plants a hard prune. Mulching will help protect your plant from extreme winters.
Aster care, as you must have realized, is quite minimal, but what you get in return for this little effort is the enormous pleasures of seeing these blooms, bloom well!