Companion Plants for Asters

Aster means “star”, and certainly Asters are stars of the autumn garden. But stars need supporting actors, or the show can be pretty boring. For example, those one person shows where the star spends two hours impersonating, say, Teddy Roosevelt. Be honest, would you pay good money to see that? I didn’t think so.

Which goes to show that asters need the right companion plants to make for a really beautiful autumn garden. Incidentally, all of the perennials in this post are native to central North America.

Bluestem Goldenrod with Short's Aster.
Bluestem Goldenrod with Short’s Aster.

Bluestem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia) is a really good companion for mid-size to shorter Asters. this is particularly true of blue-purple Asters, which all of mine are.

Like a path of gold across a blue field.
Like a path of gold across a blue field.

S. caesia has arching bluish stems lined with clusters of tiny golden flowers.

Aromatic Aster with Bluestem Goldenrod and 'Profusion Orange' Zinnias.
Aromatic Aster with Bluestem Goldenrod and ‘Profusion Orange’ Zinnias.

Zinnias, especially ‘Orange Profusion’ or ‘Profusion Fire’ are great annuals to plant with Asters. The Aster here, incidentally, is Aromatic Aster (S. oblongifolius). In this photo you can see just a few at the lower right – but do they pop or what? Zinnias have an impressive ability to keep blooming until late in the season – even without deadheading.

Short's Aster in front of our 'Donald Wyman' crab.
Short’s Aster in front of our ‘Donald Wyman’ crab.

This sounds funny, but crabapple trees and other short, flowering trees can make a good Aster companion – at least if the trunk has some presence to it. Here’s Short’s Aster (Symphyotrichum shortii) in front of our ‘Donald Wyman’ crabapple. The soft cloud of flowers look good against the bare bark.

Let me take a moment here to put in a plug for Short’s Aster. As you can tell, it is one of my favorite Asters and it is all over my garden. And not just because I’m too lazy to pull up all the self-sown seedlings. Short’s Aster has the most wonderful sky-blue flowers and a bushy habit. It is adaptable, tolerates shade, and can grow to about 4′ tall. I generally cut it back in May or June (which keeps it at more like 3′), but IT NEVER NEEDS STAKING, unlike some Asters I could name.

New England Aster with Brown-Eyed Susan.
New England Aster with Brown-Eyed Susan.

Yes, I’m looking at you, New England Aster (S. novae-angliae). Why do you make me truss you up like a Thanksgiving turkey year after year (even after I cut you back)?

DSC_0807 new england aster and brown eyed susan
Brown-Eyed Susan is a match for the height and ranginess of the straight species New England Aster.

Anyhow, a good companion for the taller New England Aster is Brown Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba).

DSC_0759 shorts aster ferns

Asters also go nicely with ferns, assuming you pick a fern that can keep its green fronds late into the season.

The front garden in late September.
The front garden in late September.

Put the asters together with their companions, and you can get quite an appealing scene. This photo reminds me why I love to combine yellow or orange with blue or purple.

Bumblebee on Short's Aster.
Bumblebee on Short’s Aster.

Oh, I almost forgot. Asters like bees as companions as well. Fortunately, all you have to do is plant the Asters, and the bees will come.

51 Comments on “Companion Plants for Asters

  1. Short’s Aster, huh? I’ll check it out. The only ones I have experience with are A. cordifolius “Wood’s Blue” (which I like–unless it decides to take over the entire garden bed) and “Black Prince” Calico Aster. But they make your garden look so full and pretty right now that it’s hard to remember that an entirely different palette of plants was performing not long ago.

  2. Your garden is looking wonderful still Jason. I’d love to be a bee there, enjoying your asters. I have a permanent support for my tallest aster (Alma Poetschke) but the rest just flop. 😉

  3. Rather than adding stakes late in the season why not use bamboo and peas netting which will just disappear if placed early in the season. Your Asters are lovely with everything you have combined them with.

  4. The companions you have chosen for your asters are really lovely. The front garden is still looking very summery despite being so late in the season!

  5. I know exactly what you mean, foolishly I have a swathe of Asters planted on their own, lovely to watch Bees on them but I shall be correcting the error of my ways for next year and putting some with Rudbeckia.

  6. Lovely photos, Jason, and I couldn’t agree more. I planted a single New England aster some years back, and nature has done the rest, pairing it with volunteer goldenrod. Short’s Aster sounds especially appealing with its non-floppability.

  7. I might have to try Short’s asters at the little house in the big woods, which has lots and lots of shade.

  8. The asters bring such charm to a garden with their little open faces! Your garden is looking lovely as we head into fall!

  9. I’m just getting into adding asters. You sold me on Short’s Aster: sounds like it has all the characteristics I’m looking for. The combo with the orange Zinnias is a knockout.

  10. I was looking at a lot of native asters recently and all of them were covered with bees, which surprised me so late in the year.
    I like blue / purple and yellow too. It’s not only a great combination but very natural. I see it at the edges of the woods all the time.

  11. Nice! Your garden still has that nice late summer freshness to it, even with all the fall flowers…. in fact I think it’s because of all the fresh blooms that the garden still has so many nice views!
    I wonder if Short’s aster is what I see along the roadsides as I drive home. There are banks of asters along the interstate and I’m a little offended they grow so well without any care. I guess that’s the beauty of a native plant!

  12. Hmmm, I might have to try Short’s Asters since they tolerate shade. That is, if I can keep the rabbits and field mice from eating them. The only Asters I have in my garden were devastated by critters this year. Very frustrating.

    • That would be frustrating. I had some damage in the back, rabbits I think. Those Asters mostly recovered, and the ones in front were unmolested.

  13. Great post…thanks for all the ideas. Our asters are just coming up for summer, so I’m off to find them some supporting actors!

  14. All of those combinations are lovely! Blue and yellow go so beautifully together. My Asters were at their best while I was in NYC, it’s awful missing the best shows!xxx

  15. Your oldest reply I bet! I am at last going through emails that I was unable to respond to during trips and a busy fall, and it’s clear why I saved this one! Lovely, lovely photos and combos as always. I grow and LOVE both Aster shortii and Solidago caesia. I dug up a piece when I moved from Glen Ellyn 15 years ago and it’s been seeding about delightfully ever since. It seems to fill in vacant areas creating some unexpected but welcome combinations. A lovely texture too when not in bloom. Short’s Aster wanders around my prairie, easy to grow and so welcome in fall. Short it is NOT! Great plants to feature!

    • No Short’s Aster is not short, though I keep it more compact by cutting it back. Actually, it’s named after a botanist named William Short.

  16. Jason, what did you have planted in this lovely spot earlier in the season?

    • The photos are from a couple of different places, actually. In one, there were daylilies and Asiatic lilies. In aonther, bee balm, wild bergamot, various salvias, swamp milkweed, and other stuff.

  17. Your garden is just lovely. I found you because I have a LOT of White Wood Asters on my property- they are taking over. I am cutting them back the best I can and am looking to find companion plants that can keep up with this enthusiastic grower. This is very helpful! Thank you!

    • You’re welcome! I think the White Wood Aster may be a lot more aggressive in the eastern states, in my garden it actually struggles a bit.

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