Astilbes for Sun and Shade
By Kerry Ann Mendez
Astilbe are rock star perennials that should be invited to perform in your garden!
How can you not love their lush flower plumes that range in color from white, cream, pink, red, purple, peach and lilac? The flower heights vary greatly, from only 6" to as big as 4 feet. Astilbe are deer resistant, flower in sun or shade, and are not bothered by insects or diseases. They appreciate an organically-rich soil, which can be provided by working compost into the planting holes or applying a nutrient-rich mulch (like our Feeding Mulch) around their crowns. The only thing Astilbe frown on is drought. Dry, hot spells may cause their leaves to get crispy at the edges. Incorporating organic matter into the soil, as well as mulching the garden, will help conserve moisture.
There are around 25 species of Astilbes, four of which are commonly sold at garden centers in the Northeast for their superb performance in our climate: arendsii, chinensis, japonica and simplicifolia. The chinensis group is known for being the most drought tolerant and usually the last ones to bloom. These are the best to use in full sun.
Astilbes bloom for about three to four weeks and are divided into early, mid and late season bloomers. By combining some of each, you can have stunning color from mid-June to mid-August. Early cultivars start flowering in June (i.e., 'Fanal'); midseason open in July (i.e. 'Maggie Daley'), and late season bloom from late July into August (i.e., 'Purple Candles').
There are also some Astilbe with unusually colored foliage that provide eye-candy before, during and after bloom. Foliage can be chocolatey-red, blue-green ('Delft Lace'), chartreuse-yellow ('Amber Moon'), bronze, and multicolor.
About the Author
KERRY ANN MENDEZ is an award-winning garden educator, author and design consultant based in southern Maine. Her latest book is The Budget-Wise Gardener. You'll now find her at Estabrook's consulting on garden design, answering your gardening questions and much more. Plus, don't miss her Garden Webinar series!