Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Asters Stand Tall among Wildflowers Hybridization Turned Lowly Weed into Wow

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Asters Stand Tall among Wildflowers Hybridization Turned Lowly Weed into Wow

Article excerpt

Asters were just North American wildflowers until British hybridizers got hold of them and worked a little magic. Today these roadside weeds are a hot item.

Most of the cultivars being introduced (one catalog lists 42) are descendants of either the New England aster (Aster novae-angliae) or the New York aster (A. novae-belgii).

These extremely hardy asters are the classic beauties of autumn. Cheery star-like blossoms in a rainbow of colors begin opening in late summer and continue through much of the fall in most sections of the country.

Years ago, when the selection process began, New England asters were the giants of the clan. Many towered to six feet. Because New York asters were shorter, they were generally considered more garden-worthy. The British nicknamed them "Michaelmas daisies."

The heights are all mixed up now, thanks to hybridizing, but New England asters usually grow from three to four feet high, New York asters from one to two feet.

To reduce their height, remove up to half the length of the stems with each pinch. Begin when plants are a foot tall. Pinch once or several times, depending on desired height. Stop in late June to allow flower buds to set. Pinching makes plants stocky and strengthens the stems, so staking is often unnecessary.

Although many of the improved varieties available today have British roots, "purple dome" is strictly made in America. This low, bushy New England aster with intense purple flowers was discovered a decade ago growing along a road in central Pennsylvania.

The horticulturist who found it knew immediately that "purple dome" was special. It hides its mildew-susceptible foliage beneath an unblemished "dome" of fresh green summer leaves. …

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