Astilbes are fine garden-enhancing beauties
It’s hard not to love the refined grace of astilbe. Let me count the ways:
* They are a star in the shade garden in early to mid-summer, when few other shade perennials are blooming.
* They bear plume-like flowers in a variety of colors – pinks ranging from blush to raspberry, red, purple, lavender, salmon and white.
* With careful selection of varieties, blooms can be sustained from late June to the end of August.
* They range in height from 12 to 40 inches, good for the front or middle of the border.
* The lacy, deeply cut foliage is attractive for the entire growing season. Most are glossy deep green, and some have a bronze glow. Even when not blooming.
* Deer and rabbits leave them alone.
* They are hardy to zone 4, and some are to zone 3.
* They resist most diseases and insects.
Astilbes are tough, pest-free and attractive. Their only demand is for evenly moist to wet soil. In dry periods, supplemental watering is needed. Astilbes prefer rich organic matter, so amend soil with compost. They’ll tolerate more sun if kept well-watered. Provide light to medium shade to extend the bloom time. Good drainage is needed for overwintering.
Beyond that, astilbes require little care. They can continue in one spot for many years. Or they can be divided every three to five years in early spring. While most form clumps, ‘Pumila’ has a spreading habit and tolerates drier soil. It is among the latest to bloom.
Choose astilbe based on your preference for color and bloom time, as well as habit. From soft, light shades to bright, bold tones, there’s an astilbe for everyone to love. Some have cascading plumes, others are full and upright, making good cut flowers, if picked early in the bloom cycle. My three varieties stagger the bloom period and extend the beauty.
Note that Astilbe arendsii hybrids bloom first, followed by Astilbe chinensis varieties in mid- to late July. The chinensis varieties are more tolerant of dry soils.
Numerous varieties are exceptional – more reason to love them. Here are a couple of stand-outs by color:
White – “Brautschleier” or “Bridal Veil” blooms early at 18 inches. “Deutschland” is also early and a bit taller at 24 inches. “Weisse Gloria” is creamy white, blooming mid-summer. “William Buchanan” is a late bloomer, growing to eight inches.
Pink – “Bressingham Beauty” and “Cattleya” bloom in rose pink during mid-summer, growing 36 to 40 inches. “Rheinland” is an early bloomer at 24 inches. “Hennis Graafland” grows to 16 inches and blooms later. “Spite” is pale pink and 18 inches. “Visions” is deep raspberry, blooming later at 24 inches. “Ostrich Plume” has weeping panicles on arching stems and grows to 30 inches.
Red – “Fanal” is an early bloomer at 24 inches. “Red Sentinel” blooms mid-summer at 20 inches.
Purple – “Veronica Klose” is red-purple, blooming late at 20 inches. “Pumila” is lavender purple, growing to 12 inches late in summer. “Purple Candles” is red-purple, reaching three or four feet in mid-summer.
New varieties offer more interest in foliage:
“Color Flash” has ever-changing foliage, from brilliant green spring to a blend of burgundy, purple and green in summer. In fall, the foliage morphs into shades of gold, orange and russet. Light pink flowers bloom above the foliage and grows to 18 inches.
“Amber Moon” has lime-yellow foliage tinged red. It grows to 30 inches tall with pink plumes on red stems in mid-summer.
With fine texture, astilbes contrast nicely with bold-foliage perennials, such as hosta, pulmonaria, lady’s mantle and brunnera. Taller varieties partner well with cimicifuga, larger hostas, ferns, turtlehead and ligularia.
There’s no need to deadhead to promote continued flowering. Even after blooming, seedheads add interest, so keep them through the winter – and extend the season of love.